How to Amass a Record Collection

blue soapbox  Start with a father whose retail LP record shop sits at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph in Berkeley, just opposite the Cal campus, during what’s generally called “the turbulent 1960s.”

This father of yours has a violent temper and an abiding skepticism of institutions of higher learning.  Mostly, though, he’s known as that short, wiry, opinionated guy who shares his classical music expertise with those in search of enlightenment—also, those who don’t realize they are, like music professors from across the street.

Comprehend; memorize:  Mozart’s symphonies are predictable, his chamber music brilliant.  Opera is, on the whole, overrated, Renaissance music tedious, Chopin overwrought.  The announcers on the local classical radio stations are pretentious ignoramuses.  Thumbs up: Bach, first and foremost.  Also Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev, Bartok, Richard Strauss, Copland, and that mind-blowing new composer Terry Riley.

At home, you have your own family riots, but at the store, when your father flies into a rage, he doesn’t hit people.  He will, however, boot out any customer who offends him by, for example, interrupting his “conducting” of Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations to request Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album.  “We only carry that in our—Turlock location,” he retorts witheringly, the veins in his head standing out.

There is no Turlock location, and he has White Christmas in stock, but he’s discriminating.  If the customer strikes him as moronic, he won’t sell to her, period—though if a tear gas canister has gone off across the street, he might just give her the thing for free.

Do not ask your father to bring home Johann Strauss waltzes, which are pure schlock; he’ll laugh at you.  Also, even though he carries “pop,” like albums by that cute new group the Beatles, do not request such things.  Ask instead for harpsichord music and Debussy.

After high school, go to college, if you must.  Branch out into classical composers your father hasn’t vetted, like Britten and Barber.  Add Beethoven chamber music.  Allow boyfriends to introduce you to Steely Dan and Traffic and Dexter Gordon; also Schubert’s Trout Quintet, which your father has somehow overlooked.

Move all your records to every place you live in; they are a worthy burden.  Listen each day.  It’s the music, not the sound system; audiophiles do not understand what’s important.  Cherish especially your scratchy copy of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, Bach’s Cantata #78 (that transcendent soprano-alto duet), and the Brahms e-minor cello sonata, opus 38.  Decide you don’t like Bach’s The Art of Fugue as much as your father does, while you do like Carmina Burana and the Berlioz Requiem.

Arrange the pop records alphabetically, the classical chronologically; gasp to realize this is your very own stipulation.  Where Winwood and Wonder can be co-located, Prokofiev and Purcell cannot.  Put Bach with Handel, not Bartok.  Put Mozart with Haydn, not Monteverdi.  Put Brahms with Tchaikovsky, if you happen to wind up with any Tchaikovsky by mistake.

Continue listening to your records into the era of cassette tapes, then CDs, then iPods, because the idea of transferring it all to digital files seems almost physically exhausting, and besides, nothing is as absorbing or sounds as authoritative as your collection of vinyl.  Your father was wrong about so much, but he was largely right about records.

When your father dies and none of your sisters wants his LPs, take the records home.  Weed out the monaural ones.  Distribute the extra copies of St. Matthew’s Passion, ultimately his favorite, to worthy recipients.

Do a double-take that his collection somehow includes a stray flute concerto or two, which he would have dismissed as “higglety-pigglety.”  You might put it this way: the flute is a condiment, not a main course.  In either case, you know he meant to get rid of such lesser works.

Drive the rejects down to Salvation Army.  Those ignoramuses at KDFC will play them nonstop anyway, should you ever miss them, and you know you never will.

Published in the Piedmont Post, January 27, 2010

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3 Responses to “How to Amass a Record Collection”

  1. Margo Says:

    I laughed until I cried. Another gem!!

  2. Jonathan Gill Says:

    When my son was 11, he informed me that vinyl was the “in thing.” I took him down to the basement, moved aside some things and showed him my 1200 albums that had been carefully stored through 12 moves. “OMG – complete Led Zeppelin, complete Bowie!” The only time he was ever actually impressed with his old man…

  3. Childhood Friend Says:

    This brings back a lot of childhood memories for me…

    Of course, I remember hours at your father’s store on Saturdays. Nevermind football games, riots, other distractions. It seemed like hours waiting while they conferred on esoteric topics and other customers would come and go, while they discussed and debated.

    We were lined up on the couch and grilled and drilled relentlessly on how to listen to classical music, like you, according to his heirarchical criteria (much like your father’s, although he did own 1 album with Strauss waltzes). He covered theme, melody, phrasing, other elements of theory. He played the same selections over and over until we could respond satisfactorily to his quizzes. Unlike most people, listening to classical music probably raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels.

    My father’s collection of vinyl is well into 4 figures and requires special reinforced shelving. He cycled out his mono recordings years ago, along with many of the old 78’s. Each album cover and record is numbered, labeled, and logged in a black leather 3-ring notebook. He alphabetizes by composer and cross-indexes by artist and by recording company (a heirarchy here, too – Phillips being #1). He had multiple versions of the same music, in order to compare and appreciate the diistinctions. He also kept track of how many times he listened to each record. Like your father, he had almost no tolerance for opera or any classical vocal recordings. Jazz was allowed. And, for some reason, he liked the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album – maybe he and your father discussed and decided this together?

    We weren’t allowed to touch his records or his sound system. The only exception was that he appropriated my mother’s small collection of soundtracks to musicals (which he considered trash) into his filing system. We were allowed to play those when he wasn’t home (in fact, he couldn’t stand them, so probably preferred not to be present), as long as we followed the proper technique to handle the record, clean the record and the cartridge before and after, and only touch the on/off switch and make no other adjustments to the equipment. Then, we would report that we had listened to one of them and he would check to see that we had replaced it properly in the cover and refiled it in the proper sequence. Automatic violation if the sleeve opening was lined up with the opening of the album cover and the record could slide out; double violation if there were visible fingerprints on the vinyl. If we forgot to self-report, he would know anyway, and that was a triple-violation. Escalating unpleasant scenarios associated with each level of violation…. Most people don’t understand how PTSD could possibly be associated with classical music.

    Sorry to burden you with my memories – and hard to imagine that anyone but you could relate! I hope writing about it is therapeutic for both of us! Thanks for listening.

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