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Digital reprieve for a lifetime collection

By G.D. Maxwell "You got any records yer gonna sell?" It was late in the morning, Saturday morning.

By G.D. Maxwell

"You got any records yer gonna sell?"

It was late in the morning, Saturday morning. I’d been dealing with strangers for the better part of five hours, ever since I began to drag tables, shelves, chairs, boxes, and what felt like tons of gewgaws out onto the driveway at seven freakin’ AM.

Our semi-annual garage sale, the forth or fifth we’d held, had entered a period of lull. Multitasking the morning away, pricing on the fly, keeping an eye on suspicious characters, bartering for quarters with persistent Ukrainian women, forcing every purchaser to take their complimentary issue or six of old New Yorker magazines, and shooing unruly children away from fragile glassware, the question caught me off guard.

"Uh – no. Well, yes, yes I do but they’re all inside," I eventually answered.

"Are you gonna sell ’em?" The guy asking was on a quest for vinyl. He’d walked past the other treasures and was ready to keep walking to the next garage sale.

"I’m not sure," I stammered. "I haven’t decided. Yeah, maybe."

The truth was, I’d pretty much decided. My Perfect Partner and I, escaping from possible life sentences, were leaving Toronto in a few months and heading to Whistler. We were going to be travelling light and didn’t want to store any more worldly goods than those we just couldn’t bring ourselves to part with, a list that, for me, was topped by music, art, some books and a ’76 BMW motorcycle.

But really, all those records? Records? The records lived on two floors, filling all available shelf space not given over to books. How many records? Who knew? With the exception of a dozen or so lost when a lowlife friend was arrested and his landlady confiscated everything in his apartment, including the records he’d borrowed from me, and another handful appropriated by an ex-girlfriend who thought much more of them than she did of me, I still had every album I’d ever bought or traded for. Lots.

"Well, can I look at them then?" His persistence was stronger than my fatigue.

"I guess so," I said, leading him inside.

With fingers working like guided missiles he automatically slipped a copy of The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request out of the first shelf he knelt to look at. I felt an icepick slide into my heart.

"No! Not that one. I can’t sell that one; sorry," I said, perhaps too stridently, an edge of panic in my voice. C’mon though, this was the original release of the album, the one with the great 3-D cover of Mick and the boys in their wizard’s finest, dancing from pose to pose as you changed the angle between the cover and your eyes.

Deftly, without hesitation, the eager buyer pulled out an English edition of Blind Faith’s one and only release, the one with the pouting, naked teen girl holding a quicksilver plane on the cover. This time I saw the icepick coming and dodged it. "No! Not that one either. I… no way."

To his credit, the interloper sensed my discomfort. But then he noticed the early recordings of Marvin Gaye. "Don’t even think about it," I said softly, shaking my head from side to side, matching the rhythm of my wagging finger.

Finally, in growing frustration, he pulled out the Blues Brothers soundtrack album and gave me a look that challenged me to have any real attachment to it. I hesitated, weighed my options. I could bludgeon him, drag his inert body out into the backyard and bury him in the fiddleheads or I could sell him a record and get him out of my house.

"Okay," I said. "I’ll sell you that one… but no others. I’ve obviously got to rethink this record thing."

I let the record go for two bucks, just to get the painful experience over with, and went out later that day to buy the CD of the Blues Brothers to replace it. While an obvious net loss, the experience dispelled any doubts about whether I’d store the records or not. I would. And the couple hundred cassette tapes as well. Obviously years of therapy had produced only minimal behavioural change.

Some people hear voices in their heads, voices telling them to wage war against terrorists or kill their neighbours; I hear music. All the time. All kinds of music from kindergarten songs about the wheels of the bus going round and round to Billie Holiday singing about lynched black men to Jimmy Buffett’s longings for a cheeseburger in paradise to lovely, lovely Ludwig Van, as he was so adoringly described by Alex the droog. Lush orchestrations form the unconscious wallpaper of my innerspace. So do simple tunes whistled past graveyards and in dark stairwells.

Part with music? Banish the thought.

That was then; this is now. Little did I know the ton of carefully stored vinyl wouldn’t see the light of day or a turntable stylus for another 10 years. But that’s the way it worked out.

Sorting through the treasures and trash a couple of years ago after their arduous trek up to Smilin’ Dog Manor, counting up the cost of 10 years of storage, the cost of transport from Toronto to Albuquerque, from Albuquerque to the southern Cariboo, the cost of a cussed Customs officer who charged me to bring my own stuff back into Canada, even I had to admit I’d probably never store most of that stuff again should the need arise.

But I wasn’t sure about the records. At least until I finally stumbled across my own personal killer app – analog to digital. Be still my heart.

I knew programs existed. It was only a matter of time before I stumbled across one. There it was at A few mouse clicks and vinyl on the turntable gets stored as digital files on the computer. Ooooh, baby. A few plug-ins and voila, no more pops, no more clicks, no more telltale evidence of records doing double duty as frisbees or coasters.

I figure by the time I’ve archived the music I really might listen to again someday and burned it onto CDs – which I’m half afraid to do after Andrew’s warnings about how fragile they are – Sony will render that format obsolete too and make finding a CD player about as hard as finding an 8-track is today. With any luck, I’ll either die or go deaf before that happens. Otherwise… well, let’s face it, the whole music thing is just a never-ending spiral of same music-different format.

Wonder if there’s a market for that 20-record collection of Bach organ music?