[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
Limited-edition, colored vinyl, 7-inch single with a non-LP B-side? Wait, it gets better. The first of three singles all featuring the same A-side but different B-sides. Hold on — the 12-inch version comes with a live track and a demo version of the A-side, but not the non-LP B-side that's on the 7-inch. To hear it all, you have to get all six releases. If you are someone burdened by a real life, all of this is boring and yet another example of the cruel and unusual machinations of predatory capitalism.
You would think the fans would be angered by their favorite band taking advantage of their devotion by such wallet-thinning acts, but quite often the only complaints you hear are from those who didn't get theirs in time.
You might think no one past the age of 17 could possibly lose sleep over this kind of thing, but that's where you'd be wrong. Collecting records is, for many, beyond a hobby. It is an obsession. Do this kind of thing in high school and you can play the youth card. Do it at 50 and you have some issues you really need to deal with.
There are different degrees of record-collector intensity. There are those who simply want to hear the music; they don't care if a record is an original pressing or a reissue. Then there are those who need to hear every single song by an artist, so they scour discographies for complete lists of releases. Fair enough. Do I want to hear every studio release of John Coltrane? You bet your fur — that just makes me a true fan.
This is the tipping point. Once you get into combing discographies, you can easily end up with a want list. You might start taking this want list into record stores to aid in your search. Or you could do what many others do: Memorize your want list. That's right, internalize it. Make it a part of you.
Did somebody say gateway? Thus far, we have discussed the casual to enthusiastic record-collector types. It can get far more involved. Imagine someone so infatuated by a band that they have every different pressing of every album the band made. Most of the time the only difference in the album is the matrix number or a different “made in” notation on the back cover or label. This is enough to make some people extremely excited. Actually, much more than excited.
This is an intense field, and there isn't anyone who collects records in this way who isn't intense as well. These people sometimes are known as collector scum. They don't want their albums autographed because that would put messy ink on their otherwise pristine object of desire. They don't want to meet the band and ask where the next show is, they want to ask how many copies of the Portuguese pressing of their last single were made. Were they satisfied with the poor quality of the picture sleeve's paper? Why is the matrix number the same as the pressing from France? Scum!
The joy of listening to the record often is outweighed by the slightly trembling, moist handed, mouth-breathing ecstasy of owning the item. The rarer, the better. The scarcity of the music not only makes the music itself enjoyable but it also gives the collector a strange sense of superiority.
Bragging rights on this kind of thing are extremely limited. People unimpressed or turned off include: (1) first dates (rarely is there a second); (2) everyone else who isn't C-Scum. Thankfully, you won't have much interaction with these people. They don't get out much, because they want to be near their records. Out of the sunlight and the dust, free to behold the 6-mil-thick, 12.75-inch-by-12.75-inch polyethylene bag that protects the record jacket, which often is wrapped in a self-sealing Mylar envelope, imported from Japan — never to be touched by human hands again.
Some bands seem to encourage this kind of behavior by the way they release records. One of them is the great Japanese group Boris. They are quite prolific, and routinely release several versions of the same record. Typically, there's the box set edition of a new album and a limited pressing with an exclusive track. Then there will be multiple pressings in different-colored vinyl, sometimes with varying vinyl weights and, sometimes, even different edits and mixes.
This is a heaven and hell for collector scum. Boris fans throw down large amounts of money for the rare editions of these records. Thankfully for the rest of the world, however, their excellent records are easy to find in far less exclusive versions.
Take Boris' three-LP series The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked I-III. Volume I came out on the Finnish label Kult of Nihilow in 2004, with 550 pressed, all on orange vinyl. In 2006, Belgian label Conspiracy released Vol. II and Vol. III in a pressing of 1,000 each. Vol. II was pressed in 700 clear orange and 300 clear green. Vol. III was pressed in 700 clear orange and 300 light blue. If all of this is correct, it means there are only 300 people who have the potential to own all three volumes in their most rarefied state.
Do you think there are people who take a very wide slice of strange joy in being part of that 300? Would you want to be seated next to one of them on a long flight? The answers to these questions are obvious.
Life is short. Get to as much music as you can. Don't get hung up on the technicalities.