Rearranging the dust

Why we collect the dumb things we do.

Rearranging the dust

For most of my life, I’ve collected stuff. I’ve always said it was a foregone conclusion that I’d end up one of those obsessive collector types, thanks to the addictive tendencies inherited from one side of my family, and the fact that some of my earliest memories were opening packs of sports cards with my grandpa. He loved collecting cards of the four major American sports (sorry, soccer) and I feel like, on an almost weekly basis, he’d come back with a few packs of cards for us to open together. He showed me how to open the packs gently, and how to lay them out on the table in such a way as to keep the corners perfectly in tact. And when something notably rare came out of the packs, he’d let out an excited “Uh oh!” and break into a smile.

As a kid, I mimicked his love of sports. Not just the card collecting aspect, but I watched games with him on an almost nightly basis when my mom and I lived with my grandparents and, at a certain point, I started reading the sports almanacs he left lying around the house. This resulted in me being able to tell you Stan Musial’s batting history in great detail, and how it fluctuated from year to year. I was a deeply obsessive kid, and sports were my first obsession. Then I got into music and, if you’re reading this, you probably can guess what happened next.

I’d still open packs of cards with my grandpa whenever I had the chance, and I’d still go with him to card shows at the local mall, but my interest was waning. Why would I want to spend money on a Chipper Jones rookie card when I could buy a new record each week instead? And that’s more or less what started happening. There were always records in the house, thanks in large part to my uncle being a complete technophobe and sitting in his room listening to Frank Zappa and Budgie all day. And though we were never close, there was something about his interest in this weird music that compelled me. And before long, I became a pre-teen record collector, a trait that, let me tell you, was much less charming in the early 2000s.

The first actual record I ever bought was Green Day’s Slappy seven-inch. It was on blue vinyl, and that concept blew my mind at the time—someone eventually stole this from me, and it’s now very expensive to buy, so I don’t own it anymore, which feels strangely poetic in a way. Anyhow, the first song on that seven-inch is “Paper Lanterns” and, despite it’s less than stellar lyrical content, remains my favorite Green Day song to this day. Once I realized that for the price of a single CD I could get three or four records, everything changed, and my collection started growing.

I’ve always alternated between feeling proud of my record collection and deeply embarrassed of it. Music was something I sought refuge in, and once I started finding out the minutia about old, obscure seven-inches and needlessly ornate pressings, those collector tendencies I saw in my grandpa spilled out of me. Only instead of being able to tell you the hyper specific details about Sandy Alomar Jr., I was instead capable of telling you how to spot a bootleg of The Kids Will Have Their Say from an X-claim! original. Because the difference between one interest and another is really just trying to give a name to a slightly different shade of gray.

While Nina and I spent the winter in Vermont with her parents, I began to wonder about my stuff and how much of it I really needed. Over the course of 20 years, I’d accumulated a vast record collection, one that was largely genre-agnostic and impressive only to other deeply antisocial nerds like myself. But as I looked at my Discogs page one day, I realized that maybe I didn’t need all of it. That’s not to say I had a complete existential crisis that pushed me to sell all of my stuff, but I just realized that just because it’s a “good record” doesn’t mean it’s a record that I needed to own. Yeah, Stereolab is cool and whatever, but do I really need to own it? Because it doesn’t get put on nearly as much as Crossed Out does.

But beyond that, it made me realize that the completist tendencies I had were ones I could trace back to my grandpa searching down complete sets of cards when I was a kid. He would search endlessly for that one card that would complete the 1993 Fleer baseball set and, inevitably, track it down. He was excited, but always onto the next, because that’s the nature of things like this. You slay the white whale, but there’s always another one just behind it. And like him, I owned records that fucking sucked because I just needed to have everything by a specific band.

My relationship to Alkaline Trio is well documented (listen to As You Were: A Podcast About Alkaline Trio) but not only do I not like this This Addiction, I sure as hell don’t need two copies of the thing taking up space in my apartment. Why do I own an original and a re-issue of every Jawbreaker record? And let’s be real here, I only need one Bruce Springsteen album released after 1987, not these seven that I never, ever put on. It’s stupid, and I always knew that, but I just carried on because what else was there to do?

I’m sure many people would note the similarities between addiction and collecting, because they are right there on the face of everything I’ve written here, but I honestly don’t believe it’s that simple. My grandpa rarely drank, as him being raised by alcoholics that kicked him out into the cold Midwestern winter when he was not even five-years-old made him largely averse to the stuff, and if you know me at all, my limited interest in alcohol has largely stemmed from a similar place. This shit tore my family apart twice over, so why should I support the industry that was designed to do exactly that? He sought refuge in sports and cards and statistics, and I found peace through songs and records and rare pressings of hardcore seven-inches. Both pursuits are not without their flaws, but they brought us both joy without actively doing much harm to anyone else in the process. I’ll at least take that as a net positive.

As I write this, I’ve got about 700 records that are about to be sold, some through Discogs and other to a local store, because they’ve done their duty and now they get to wind up with someone else, someone who will either appreciate them for the music they contain or they’ll be in the hands of a lunatic who needs to fill in some gap in a discography. Either way, they’ll be in better hands. Because while I’ll never get rid of all these things, it can be healing to look at your possessions and ask them if they really, truly matter to you. Some of these records will be with me until the day that I die, and I’ll be happy to know that when I need to hear them, and feel that connection to something bigger than myself, that they’re there. If I’m lucky, maybe when I’m an old man, I’ll still have something that thrills me and keeps me excited in the way my grandpa did. That would be nice. Or maybe I’ll just sell ‘em all and get really into stocks or shoes or something equally dumb and speculative. Anything could happen.