Four filled shelves, each approximately three feet wide: I inherited these records from my father when he died in 2005. While I’ve never taken full inventory of how many I own, they contain so many classic gems that sometimes I can hardly believe that one can be so lucky.
My father was a collector — Not the kind that buys an item for its monetary value, only to be displayed and never touched. No, he bought music and books like I do. He wanted to consume these bits of art — voraciously and unceasingly — but he would take care of his purchases. In high school, friends would occasionally ask to borrow one of his records, and he might let them. However, if they came back scratched, that friend owed him a replacement. I imagine he was somewhat insufferable in this way, and I am filled with an amused sense of pride because that persnickety attitude is what has taught me to respect vinyl’s fragile surface.
I am that person bitching in antique stores because “Why would I pay $8 for this David Bowie album when someone clearly spilled a drink on the cover?!”
That’s when my husband has to remind me that, you know, people used to listen to records at parties. Not everyone is me and my dad.
Our musical tastes were a Venn diagram — While he never got into David Bowie, Lou Reed, nor any of the early ’80s British alternative rock, I could never quite get his love for Nancy Griffith, The Moody Blues, or Kris Kristofferson. But in the middle, we had Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, and many more.
In the basement, in the room we referred to as the “den,” are custom-built shelves. I remember being quite young and smelling the lingering scent of wood stain when my dad and his friends installed them. I don’t know who specifically built the shelves — my dad couldn’t handle putting together furniture with directions and pre-drilled holes — but they were made deep enough for records, the turntable, speakers, and so many books. He had a vision of what he needed to best take care of what he loved, and he found the people who could do that for him.
Because of that, I never claimed too many of the records after he died. At the time, I lived in a house with inadequate storage that was prone to humidity. The handful of records purchased on my own could exist in my small crate, but that system always felt like a stopgap until I had my own custom-built shelves. Now, I temporarily live in what is now only my mother’s house, and it does feel good to have all of them right there. Even though I haven’t listened to them all, I like to stare at their spines and take in what I have. Some sleeves are in better shape than others, but all the vinyl itself is near-pristine.
Eventually, I will be in my own home again, and yet the thought of moving these records fills me with a strange anxiety. How can I willingly make the absence, that massive hole in our lives, that much more real? Including the tapes and CDs, all this music is technically “mine,” but the physical space they occupy is large. Even if I know that the music is in a good home where it is still cared for and appreciated, how long will I continue to be startled by those blank shelves?
This column, Record Machine, is my attempt at paying respects and acclimating myself to the idea that everything changes. My father would appreciate his music collection being talked about in this way, and I take my role as its new owner and caretaker seriously. In my ongoing tributes, may my grief one day become merely a dull roar.