Sometime yesterday afternoon, I embarked on a bit of a Hawkwind festival.1 I’ve always enjoyed it when I can take the time to just listen to an artist’s catalog straight through, and in this case it will take several days to traverse the items in my collection (about 530 tracks, I think). They are not on the top of my list of favorite artists at all, it’s just that they have released a lot of records and I get someone compulsive in my collecting. It’s weird remembering where this whole Hawkwind fascination started.

I can blame the long defunct Midnight Records in Oildale, California I suppose. They had an interesting import section, which I always trolled looking for one of my true favorites, Roy Harper.2 I had never heard of Hawkwind, and they certainly weren’t on the radar of any of my punk/heavy metal friends. I first noticed a record called Levitation which featured Ginger Baker (of Cream) on drums. I liked that one a lot, so I started snatching them up when I got the chance. Their albums were pretty scarce, because they didn’t really have a US label at the time. Record collecting was one of my first obsessions (from the age of about 10 or so), and the hard to find things always seemed to bring the most satisfaction. It wasn’t simply trying to be different, but rather that the artists around the fringes always seemed to reward sustained interest/attention. I had no idea that they were actually huge in Britain.

Midnight Record’s selection was small, but strong. They also sold used, so I could stretch my paltry budget further. Just the same, I would save up and around once a month or so I would try to make a pilgrimage to a record store in LA like Rhino to snatch up $100-$200 worth of LPs at a whack. LPs are an interesting sort of self-limiting format. Twenty minutes per side, and with a cost per unit high enough (on my 1970s-1990s budgets) to make it impossible to own too much music. I’d pick out a stack of ten or twenty LPs, and study them. The best way to think about it is intensive vs. extensive listening.

When I moved to Arkansas around 1995, things changed. It wasn’t the shift to CDs3, but rather my discovery of tape trading. I began to listen to a lor of bootleg cassettes, because the internet fostered global communities of traders. Suddenly, it became possible to locate rarities with staggering speed and volume. They were still “rare” in the sense that most people didn’t have them, but not so rare in that they began piling up around the house for the price of a blank cassette and a little postage. Obsessive that I am, I became so overwhelmed by music that it seemed like if I listened 24/7 it would still take years to hear it all. My listening habits became, well, extensive. Especially when I started trading with a gentleman in England for Harper recordings. His taste was so different than mine that I had to trade with others to get things that he wanted so that I could then trade for Harper…

The shift to digital music can contribute to both intensive and extensive impulses. I’ve been trying to break the habits of an eternal search for novelty in favor of a more considered approach. I don’t use shuffle anymore, except in the car. I listen to albums. I think the progress here amounts to a confrontation with too much. I’m trying to learn to relax about this constant searching for stuff.

The catch phrase around the house is “too many toaster waffles.” In the 2007 movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks, flush with musical success, buy massive quantities of toaster waffles and gorge themselves with predictable effects. It is easy to be a victim of abundance.

1 Though the badge has disappeared, most of my listening can be tracked on lastfm.

2I suspect a Roy Harper festival is in my future; I’d like to listen while perusing his lyric book.

3The transition to CDs was actually long and slow, leading to much introspection as old favorites were rediscovered in new formats, furthering intensive listening.