When I watched the documentary Vinyl by Toronto, CA filmmaker Alan Zweig, a light went off in my head. His thought provoking documentary about vinyl record collectors and the reasons they collect struck a chord with me. This film captured the very essence of why people collect the records they do and raised a ton of other questions that I needed to get answered. This prompted me to contact Alan about his documentary, which was recently named one of the Top 20 music documentaries to watch by Pitchfork magazine. The film itself was made in 2000, and he has since gone on to release a half dozen more acclaimed documentaries. Alan sat down with Flea Market Funk to discuss this ground breaking first documentary, vinyl record collecting, and vinyl record culture among other things.
FMF: Alan, first off all, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I was blown away by your documentary Vinyl. While I found it really interesting and exciting, it also depressed the hell out of me at the same time. Being a record guy, I deal with all kinds of people, a lot of sociopaths that have great records to sell or that stand next to me while I am digging. The movie also got me thinking about the reasons I collect records and other objects. I’ve never once in my life dug deep inside myself to figure out why I buy records until now. You’re a collector yourself, so what was the motivation behind doing this film? Could you tell Flea Market Funk how the film came about?
AZ: I could make up a less complicated answer to that question, but here’s the truth. I had an idea for a fiction film about a record collector and I applied for an arts council grant. In the grant, I outlined the story, but I also included my own story. I probably figured the arts councils wanted to know that you had a personal connection to the material. To understand the rest of the story, you’d have to know my so-called career history up to that point. But when I got the grant, the first one I’d received in more than 15 years, I had the thought that if I just used the money to live on while I wrote the script, at the end I’d have another unproduced script to throw in the drawer with the others. In the meantime, I had seen a “film” a friend of mine was making using a hi-8 video camera. Up until that point, I was a dyed-in-the-wool film guy. We hated video. And at that point, which is almost twenty years ago, documentaries were still made on film. But this hi-8 camera had a certain look that got past my traditional hatred of video. I had been told by some arts council jury members that my personal story had been the factor that had convinced them. So I just put two and two and two together, and thought if I just decide to make a video documentary, I could start making it the next day, rather than throwing the money down a hole. I’d never made a documentary, but I was a filmmaker, I thought I’d figure it out. I just to get used to the camera and decided I’d stay at home for a while to try to figure out how to tell my own story. The rest, as they say, is history.
FMF:How did you get involved with vinyl records and record collecting? What was your main influence?
AZ:I started slowly. I bought some 45’s when I was 12 or so. If I had to say what the first record I bought, just to be obscure and local, I’d say “It was I” by The Big Town Boys. That was certainly one of the first few. Then, I started buying LP’s, either from the Columbia Record Club or one of those other record clubs. I bought the Best of the Animals, Best of Dylan, Best of the Byrds, Best of The Rolling Stones (High Tide and Green Grass). I had a record player, not a stereo. My parents had a console stereo, but I don’t think I ever used it (except maybe once when they went on vacation). I continued to buy records as a teenager, eventually venturing downtown to legendary Toronto stores, A&A’s and Sam’s. I remember I had the first Blues Magoos record, an early Steve Miller record, Children of The Future. Already I was buying on impulse. I used to tape record music performances on TV. I tried to get music any way I could. Maybe I was just cheap. I’m sure I didn’t know that there were used record stores. When I moved out of my parents’ house after university, maybe I had fifty records. I had the music bug, just not the record bug. Not yet. It continued that way for the next ten years or so. I was into music, everyone knew it, I had more records than most of my friends, but that meant a couple hundred. Things changed when I got into Jazz. Things changed again when I discovered used record stores and then again when I discovered a particular record store, the old Vortex on Dundas; a couple of record store clerks who showed me some tributaries to follow. It grew slowly. I loved buying records, but I also loved trading them in for others. I never really got into the thousands until I discovered thrift store records and easy listening, which lasted a decade or so. Then I had a big purge.
I always loved music. Music meant everything to me. But as I try to say in the film, music isn’t just about the beautiful sound in the air when a great song is playing. Accumulating records is sort of like having a career in music. It’s a full time job. It’s related to music but it’s also its own thing. I don’t think you can explain why your love of music took that shape except to say that sometimes you want to be able to put your hand on the thing.
FMF:What is it that draws you to a certain record? Why do you buy the records you do? Is it the typography of the band’s name, the cover photo? Do you search out certain artists and buy their whole discography? What’s your record buying philosophy?
AZ:This is the perfect question to make the distinction between record collectors and record accumulators, though most of us our both to some extent. In order to collect a certain artist, generally speaking, one knows what is out there. You know what you’re looking for. I just like looking. The vast, vast majority of records I’ve bought, I didn’t know I wanted till I saw them. Often I didn’t even know they existed until I saw them. There are some exceptions: records I heard once and decided to keep an eye out for. When I was a kid and FM radio first started in Toronto, they used to play this cut “Ride With Me” by Mars Bonfire, who had been in Steppenwolf, and wrote the song “Born To Be Wild”. I always sort of wanted that record and found it recently, about forty years after it came out. I didn’t make a point of looking for it, obviously. I just hoped it would turn up someday. As far as what I look for in a record, I look for the words “A Go Go” in unlikely places. When I was really into Sunshine Pop, I had this rule that the band members’ hair couldn’t be too long. I was looking for bands who just started to grow their hair a month or so ago. If they were clean cut kids playing Lettermen covers at the Holiday Inn, heard “Cherish” by The Association and tried to change their image, then that was a band I wanted to hear. But if they were long-haired hippies, it was too late. Their naïveté was gone. And so it goes. Recently at a record show, I bought a record by a female trio called The Mirettes. The cover screamed “hard Funk a la Ike and Tina Turner”. It was something about their afros and even more than that, something about the graphics, even the colors, and the title “Whirlpool”. When I read on the back that they had been in the Ike and Tina revue, I was sold. Also the fact that they were on the Uni label, meant something to me, though I can’t say what. But the guy wanted serious money – 35 dollars, which I never pay, let alone for something unheard. He also compared them to some much lighter, sweeter sounding group. I thought he didn’t know what he was talking about so I threw in a few more records, made a deal for the bunch, got him down to 20 bucks for that one. Even when I showed my buddy the record, he was a bit jealous. He saw what I saw. And then I dropped the needle on the first cut and it was totally what I hoped it would be. It doesn’t always work out that way though. My philosophy is that I like looking through records and sometimes I have to buy one or two. This past weekend I was in my wife’s hometown and missed a record show in Toronto. But we went to the Value Village – my wife’s family are serious thrift store lovers – and I bought a bunch of records including a Bill Monroe record, which I rarely see in a used record store let alone a thrift store.
FMF:This film is about 13 years old. After you finished filming, what conclusion did you come to about your vinyl record habits? Did you keep right on collecting, take a break, or stop all together? Would you like to share anything that you found out about yourself as a collector because you made this movie?
AZ:The film came out in 2000, but I started it in 1995, so it’s almost 20 years old for me. My feelings about my accumulating changed while I was making the film and a lot of that is reflected in the film. I love records and I love looking through them and occasionally buying them. That will never go away. If you have the time and the money and the space in your house, and you can find a way to give them the proper place in your life, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go right on hunting them down and purchasing them. I think that’s one of the things some people object to in the film. There are a couple of hot Jazz 78 collectors in the film and they maintain families and jobs and houses. They have 10,000 78’s beautifully organized in shelves in the basement, and they go on record buying trips a couple of times a year. Their wives are happy they aren’t out drinking and their kids think it’s cool and everything is hunky dory. If you can be that guy, why should you abandon the thing you love.
Bu,t I would go to Hamilton where there was this particular Goodwill store and one of the clerks would go on the floor and say that for the next hour, records are five dollars a bag – you could fit over 50 records in a bag – and suddenly you’d think about the records you’d already passed over because 50 cents was too much. You’d go back to the beginning and leave with 110 record you paid ten bucks for, and most of them you only bought because a big band was playing their version of “The Last Time” by The Stones and you just had to hear it. I loved it too much. I didn’t have the time or the space or the money to love it that much. Plus I was letting things slide. I’d come back from that Hamilton thrift store – The Amity, it was called – and I’d think maybe I should go back the next day. And I don’t live in Hamilton. It’s an hour away on a good day. Wake up at 11 am because you were up half the night making tapes, drive to Hamilton, spend a couple of hours going through the shelves, drive back. Drop the needle on fifty or so records you just bought, start thinking about dinner by maybe ten p.m. And I loved it. Here’s one more thing. Once upon a time, I would have said that I would rather have had one genuine piece of Psych or Garage vinyl rather than all the Nuggets-style CD compilations in the world. But you can only say that when you don’t realize how much you’re giving up. It’s not just a few volumes of Nuggets. It’s thousands upon thousands of obscure Garage cuts that you will never ever find unless you buy, or download that compilation. So, I was missing out on lots of great music. Also, when I started getting really into Sunshine Pop and Psych and old Funk, you were no longer finding records in thrift stores. They were 20 bucks, not fifty cents. At that time, anyway, it was hard for me to really love a record if I paid real money for it. So the thrill of discovery was starting to wane. Like I said, I was just thinking about it too much. You’d wake up in the morning and wonder where in the city and vicinity, they were putting out a record that day that you would either find that day or never ever see again. I needed to find balance. I have more balance now because I’ve just got more stuff I have to do and less time to fill with records. But when I get the chance, I take it. Yesterday I was with my family and in-laws at a thrift store and while my daughter was getting her grandpa to read her books and my wife was looking for clothes with her mother and grandmother, I went through the records. I bought the first K-tel record I ever owned, just for that ugly checkerboard cover and for all the memories it brings back. But, I bought eight records, not 110.
FMF:You and I were talking Latin records, and you mentioned that Booglaoo in Apt. 41 is one of your most prized possessions (Ozzie Torrens & His Exciting Orchestra). What about it makes it your favorite? Can you talk a bit more about some of your most prized records and why they are your favorite? Do you have any interesting stories that go along with how you acquired them?
AZ:The record is called “Boogaloo in Apt. 41”, how can you not love that? It’s actually a great record. I sometimes spin records. And I’m looking for a particular sound. Something anyone can dance to with a certain amount of cheese – not too much – is ideal to me, though I don’t mind a little more or less cheese either. A touch of Latin flavor too. This record has it all. I like the fact that I had never heard of the artist. I just bought it because like I said, I couldn’t pass up that title or the cover. If I had to go to a desert island and spin records there, this would be one of my discs. It’s like a cross between Mongo Santamaria and the Willie Mitchell Hi Rhythm Section band. That drums just hit so hard. Take a listen to Mia’s Boogaloo, it’s on youtube.
Certainly some of my favorite records are tied to the whole discovery aspect. Taking a chance on something, and having the chance pay off (and not paying anything for it). I know that’s a common thing for accumulators like myself. The feeling that you uncovered something long forgotten. Some of my other favorite records have to do with hearing the record once in someone’s collection and then going years without finding a copy for yourself. Bill Plummer’s Cosmic Brotherhood with “Journey to The East” is one such record. There’s the related record, Bob Thiele’s “Light My Fire” record. There’s a few more records also on Impulse, like these Gabor Szabo records. If you know the records I’m talking about, you know how they’re all related. But those first two, I really thought I’d never find them. And even when they no longer made sense in my collection, if you know what I mean, I couldn’t let them go.
FMF:At what point in your life did you realize that buying vinyl records was an addiction in some way, shape, or form? Do you think that being a record collector always turns into a problem because you have to keep buying more and more (even if you don’t need to), or do you think there is a healthy way to go about collecting records?
AZ:Yes there’s a healthy way of collecting records, especially if you mean collecting in the strictest sense of the word, which is trying to collect a set, so to speak. If you want every original Elvis LP in its original pressing, then there’s a limited number and I believe, you could set about to accomplish that goal in a healthy way. However, if you want everything ever released with Elvis’s name on it, including every country’s issue of the same record, plus the cassettes, and the CD’s etc, then there really is no end to what you’re collecting and that could drive you a bit crazy.
It’s all relative. If I buy a record for 150 dollars, which I can’t afford, then maybe I’m taking it a bit far. But if a rich man buys a record for that price, it’s no big deal. And so on. If you go out once a week to look for records and you actually play them, and you don’t have a section on the floor for the hundreds of records that you can’t put on the shelves yet because you haven’t even played them yet, I would say you’ve probably found some balance. When I think of my record accumulating habit at its most intense, I always think of these ads on TV for a “bill payer loan”, which offered to pay all your debts and all your bills and consolidate them so you’d be paying one institution rather than a dozen. When I was most intensely accumulating records, I believe I was basically taking all the places my mind would regularly go and replacing them with one overriding message: “Go find more records!” Like a big flashing sign. “I should probably go to the doctor and get a checkup. Wait. Wait. Go find more records! Go find more records!” And then I’d go find more records rather than going to the doctor. I have no idea if that’s how other accumulators act. I can’t judge them. Maybe I was the only one. But the evidence on the surface at least, says otherwise.
FMF:What’s the weirdest situation you’ve been in and the strangest place you’ve bought records?
AZ:I’ve heard so many of these stories that it’s hard to remember if it happened to me or someone else. I’m not a record dealer so I haven’t been to a lot of people’s houses to look at their records. I’ve never gone to the bad side of town, so to speak, because I thought they might have cool records. Actually, here’s one of the funniest, and most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had buying records. It was in Harvey Pekar’s basement. Harvey had thousands of records lined up against the wall, willy nilly. He didn’t really know what he had. But the deal was that any record he had more than one copy of, he would sell you. You just had to show it to him the two copies. He wouldn’t EVER take your word for it, even if it was a record that he didn’t know he had and didn’t particularly want. If it made it down to his basement, he needed one copy. So you’d be down there going through records and you’d find one that you knew you’d seen before. And you’d have to try and remember where you’d seen it and then go back looking for it. And this happened again and again and again. It took hours to go through the records and all the time you’re crouched down in a dank basement in Cleveland. Actually, the guy in my film known as the K-Tel guy, had the same philosophy. There was no hierarchy with him. A record was a record. If he had two copies of the rarest record in the world and you had a copy of anything he didn’t have, he would trade you straight up. I didn’t bring any records with me when I went to interview him but one of the guys I was with, knew of this policy beforehand and made some very cool trades. Another time I was in a guy’s house and he had bought every record recommended by some British rock magazine from the sixties (whose name escapes me) by mail order when they came out. Some of them he’d only played once. At that time I was becoming obsessed ,again, with Psychedelic and Sunshine Pop, etc. This guy had practically everything I would ever want. He was asking five bucks for each of them. Skip Spence “Oar”. Five bucks. I don’t know why I did this but I told him he could get a lot more for the Skip Spence record and didn’t buy it. Dummy. I guess that means I’m not a real record collector.
FMF:Were you ever able to locate the Louvin Brothers Satan Is Real record [This record is a constant want by Alan in the film Vinyl]? Why was this record your holy grail and why did you want it so badly?
AZ:I don’t think I can explain why I wanted this record so badly, but I can tell you two things about it that made it distinct from most other records in the universe. One was I knew about it. I know lots of collectors have books or magazine or checklists or discographies. They bring them to record shows and pore over them. I never did that. I’m not utterly ignorant but almost everything I know about records, I got from other records, or from hearing a record at a friend’s house or maybe an article I once read. But, I don’t retain the information. So for me it’s a bit like “Oh look, another record by Dylan. Didn’t know he made any after Blonde on Blonde”. I don’t want to exaggerate but more than half, and probably more than that, of the records I’ve purchased, I didn’t know they existed until the moment I saw it in the stacks. But “Satan Is Real” was written about in one of those Re/Search “Incredibly Strange Music” book/magazines, I believe. Actually, those two editions, which came out just before the so-called lounge revival, were among the very few books about records, I ever got into. There were probably half a dozen records discussed or pictured in those books, that I was sort of looking for. But anyway, like I say, I don’t have holy grails per se, because for the most part I don’t know enough about what’s out there. Satan Is Real fascinated me, obviously partly for the cover, which I will leave it to others to find and read about. I am fascinated by the connection between “religious” music and the music I love such as Bluegrass, Blues and R&B. I love Blind Willie Johnson, even though he’s singing about things that I not only have no interest in, but which actually bores the pants off me. Namely, Jesus Christ. One of the fascinating things about The Louvin Brothers is that, apparently, they felt very guilty when they left Gospel music and started making Pop music. That record appears to evoke that guilt beautifully. The fact that the record company didn’t want any part of that cover concept and they had to make it themselves, adds to the allure of the record.
And fact that out of that guilt came some of the most beautiful music ever made. That’s probably a big part of why that record fascinated me so. If it only had that cover, that would have been enough but it was made by two brothers making some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard in my life. And did I ever get it? Well, yes and no. One of the producers of Vinyl was always telling me he was going to get me that record. One time I did see it on an auction list for 50 bucks or so but I guess I didn’t want to get it that way. In the meantime, about ten years later, that producer did find me a copy but the record was cracked. He bought it anyway, gave it to me and said he would continue to look for a playable copy. So I framed the broken one and then a year or so later, for my wedding, he presented me with a very playable copy. So it’s not the same as finding it in a used record store for five bucks because the owner doesn’t know what he has, but it’s nice to just have it.
FMF:In Vinyl you seemed like you were able to bring out the best in some people, but the worst in others. For example: the collector who memorized the K-Tel records and challenged you to ask him to recite each record seemed like he was going to pounce on you any minute. Chris, who seemed like he hated himself after he talked about his records and messy apartment, and the Classical music guy who lived at home with his mother seemed like he was in some sort of denial. A few of these collectors looked like they were going to snap any minute. Do you think that they had an ‘a-ha!’ moment during the interview when you prodded them to take a look at themselves as a person? Did you feed off of their anxiety/ anger and just keep going in the interview, or was there a moment when you thought: “I’d better just walk a fine line, one of these guys is going to lose it and attack me” or for the sake of the movie just press on?
AZ: Well let me first say, Vinyl was my first documentary, my first time interviewing people, and I not only didn’t know what I was doing, I wasn’t even aware of what I was doing. I say that only because I’m now finishing my sixth documentary and I’m sure someone could say that, with all I’ve learned and all the time I’ve had to reflect. I’m still haranguing people occasionally, arguing with them, interrupting them and what you’re calling “bringing out the worst in them”, though I wouldn’t characterize things that way. I’m finishing up a film now on the subject of the Jewish soul and its connections to humor and there’s this interview with the comedian Shelly Berman where he totally shut me down on my questions about why Jews once dominated standup comedy. But I just put my head down and tried again and again. And eventually he did something beautiful, which seemed to surprise him as well as me. One of the reasons I did what I did is because sometimes, someone disagreeing with you is more interesting than someone agreeing. And because it’s usually good to knock people off their talking points, which is true whether you’re interviewing a show biz veteran or, as in another film, an ex-con who has told his story to therapists countless times. If they’ve told a story a thousand times before, it’s going to sound like it. You want them to say things that sound like they’re just thinking of something for the first time. So that’s only to say that being slightly confrontational comes in handy sometimes. I wasn’t doing it as strategy when I made Vinyl. I was just doing what I would have done if the cameras hadn’t been on. I’m curious about people. Sometimes I’m skeptical. Sometimes I challenge them. Sometimes I tell them stories about myself, to encourage them to tell stories about themselves.
It’s the way I was brought up. That’s how it sounded when the family gathered for dinner or watched TV together or took a road trip. Argument, derision, interruption, sarcasm, jokes. In the specific case of Vinyl, I always say that if I had gone out there and interviewed people and even a few of them had said to me “Yeah I know this is a bit much but I love it too much to stop” – which is what I would have said – I think the film would have turned out quite differently. So instead, I was met with what I would call denial at every front. All those people, some of whom I include in the film, who told me they collected music rather than records. None of them seemed to know that there wasn’t a record collector alive who wouldn’t basically say the same thing: “I am not someone who has twenty thousand records because I just like to accumulate black vinyl discs covered in cardboard. I’m all about the music, not the object”. People say that because they want to associate themselves. This is my theory anyway with art collectors rather than let’s say, collectors of Hummel figures. Of course, there is a legitimate distinction to be made, but no one seemed to acknowledge that there was also a similarity between them and the Hummel collectors. If anyone had acknowledged that similarity, I probably would have said “Cool, so show me your records”. But instead, I met opposition at every turn. That’s how the film ended up going in the direction it went.
FMF:Before you started filming the movie, did you have it in your mind that it was going to be more of a personal soul searching film, or did that come about during the process?
AZ:I think I vaguely answered that question already. I knew I wanted to include a personal element but I didn’t know how I would accomplish that, or how far I would go. When I got the camera, I told myself “I should get used to using it”. So I thought I’d try to find a way to talk to the camera, tell a couple of personal stories, maybe use them as the introduction to the film. I didn’t think I would appear throughout the film. I just wanted to establish my point of view so you’d understand the circumstances under which the film was being made. Again I have to say, I’d never done this before, so even when I had those thoughts, I didn’t know what any of that meant. I would say that I was influenced by some writers, such as Harvey Pekar, who used their own lives in their work. I knew it was something that could be done, though I’d only ever seen it done in one documentary, namely “Sherman’s March”. I should also probably add, that on occasion, as a way to deal with heartbreak, I had written what someone might call diaries. It wasn’t like I kept a diary but sometimes it helped me to write it all down. Anyway, when I discovered that mirror thing I do, I started having a good time talking to the camera/mirror about all manner of things. And at the same time, I was kind of nervous about starting the interviewing process, so I just kept talking to the mirror. I started to feel like every aspect of my life was connected to my record collecting on some level, so I could talk about anything I wanted to. Having said that, even when we started editing the film, I was still wondering if I was going to use all those mirror confessions in the film. I’d never seen anyone do it and I thought it might be a crazy idea. Everyone around me thought it would be crazy not to do it, that those confessions were what set the film apart. So that was how that happened.
FMF:We have a famous record dealer here in the Northeast called Stinkie Steve. He is a notorious dealer, swindler, legend, and personally, I have bought some really terrific records from him in the past, although I don’t anymore. His acquisition tactics became a bit too much for me. He is a colorful character to say the least and is legendary all up and down the Eastern seaboard. Can you share any stories about dealers or record guys you have encountered that maybe you didn’t feature in the movies?
AZ:I never really dealt with dealers, never even knew they existed until I started going to record shows. There is a legendary record dealer I didn’t put in the film because I didn’t really know he existed. Apparently he was kind of pissed not to be included, which is ironic since he also is reputed to have hated the film. It sort of reminds me of the old Jewish joke. One guy says “The food here is horrible” and the other guy says “Yeah and such small portions”.
One guy who you might be interested in, who I interviewed but I didn’t include in the film was a guy who was legendary in these parts. Peter Dunn. He owned a store called The Vinyl Museum, one of the first used record stores in Toronto. Many used record stores were spawned by former employees of Peter Dunn. Probably the most interesting thing about Peter Dunn has to do with the fact that at some point he became a born again Christian. He started stamping biblical quotes on the record sleeves he inserted in every record. I got to see the basement of the huge Vinyl Museum Lakeshore location when Peter decided to call it quits. It wasn’t the dream come true that I might have imagined. It was more like a giant landfill site. The store was always a bit of a mixed blessing, almost like a really good thrift store. In other words, there was tons of mediocre stuff but it was worth it to go through the stacks anyway because you’d almost always find a few hidden gems. I’ll always remember that the stock in the basement demonstrated a lot about why the store had been filled with so much mediocre shit. Peter couldn’t resist a bargain. I remember there was a whole skid of that one England Dan and John Ford Coley record that everyone has seen a thousand times. Apparently some jobber had offered Peter a skid of them for a price that Peter couldn’t resist. I’m sure he thought he couldn’t lose money for that price. And I’m sure he lost money. Everyone who wanted that record already had it, I bet.
FMF:Do you think you have to be a special breed to be a vinyl record collector? I mean it’s not for the faint of heart. Not many sane people will get up before it’s light out and go stand side by side in the freezing cold next to some weirdo in a flea market waiting for a guy to pull records out of the trunk of a beat up ’75 Chevy. In my personal opinion, I think so, but I wanted to get your take on it.
AZ:I don’t know if “a special breed” would be the words I’d use but of course, not everyone would show the dedication that a serious record accumulator shows though there are a lot of collectors of many different things that demonstrate the same qualities. I love records and I love music, so of course I love hearing about records people found and seeing the covers and hearing the music and even hearing the stories about how they got the music. In my Alternate Take, a Toronto collector/dealer and radio personality who calls himself Daddy Cool, tells this story of buying records in Memphis from, I believe Dewey Philips and going into a tin shack where they’d filled a hole with 78’s. As you entered the shack you’d be walking on the top layer of 78’s. I mean, how can that not make your heart go pitter pat? So, I think you have to be a special breed and I don’t think there’s anything necessarily negative about it. I also don’t think there’s anything particularly positive about it either. It has its good side and its difficult side and they probably balance each other out for most people.
FMF:Why do you think there are so little female record collectors out there?
AZ:You know, at almost every one of the dozens of screenings of the film I’ve attended, I’ve met female collectors who were serious enough or had enough records to have made it into the film. They ask why there weren’t more female collectors in the film and I tell them all the same thing, which is that since I made the film, I have met probably 100 women who, had I known them, or had I been looking in their city, would have qualified for the film. And in that same period, I’ve met probably 50,000 men with the same qualifications. I think about a particular woman who I interviewed for Vinyl. She wasn’t a serious record collector but she was a collector of many things, including records. I was desperate to have more women in the film and so I sort of lowered the bar to sneak a few more of them in. A few years ago I ran into this person and reminded them of the argument we’d had, when I suggested that for some reason, it was more of a male pursuit and this person had disputed it. The reason I reminded them of the argument was that, in the interim, this person had transitioned from female to male. And when I reminded him of the argument he said that maybe I’d had a point. I’ve only ever heard one convincing argument for why the disparity exists, but to accept this theory, one would have to accept that women and men are different. Many people don’t. So, I’m hesitant to share the theory. I’m hesitant because it involves psychological terms which I’m not educated enough to use. If someone is interested, they might look into the difference between the obsessive compulsive and the hysteric. My smarter friend once said to me that a hysteric’s record collection would consist of one record that they kept replacing with newer records. Or there’s the “joke” which is tied into this difference is as follows: “Did you hear about the record collector who left his wife!”. And the answer is “No”. Because they don’t leave their wives.
FMF:How did you get into documentary film making?
AZ:I made a documentary. It was more successful than anything I’d done in fiction. And it was made clear to me that my path might be a little easier if I stuck with documentaries rather than going back to fiction. It also may be that I’m more suited for documentaries, but I’m not sure I can say that with true conviction.
FMF:You’ve released several more documentaries and gotten married as well as starting a family in the years since Vinyl was released. How does this lifestyle compare to say, when you were filming the film? I didn’t get married until I was 41, and my lifestyle changed dramatically, although I still am involved with vinyl records quite a bit. It can be a delicate balance though. Can you give us your take on having a family and still buying and collecting records?
AZ:I used to have a LOT of time to fill up and now I have almost none. If the goal were simply to acquire a lot of records, I think I could still buy a lot of records in the time that I have free. But in those days, buying records was something I did to fill the time and now I don’t need anything to fill the time. So, I still buy records when I have the urge or when I find myself in the vicinity of a good used record store, when I occasionally go to a record show, but it’s a bit more about the enjoyment of music and a bit less about finding something to fill up my life.
FMF:Does the vinyl collecting bug ever go away?
AZ:I doubt it. I quit smoking six years ago and though it hasn’t been that hard to stay quit, I always feel like I’m a hair away from starting again. Similarly, I know I could easily stop buying records and never buy one again. But I’ll always love records, they’ll always catch my eye, I’ll always search the grounds at a garage sale to see if they have a box of records, I’ll always wonder if there might be something in that box besides what you’d expect to find and I’ll always wish I could kneel down and let my fingers flip through them to see what’s there.
FMF:It was revealed in Vinyl that record collecting is much more than just the records. It could be about being obsessive compulsive, a form of addiction with the same signs as substance abuse, a deep rooted need to be in control because of childhood experiences, or a way to avoid having to be social in a person’s life and more. When do you think that record collecting goes from being fun, the thrill of the chase to any one of the aforementioned situations?
AZ:I think there’s no doubt that anyone who has more than say 5000 records, has at one point exhibited some form of obsessive compulsive disorder or something bordering on addiction. I say this with the caveat that I’m not one of those who believes in turning every habit into some kind of disease or syndrome.
I think your speculation about the root of these disorders is accurate for some people. I think one of the things that is satisfying about record collecting is that it’s a bit like a classic Hollywood movie. The hero (meaning the collector) goes out and is faced with all these impediments all these records to go through, all these little failures. In the back of his mind, he knows that in the end, he will always triumph.
He will find something, even if he has to lower the bar to find something that qualifies. There’s something very satisfying about that, particularly to certain people.
FMF:What have you learned in the lifetime that you have collected vinyl records?
My first answer is “What have I learned about what?” My other answer is I think I answered that question a few times already.
FMF:Any words of advice for a new generation who have just discovered the joy of buying vinyl records?
AZ:My advice for young record collectors is the same as my advice for young filmmakers, which is if you have a choice not to go there, you should stop and turn around right now. But, if you have no choice, then I’ll tell you that it can be a noble pursuit if you learn to keep it in perspective. If it ever stops working for you, don’t hesitate to stop.
If you haven’t seen Vinyl, you can watch it here.
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