Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Exploring Obsessions in Alan Zweig’s Vinyl

Took a break yesterday afternoon to watch this 2000 documentary about record collectors I’d been hearing about lately called Vinyl.

Made by Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig, the movie delves deeply into the obsessive and/or compulsive tendencies of the several collectors interviewed by Zweig in an effort to reveal something about their motives and behaviors. Intertwined throughout are numerous short monologues delivered by Zweig into a mirror in which he tries to address similar questions about himself, ultimately performing a kind of lengthy self-diagnosis regarding his own record collecting and its possible connection to an inability to form meaningful social connections or find a romantic partner.

After hearing about it, I dialed up the film primarily because of my interest in music and records. I grew up on LPs and still have the three or four hundred or so I mostly accumulated as a teen and young adult, all stacked neatly in plastic sleeves and sitting in alphabetical order on some shelves in a medium-sized closet also dedicated to housing cassettes, CDs, videocassettes, and some DVDs.

Have a record player, too, right on my desk next to the computer, although in truth I probably only pop a disc on there once or twice a month at most.

The set up was originally designed to accommodate my making digital copies of what I had on vinyl, although like I say I’ve only been pulling out records to play on an infrequent basis, and even though I have everything hooked up to do so I haven’t even bothered much with capturing the LPs and converting them to .mp3s.

Music is so easy to come by these days, also making it hard for me to be moved to go back and bother with the LPs. And while I do have a kind of nostalgic fondness for the 12-by-12 cardboard sleeves, cover art, and groovy grooves, I don’t come close to sharing the extreme fetishism toward the objects themselves of those featured in Vinyl. For me the tunes are really all that matter. I could easily imagine jettisoning the whole lot without much anxiety at all, as long as I had copies to which to listen if I so desired.

That said, I will admit to sharing some of the same obsessive tendencies on display in the film. I would imagine most others probably do as well, which might even work as a way to recommend Vinyl to those who aren’t particularly interested in records or the stories of a bunch of lonely dudes who collect them.

In fact, if I were to sit down and think about it earnestly, I’d probably have to conclude that one of the attractions of poker (for me) is the fact that the game probably satisfies some of those same tendencies, most of which amount to a desire for order. Or ordering.

I suppose I’m partly talking about the constant counting and keeping track that can go on during a session (we’re constantly stacking and restacking our chips) and for some of us continues afterwards (with record-keeping). And the highly ritualistic component to game play certainly provides all sorts of opportunities for one’s obsessions to manifest themselves as certain behaviors, too.

My buddy the Poker Grump recently passed along the news that he’s soon moving from Las Vegas and thus will likely slow down or stop posting on his excellent, inspiring blog. While I’m sorry not to have the posts to read, I’m also quite glad about the fact that his move will land him closer to Cardgrrl and to me, too (just a couple of hours up the road, actually).

When I think about Poker Grump’s blog, I realize that some of my favorite posts from him over the years have been about poker chips, including (but not limited to) posts about stacking them, counting them, collecting them, manufacturing them, and now selling them.

Those posts perhaps partly help illustrate what I’m getting at here regarding poker being a game that provides lots of opportunities for humans to turn their minds upon material stuff, exploring it in numerous ways including how we can arrange and manipulate our stuff into arrangements that please us.

(Incidentally, with regarding to collecting, my sense is that Poker Grump’s relationship to chips is also a far cry from the obvious extremism on display in Vinyl. He’s mentioned many times his casual approach to collecting, including a self-imposed regulation not to go too far out of his way -- generally speaking -- when it comes to obtaining new, different chips.)

Like I say, I liked those posts by the Grump, probably because I found myself identifying a lot with his desire for order. And with his wanting to chronicle that desire, too. Hell, we might step back and look at these lengthy, dedicated poker blogs the two of us have been creating all of these years and talk about another example of obsessive behavior the two of us obviously share.

Getting back to Vinyl, even though those featured in the documentary might strike most of us as being more than a little off-the-deep-end with their collecting -- e.g., one guy sincerely lists as a goal to collect every record ever made (no shinola) -- I think it’s still possible to recognize a lot of their impulses and behaviors in ourselves.

The film that Vinyl reminded me of most frequently was Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 doc Crumb that intensely delved into the life and personality of the cartoonist Robert Crumb (who also happens to be a pretty serious collector of records). Both adopt a similarly invasive approach to their subjects, at times almost uncomfortably so. Both feature some bleak moments, too, although on the whole Vinyl is much less grim than Crumb.

There’s another connection of sorts, too, in that Harvey Pekar pops up (with zero fanfare) as an interview subject in Vinyl. Pekar, of course, authored the autobiographical comic book series American Splendor illustrated by Crumb.

Anyhow, like I say, I recommend the movie to those for whom any of this sounds interesting. (It is available in its entirety over on YouTube.) I see there are also a couple of sequels and some sort of “alternate take” version of Vinyl out there which I might seek out at some point. But I’m in no hurry to do so.

I mean, I enjoyed the movie, sure. But it’s not like I’m obsessed about it.

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