3.2.18

Collecting and addiction


[John Cale's "Paris 1919" in various formats from the author's collection.]

Collecting is one of those things that, I suppose, is generally advisable not to take TOO seriously.

Facing oneself in the mirror there are enough things in one's life which are, in holistic terms, a bigger "issue" - like for instance air travel, or eating meat or one's attitude to capital in relation to people living in, say, Bangladesh. Does it really matter very much that one is a little fixated upon stockpiling recorded music? And occasionally in multiple formats?

I stumbled across this fascinating article about "Obsessive Record and CD Collecting". The heavily garlanded Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA. is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. Mark clearly knows a thing or two, not just about collecting music, but addiction itself. I reckon he's probably going to have to reconcile himself with being my NBF, at least in my fevered imagination we're going to have extensive conversations about what links The Beatles and The Velvet Underground.

Mark's view on collecting comes in the very last line of the article:
"Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it—and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die."
and this on the basis of his criteria of addiction:
For any behaviour to be defined as addictive, I would expect there to be specific consequences as a result of the person’s relationship with the behaviour. More specifically I would expect to see all the following things: 
- Salience (when a particular activity becomes the most important activity in the person’s life) 
- Mood modification (the use of the activity as a way of either getting a ‘high’ or ‘buzz’ and/or using the activity to escape, de-stress or numb) 
- Tolerance (needing more and more of the activity over time to feel the mood modifying effects) 
- Withdrawal symptoms (psychological and/or physiological consequences such as excess moodiness and irritability if unable to engage in the activity) 
- Conflict (with other activities – such as work and hobbies – and personal relationships, that may lead to a loss of control) 
- Relapse (i.e. returning to addictive patterns of use following a period of abstinence)
Naturally this is something which I've given a lot of thought to over the years. Surely you'd be disappointed if I hadn't? On one level it's strictly comic, indeed over the years I have riffed on this. Mark must be an altogether healthier individual than me because I manifested all of these points:
Salience. Gotta admit, almost in shame (lol), that very, very occasionally collecting records has nudged its way into (possibly) being the most important activity in my life. If only for brief windows... perhaps. Check.
Mood modification Oh puhlease! Of course. Those peaceful moments when you're combing through the racks, in "the zone" blissfully oblivious of all your problems. Check.
Tolerance Ha, ha, ha. No longer content to leave a record shop with one record? So it's got to be two now has it? Check.
Withdrawal symptoms Yeah, probably. Or certainly, at least, exhilaration upon resumption after a self-enforced fast. Check.
Conflict Pshaw. In trouble? Skint? The Mrs (or Mr) annoyed with you. We've all been there! (looks around at an empty room). Check.
Relapse Again, I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to stop buying records. And failed ;-p Check.
There are two books which have particular resonance with regards to collecting records. Evan Eisenberg's "The Recording Angel" starts with the author visiting the collector Clarence:
"Clarence opens the kitchen door and you enter, but just barely. Every surface - the counters and cabinets, the shelves of the oven and refrigerator, and almost all of the linoleum floor - is covered with records. They are heavy shellac discs, jammed in cardboard boxes or just lying in heaps; crowning one pile is a plate of rusty spaghetti. In the far corner are four shopping bags full of sugared doughnuts. There is a stench."
Lol. I mean, great to put my own issues in a wider context, and all that. No stench in my study, no sirree... The other good book, and a personal favourite I often return to is "Collecting: An Unruly Passion." Psychological Perspectives by Werner Muensterberger. Favourite bits include the chapter on Tulip mania (which has particular relevance in the era of Bitcoin - hey, have you noticed how people who have just bought Bitcoins can't wait to tell you all about it? Hook the next sucker innit) and also the story of Gloucestershire's own Sir Thomas Phillips who set himself the task of collecting "One Copy of Every Book!" (Sir Thomas, like many of the great bibliophiles was not much of a reader).

The best bit, however is the section where he looks at collecting's roots in tribal behaviour, specifically head-hunting. Ethnography always produces the most revealing perspectives on "modern" human activity don't you think:
"These head-hunting expeditions had various purposes, the most important belonging to the initiation rites of the pubescent boys, culminating in a circumcision ceremony in the course of which the youth sat on a skull during the actual operation. This last instance is particularly descriptive because the entire procedure literally makes the young novice the possessor of the power-imbued skull. Here we must remember that the verb "possess" comes from the Latin potes (able) and sedere (to sit). I do not believe that any other demonstration of what it means to possess could be more explicit, starting with predatory expeditions and climaxing in the ritualized act of taking possession of the soul-substance or life-force of the slain victim. It is an unqualified enactment of ownership and triumph."
Yikes! So gory. Love this. Great as a means of understanding the whole notion of recorded music as "souls trapped in wax", of collecting as an activity driven by sublimated desire for power and enlightening too with regards to music industry's fixation on the scalps of dead stars: Jimi, Janis, John, Jim and Ian. Also, you gotta reflect, if this is collecting's root and source, a not entirely healthy preoccupation.