If you think a book where record collectors are asked the same questions might get boring, you’re wrong.
“There’s something contemptible about collecting in the eyes of non-collectors.” Cartoonist and noted record collector Robert Crumb tells this to Mats Gustafsson in Discaholics!, which gathers interviews that the Swedish musician conducted with noted vinyl junkies. Unlike such coffee-table books as Feel the Music, which we reviewed here, the book is short on photos of rare records and long on interviews, but even without visual guides, this book will send you happily scouring Discogs and YouTube to sample the esoteric tastes of collectors who will both reinforce your existing needs and send you into new and rewarding directions.
If you think a book where record collectors are asked the same questions might get boring, you’re wrong. That’s in part because Gustafsson will follow his interview subjects wherever they lead him. The best example of this is in one of the book’s longest interviews, with Penguin Jazz Guide co-author Brian Morton. Morton‘s conversation about records is of course informative, but the interview takes off when he veers into tangents on the whisky that originates from the region of Scotland where he lives. Like all of the best interview subjects in Discaholics!, Morton is a vivid raconteur, noting that he found rare albums by flutist Harold McNair in a bargain box that was otherwise made up on nothing but records best used “as place mats at a chimpanzee’s dinner party.”
Still, record collecting is not all whisky and chimps. Time and again, Gustafsson’s subjects wax on the pleasure of the object, as he himself likes to take out the 11 copies he owns of New Acoustic Swing Duo, each with a different hand-made cover by drummer by Han Bennink, “put them on the floor, and just look at them and smile. That is therapy to me.”
While that record may not send you on an online hunt, others will. Gustafsson raves about The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop, originally produced in conjunction with a forgotten PBS special; while Swedish-Eritrean DJ Elena Wolay plugs the 1972 debut from Philemon Arthur and the Dung, an avant-rock outfit who subsequently won Sweden’s award for best children’s album of the year—a decision so controversial that the award was suspended for 17 years afterward.
Cartoonist Robert Crumb gets at the psychology of collecting like no one else interviewed here: “collectors are perceived as creeps by most people, craven hoarders, narrowly obsessed little men.” Yet while Gustafsson’s project began in the spirit of sharing knowledge and soliciting trades, Crumb has a more cynical view. “Pfah! Are you serious? Every record trade I’ve ever been involved in was a scheming, conniving, craven affair…it sure-as-shitting has nothing to do with any ‘gesture of sharing.’ I don’t know, maybe collectors are nicer where you live.”
Perhaps that’s true. Gustafsson says, “Interviewing these people helps me seeing myself more clearly, to get a perspective on my illness. I love it.” Of course, in saving the Crumb interview for last, he opens up the door for skepticism about the whole thing. “We all know deep down,” Crumb says of record collecting, “that this is a ridiculous way to be spending our precious lives, and we all know that we can’t help it.”
On that note, an appendix of various top 10 lists makes you almost feel guilty until you spot the name of some Japanese free jazz artist you’d never heard of, or learn with surprise that Swedish jazz musicians Lars Werner and Hans Vanner released an album dedicated to hard-boiled crime writer Raymond Chandler. Gustafsson asks each of his subjects if there’s a cure for their illness. You already know the answer. If Discaholics! is to be considered part of any 12-step program, it will be one that makes the junkie simply want more. The fact that the book is already sold out at the publisher means it has itself become a rare and desired object.