[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 Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
It occurs to me now, well into my 50s, that some aspects of my nature are not going to change. I can safely say that they will only get worse. I have not at any point made any effort whatsoever to “get better” or seek rehabilitation into a way of life that is more presentable and adult.
I have concluded that there is quite a bit of me that is forever locked alone in a male 10th grader's bedroom. My development has not only been arrested but has pled guilty, waived a jury trial and gone straight to the judge for sentencing. The gavel came down quickly. I have been sentenced to a life of obsession over details so minute and insignificant to all but a few that there is no way to explain this fascination that doesn't quickly encourage those assaulted to glance at their watches, or simply turn and bolt.
I get it. I'm like an entomologist who is waaaaay too into it – “Why, my whole life is insects! Would you like to come in?” – but with records.
See also: Henry Rollins: Are You Collector Scum?
Sometimes, even more than playing them, I just like to look at them. At some point, I will start wearing tweed suits and a bow tie, carrying a magnifying glass and affecting a fake-ass British accent as I pace back and forth in my office, delivering an imaginary lecture to an auditorium full of eager students staring intently at their notebooks. They write madly, trying to capture the pithy essence that effortlessly flows from me with such passion and poetic authority. At the end of the lecture, the students all stand, wiping away tears, and fill the room with thunderous applause.
I have had an almost forensic interest in records since high school. I thought every aspect of LPs and singles was interesting, especially punk rock, because the genre was so small and under-studied. Bands came and went so quickly that, almost before you knew it, there was a legend, a low-budget mystique that made it all fascinating to me.
I could wear you out on examples of vinyl trainspotting factoids. I am not alone. All over the world, there are those who drill down into this stuff with unnerving intensity. Some might say they have no life – I say they are on a search for truth!
Here is the single thing that inspired this brief burst of words. A single arrived at my office today, sent by one Ian MacKaye. It was a reissue of the excellent Minor Threat Salad Days EP. (That's my personal favorite MT song. Yes, I have a test pressing.) I thought Ian was keeping me up to date on a new pressing. With the single was a note from Ian. My heart raced as I read it.
“Dear Henry, the other 990 copies of this are going to be melted down, but I pulled a couple out for you and me. The cover, labels and lyric sheet is the Salad Days 7″, but the vinyl is the Reptile House 7″. The pressing plant was confused by the similar catalog numbers (M.T. #15, R.H. #15.75) The real surprise is that this is the first time it has happened! Just figured you would get a kick out of it.”
This is a “mistake” but not to me! It is a fact! It is a part of Dischord Records' history! I will be seeing Ian soon. Will I have questions prepared? Taking notes? Guess.
Before you write me off as one of those awful people who don't want to listen to music but merely posses a rare version of it in order to attain some sense of superiority (collector scum), I know that no one is impressed. To me, it is record-label detective work – it is the story behind the story.
Slight changes in label copy in different pressings of the same album may escape the eye of many, but sometimes there is a great story as to why there is a difference: publishing deals, litigation, band arguments over songwriting credits. Records that make it to the test pressing stage, catalog scratched into the matrix but are never pressed – there is a story there. I already like the music – I want to know all the rest. Obsession, maybe. I would like to think it's real love. And speaking of obsession, which I think is one of the highest-value human tics, as long as no one's being hurt, I say go long into the night with it.
Here is an admission of materialistic shallowness: I like my records more than pretty much anything else.
They are humanity's greatest hits. They stand straight and at the ready, like thousands of terracotta warriors. However, their journey to my turntable is something else altogether. Many of them I carried from country to country, over weeks, to bring them back safely just so I could listen to them over and over.
Some were given to me by the artists themselves, many of whom are gone now. Others were brought to friends' houses and spun in epic-length hangout listening sessions. There is history in those grooves.
Recently, I wrote to an old Washington, D.C., alum and told him that, whenever I have a chance, I walk by the house he used to live in to remember the great nights of listening in his room upstairs, toward the back. He returned almost immediately and said that those were some of the most formative nights of his life and he still thinks about them.
It is the heat of summer that cranks up the intensity of my sleuthing. I associate these months with marathon record spinning, and a heightened appetite for completely inconsequential information. In these hours I feel ageless and completely alive. Joyous, even. How strange.