Collectivism: The Cult of the Object

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Nick's Philosophies on Nirvana

I make a real point of replying when people post comments here. My reason is that I always want to acknowledge that you’ve taken the time to share your thoughts and I enjoy reading them – least I can do is show that I try to listen as much as I blether. Just don’t want it ever coming across as me setting myself up as the arbiter of right/wrong – everyone has as much right as me and me replying…I’m just one of you.

Nowwwwww…Take a look at this pretty lil’ item…

Collectivism_Come as you Are

This 12”, and the Smells Like Teen Spirit one, started my flight away from collecting records for the sake of it. Essentially I didn’t have the space to display this likeable vinyl oddity, and all the songs on it were available more conveniently…So after three or four years I decided there was more music in the world I wanted, that something that I never looked at, listened to, or imagined ever listening to had no purpose.

The point though is that collecting, as an activity, rarely has a fundamental purpose. My starting point, always, is a completist desire; I purchased every Swans release, I read all the Sven Hassel books. On a more sophisticated level I own thirteen books about Mike Tyson which allows the tracing from the early days when he was the great hope of heavyweight boxing and being held up as a rags to riches, all-American dream and credit to the community; to the first rising disquiet; through his defeat, imprisonment and return whereupon the books become more focused on the business machinations of boxing; onward to the present vision of him as a fairly dark individual with a fairly awful reputation. I can understand that desire; it’s a trust thing — when one knows one enjoys a particular author, artist, musician, it’s an easy fulfilment.

The next level, increasingly open to fans, is to support a particular individual or group thereof. I purchase all Swans’ releases direct from Michael Gira’s Young God Records and they all come signed. Whatever The Caretaker (James Kirby) is up to, I’ll buy it — I despatched money to fund the pressing and release of the six disc Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia release, two copies, one of which one of my best friends successfully lost; genius move Franklin. Loyalty and connection are powerful motivations in their own right.

In addition to that, I suffer a dreadful desire to know, to understand. It’s a form of control in a sense, projected outwards into the world — a desire to fully grasp an individual’s work or vision. I do the same thing with genres, delve into them, cover the bases, get to the point that I can say “yep, I know grunge/Dischord Records/Williams S. Burroughs”. But it’s a hole that can never be filled. In the early days I used to buy all but one of any collection; 13 of 14 Sven Hassel books, every Swans album except The Great Annihilator, every official Sonic Youth release (this one took some work) bar their very first album (now rectified.) It’s a controlling urge, a subconscious attempt to possess so much knowledge and data on something that somehow you ‘get it’ or at least can argue or demonstrate it — I’m unsure if collecting at this level is about trying to win.

There’s also the desire to recapture the thrill, that first good feeling when something felt like magic. It’s related to that first point; a dependable source of pleasure as opposed to the uncertainty of having to locate a new one that’s equal to what has gone before. Nirvana are certainly one of my personal origin myths, the ur-text for much of my music taste to come. Also, like a lot of the people I’ve spoken to during this book/blog trip, the discovery of Nirvana was a turning point — these feel more intense in our teens when we’re still pouring structure into the mixing bowl of content already within us; there are fewer of them as the mould sets.

A good consequence of collecting so much is that it creates scarcity; there’s a point reached where each release one doesn’t have is part of a shrinking pool into which one can delve thus providing each new piece a significance and importance that isn’t possessed when the world is simply a mountain of consumable media never-ending. Eking out those remnants becomes as important as the item itself; it’s rare, valuable by default.

Of course, on the downside, collecting so much can lead to exhaustion. With any genre there’s a point where one has whipped through all the bands who were true innovators and then burrowed into the bands who were just tweaking the template now established. If one is content hearing ever more minor digressions within a single orbit of sound then that can be fine; one can dig a bottomless pit of similar sounding bands. This does, of course, lead to an ever greater recognition of the differences; one can hear ever more finely what distinguishes the releases in a way that casual listeners can’t; it’s why those who haven’t dug deep into a genre can make claims about the similarities between bands as diverse as The Who and Nirvana.

But then, as I said, given it’s the quest, the search, the new finding that seems to motivate me, possession gradually loses its excitement. Sonic Youth are a good case; I’ve shed a number of their live releases and most of the singles — I didn’t need their cover of Nirvana’s M.V. for instance, the original fills whatever space that song needs to occupy. By the same virtue, I didn’t need the picture discs sitting on a shelf gathering dust, they had to go. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, it was simply my mode of collecting. The fact it was a Nirvana item, a relatively rare one, made no odds — an unheard fragment of Nirvana I’ll cling to with furious tenacity, I’ll rampage out into the cosmos to hunt them down, but retaining objects that differ only in their physical qualities…Somehow it doesn’t spark for me. I’m a content junky not an object one. Again this isn’t a statement of any moral or otherwise intrinsic right/wrong; some people collect houses, some collect savings, others collect memories, some gather mementoes. All of these are possibilities, all are devoid of a right/wrong. It just so happens most of my memories are encoded in the possession of a book or the presence of a CD or song.

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