The Thrill of the Find
The Passion of Record Collecting
Posted by Michelle Melles | May 11, 2019
My husband, Pedro, spots a box of records on a stranger’s front lawn and narrows in like a shark zeroing in to its prey. It’s rather late in the day for finding the best stuff at garage sales but life is full of surprises – and this is one of those unpredictable moments. I see him flipping through the LP’s, his eyes already becoming feral, when the guy who is hosting the garage sale says, “Those records belonged to my uncle. I have one more box inside the house – I’ll bring it out.”
He glances over at me and I see dilated eyes and un-bridled passion.
Pedro has to play it cool. No one has seen or picked through this new box of records yet and so it’s like being the first one to discover a long-lost treasure. He has to act like he’s not too psyched because he still wants to get a good deal. He glances over at me and I see dilated eyes and un-bridled passion. I read on his expression that this is a holy grail moment for record collectors and I have to give him lots of space. I can’t even look or – god-forbid – talk to him at this point. He’s finding rare records that that he’s been searching for his entire life. There are records from the 60’s and 70’s from bands like Love, Soft Machine, and The Grateful Dead, he’s finding early punk records from bands like The New York Dolls and rare albums from India and Africa. The world has become pure magic – and best yet – the guy selling the records has no clue how valuable they are. He’s practically willing to give them away.
Pedro walks towards me smiling ear-to-ear with a stack of records that he just bought for 25 bucks. He’s completely blissed out.
The pleasure of listening to the music increases when the story of finding the album is a good one.
Record collectors like my husband love music in a visceral way – they live for it, are sustained by it, and they think about music all of the time. They get huge amounts of pleasure from searching, buying and talking about records. And, for my husband, buying new records at a place like Urban Outfitters defeats the purpose. His pleasure comes from finding records in out of the way shops, small town flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores. The pleasure of listening to the music increases when the story of finding the album is a good one. It’s like the heroes journey culminates with the long-searched for album that they now hold in their hands. The thrill of the find is what it’s about.
With collectors, the objects they collect becomes part of their identity – part of their life’s stories. There’s really not much of a distinction, in other words, between the collector and their collection. The records they buy are from musicians that helped to shape them in some way, or are from musicians that they admire or are intrigued by (to name only a few of the motivations behind buying records). Pedro has also bought many records for their bizarre, or sexy, or cool, or artistic covers.
By owning a vintage record (or an antique – if you’re into antiques), the collector feels closer to a cherished time, or moment in their life. For me, it would be like discovering David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane at a country flea market – un-played, still wrapped and in mint condition. The idea that no one had played that particular album before would be hugely exciting because it would transport me back in time to the moment when I bought this record – my very first record ever. Even peeling off the plastic was pleasurable, touching and holding the album – reading the liner notes, all of this gave me pleasure. I first bought this album (which has been lost now) after my childhood best friend and I had spent hours listening to Bowie – lying on the floor of her bedroom staring up at the ceiling and feeling the music wash over us. We were children and Bowie’s music opened up a window into an adult world which was intensely exciting. We felt cool and sexy and buying the record was an extension of that moment.
The object connects you to moments in your past, moments in history, or even to your imagination. “With music streaming, music is abstract or ethereal,” my husband explains, “but when you find an object that connects you to it, it’s like it connects you to the moment of creation. The object represents the music or the musician, so it makes it more personal.”
When an MRI is performed on a collector, the pleasure centre of the brain ‘the nucleus accumbens’ lights up as though it was on fire when reward is anticipated.
The ‘neuropsychology of the collector’ has been studied and researchers explain why collecting becomes an all-consuming passion instead of just a hobby. When an MRI is performed on a collector, the pleasure centre of the brain ‘the nucleus accumbens’ lights up as though it was on fire when reward is anticipated. This is the same part of the brain that lights up (in other test subjects) when food, sex, or addictive drugs are anticipated. It resides deep in the so-called primitive brain – which explains the simian nature of my husband.
So, when the guy at the garage sale was bringing out the ‘virgin’ box of records, this is when my husband was probably feeling the most intense pleasure. It was at that moment that he could imagine anything he wanted to because it’s the anticipation of the reward that the pleasure center burns most brightly. Once the prize is actually obtained, the nucleus accumbens shows less activity.
This is a time when everyone seems to be “Marie Kondoizing” their houses and apartments – getting rid of all of their vintage albums and ‘stuff’ because they no longer “spark joy”. But, my husband and other record collectors like him, are out there at thrift stores searching through the discarded records…and they are feeling pure joy.