Oxfam Music Pottering
So, back from holiday, hundreds of emails to catch up on in the old inbox, new releases by Yusuf Azak and The Savings and Loan to prepare, and what do I spend my morning doing? Yes of course, fannying about in the Oxfam Music Shop across the road. The fucker is cunningly positioned right inbetween the Post Office and nearest bank machine, and our front door. Bastards.
Anyhow, Jamie, the manager of the shop, was rather oddly introduced to me via email by Vic from Muruch, which is a music blog based in the States. Did I mention that the shop is literally over the road from our house?
I promised Jamie a little while ago that I would donate five of every Song, by Toad Records release to the shop, for him to sell on behalf of Oxfam. I said it, but over the course of this year, I haven’t actually done it, which is not unlike an awful lot of promises I find myself making at the moment. Today I finally decided to stop prevaricating, and nipped home quickly to bring in five copies of every release this year, so if you want to buy a Song, by Toad Records release and would rather support a starving child than an evil entertainment company, then that’s the place to go.
And of course, being a second hand music shop, I couldn’t just leave it there, could I. Oh no. I rifled through no more than the new stock and the valuable items and inevitably ended up coming away with a small handful of new records. Had it not been for the fact I had to get back to work I could have happily stayed in there for the rest of the day picking through music I never usually listen to, like the old jazz and country and classical stuff, giving it a spin on the record player and seeing what I liked the sound of.
I’ve long been a typically greedy internet music collector, in the sense that I find I have a compulsion to have a copy of pretty much everything I like, meaning that my music collection now extends to close to a Terabyte’s worth of files.
The old ‘too much music’ adage never really scored much traction in my mind, because I always took it as an assault on choice. People tend to riff lazily on that particular argument when they are bemoaning the fact that any tiny little shitey band can now record and release an album, and they have no capacity to process all that information. In short, they seem to be upset that the major media corporations are no longer able to tell them what to do, and oddly affronted that the finding of good music has now become an active rather than a passive way to spend one’s time. Fuck these people, is what I say.
Where the ‘too much music’ argument does strike a chord, however, is when it is targeted at something slightly different: not at the issue of choice, but the one of sheer quantity. As a friend of mine quite rightly points out, it is simply impossible to process the amount of information with which you can so easily swamp yourself these days, if you download all the music you ‘want’ to listen to. It is just downright impossible to properly absorb that much data in any meaningful way, and this is why I like vinyl, and why I shop for vinyl the way I do: small labels and second hand shops.
What I like about this approach is that it puts a particular slant on a collection. It ceases to become ‘everything I’ve ever enjoyed’, which is kind of what my digital collection is, and becomes something a bit different. There are weird Frank Sinatra 7″s, some old ragtime things I would never usually listen to and bought just because they sound nice on a scratchy record player, a Ghostbusters 12″ glow-in-the-dark picture disc (oh yes!), and a few obscure releases by bands I have taken a chance on but who have subsequently gone nowhere and split up. Throw in a couple of classics by the likes of Dylan, Tom Waits, The Band and Leonard Cohen and a couple of cheesy 80s pop classics bought exclusively for drunken late night playing, and you end up with a collection which is full of surprises, even for me.
Most interestingly though, it is a collection which has been shaped by more than just my own taste, but also by internet impulse purchases, drunken eBay overspending, and the chance of what happens to be available for a couple of quid in Avalanche or Oxfam. The very fact that you can’t always get what you want (yes, that’s in there too – boom-tish!) makes the collecting itself a fun thing to do. With digital music the actual act of tending your collection ceases to be enjoyable, because it is simply mechanical and the outcome is pretty certain. With a physical collection the process of collecting pushes back much more, which makes poking around in record shops for something someone else has tired of for whatever reason a hugely enjoyable thing to do.