At lunch I'm always nabbing fries off other people's plates. Along similar lines, I'm totally absorbed by other people's records. I want to borrow them and listen to them. Sometimes I go so far as to steal them and play them at home, lounging in a smoking jacket and sipping bourbon to the the warbling of Zamfir.
My obsession goes beyond the record's sound, of course. In fact, I rarely buy scratch-free, spotless LPs; well-worn discs are just fine. But seeing some of the vinyl in my living room reminds me of a house in Aberdeen, which long ago fired my imagination and led me into middle management.
I had a chum who lived there, the son of a mechanic and a waitress, dwelling in a tract house on the border of Hoquiam, where we spent many a night riding in cars with vigilantes. He had a pristine row of LPs by Henry Mancini, one of my favorite artists, then and now. I often would sit on his back porch where we would discuss existentialism and the Bowery Boys and the joys of gun ownership.
But it was hard to keep my eyes off his vinyl: the glossy black discs in their motley jackets. I liked the decadent illustrations, the mountain vistas, the scent of sophistication. Decades later, when I got my own house, in Olympia, I bought that exact collection at Goodwill for $1.45 plus tax.
I spent many happy evenings at that house, returning often in later years. Good company brought me, and good music kept me. It was a purer, better era, a time of exploration and discovery, of harmony and simplicity.
What interests me about other people's records is what it says about them. A record collection is a road map to the personality, giving insight to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. The order of the records--alphabetical, chronological, preferential--elucidates the character of the collector. The quality of music reflects the quality of the soul.
My own parents never attended college, and we had few records in our house, apart from a few dusty Lawrence Welk discs. It wasn't until I struck it out on my own that, by thrift or theft, I built up my present library.
There is much to be said for creating one's own collection. My records remind me of where I've been, intellectually, physically — and emotionally. They are like a photograph album, only with more dimensions. I sometimes look at an album to see myself in faded jeans and flannel shirt on a trip to Portland in 1989. But I return more truly to that era when I take a certain weathered LP of Dave Brubeck from my bookshelf, and clink along to five-four time with an empty shot glass, weeping for lost youth.
Other people's records excite curiosity about their owners and the worlds they inhabit. But in the end, it's my own vinyl that matters, since it tells me where I've gone, and where I hope to go.
What, you think I'm trite and pompous and anachronistic? Well, don't blame me.