Every Picture(disc) Tells a Story posted on November 13th, 2023
by Brian Wheeler
I recently embarked on a little adventure that may very well prove my insanity. After a friend told me of a large music collection sitting in a storage unit in south central Texas, I flew down and obtained a good portion of the collection. The cache was large enough to require the assistance of a good friend of mine, and you know they’re a good friend when they agree to hop on a plane with a few days’ notice to load a music collection into a moving van in 109-degree heat, then trek 1200 miles in 24 hours to get it safely home. For the sake of space and time, I’ve substantially condensed the portion of the story where we moved the collection. The journey fell short of Clark Griswold proportions, but it had its share of excitement.
A good music collection often speaks to the collector’s personality: the stories that have touched them, the life they’ve lived, the causes they’ve championed, the cultures in which they’ve immersed themselves. It’s usually a rich tapestry of the collector’s past. Music collections can be intimately vocal declarations of your life. For those whose lives are surrounded by music, their collections have checkpoints and pathways that reflect their life’s journey.
For example, I’ve caught glimpses of MusicMaster founder Joe Knapp’s collection. As you can imagine, it was vast and far-reaching. Did you know Joe is an unapologetic champion of garage rock? I fondly recall a conversation about a 45 record that my mother owned, a very regional single in the 60’s from The Defiants called “Bye Bye Johnny”, with the B side being a cover you may recognize: Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”. As a child playing with my mom’s records (she supported my record spinning very early in life) I was drawn to the B-side almost instantly, but I had no idea that it was a Dylan tune until I’d heard his version a few years later. “Maggie’s Farm” is credited to ‘Bob Ryland’ on the Defiants record, hampering my eventual discovery.
Fast forward decades later, and my collection has grown and blossomed into a patchwork of snapshots in time, with musical threads that often run through a good portion of my life. I could probably tell you a story about 90% of my personal library if you were so inclined to listen. This is what makes the collection I’ve recently obtained so fascinating. Sadly, the prior owner of this collection is now deceased, having only lived until his mid-50s. The collection he left behind speaks of a life richly lived. There are signed records, CDs, and photos littered throughout the collection. He wrote to some of his favorite artists and they responded, often gushing about his writing prowess. Like Joe, he also loved garage rock as his collection is peppered with examples across the decades. He loved rockabilly, blues, punk, red dirt, Tejano, Surf, jazz, zydeco, and a wide variety of other music. I was impressed with his musical vision, having booked The Screaming Trees to a small club show in 1987 and bringing a band called Soundgarden to a tiny area club in 1989. He supported a wide variety of female artists in many genres, with a solid sampling of strong female voices throughout the collection. This gentleman also was a champion of the underdog and of the fallen. He was involved with fundraisers for musicians stricken with hard times. Upon researching a small stack of CDs within the collection, I learned that the former collection owner had created a Kickstarter campaign for a local musician that had passed away under mysterious circumstances, successfully backing the creation of a memorial CD to keep his memory alive. He did this all while dealing with serious health issues of his own, health issues that would eventually claim his life as well.
A personal music collection has soul. It has substance. It tells a story. The music contained within has its own stories, each told within its own context and language. It’s the stuff of life. From cavemen writing on walls to middle-aged guys writing blogs to kids starting their own podcast, I believe it’s part of the human condition for people to want to tell their stories. The urge to be heard and understood will never change. For those who love music, their collection is an extension of their identity. That’s why I believe that as long as there is music, there will be collections. I personally still believe in the power and value of tangible media. Of course, there are certainly many advantages to digital media, and most MusicMaster users know that their digital library is their lifeblood. But I still see substantial value in picking up a record or a CD and enjoying the presentation and feel of tangible media. Vinyl has enjoyed a huge resurgence and strangely, so has cassette and even 8 track tapes! I also think the CD renaissance is just around the corner. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in my basement spending time with some recent arrivals.