Beatlemania (or Lack Thereof) and the Curating of Music Collections

CD collections make for an interesting case study in home decor. On the one hand, they, together, form a singular entity bursting with color, a degree of uniformity, and stand as a monument not only to your taste in music, but also to how many of your hard earned Hamiltons you've spent on the medium. On the other hand, this singular entity is anything but --a haphazard construction of life-changing albums, albums you thought you'd like (but didn't), bands you're supposed to love, and those three terrible records you bought during the week you decided you were going to "expose yourself to everything."

As for the decor, the colors don't match, and the sizes and composition of the cases vary. This traditionally doesn't cause too much of a fuss, but occasionally there will be a CD that has such an abhorrent spine color that you fixate on it every time you glance at the shelf. For me, that was PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love, the spine a putrid bright green with yellow lettering set alongside the rainbow logo of Island Records. Getting rid of that album, with all due respect to Ms. Harvey, was like watching the sun go down to reveal the array of stars that were hiding just beyond its blinding light.  

Of course, I got rid of To Bring You My Love because I found little sonically appealing about it, not because I detested the color. However, where other lacking records might linger on the shelf out of laziness or indifference, its outward disgustingness made sure neither of those two vices were in play. In a moment of decisive action, it was gone. 

That moment of decisive action doesn't always come so easily.

I'm no doubt a compulsive curator of my music collection, but the interesting phenomenon that keeps me from curating it even more is the lumbering weight of public opinion. It's hard to get rid of albums the world tells you you're supposed to love. Admitting your taste can sometimes be one of the most difficult aspects of your relationship with music (or books, or film, or whatever). What would "others" think if I got rid of OK Computer, or Abbey Road, because I thought them merely adequate? It also presents the concern as to what that would mean about me.

Am I missing something everyone else is getting? Am I lacking in musical appreciation? Am I stupid? That sort of thing shouldn't inform opinions, but it does. Well, mine anyway.  

It was an existential crisis when I finally started parting with music that I didn't love anymore. I had all of Nirvana's albums, but hadn't listened to any of them in a decade. I kept Unplugged in New York and axed the rest. I loved Stone Temple Pilots, but never really listened to anything other than Tiny Music, so I sold the others. I didn't hate the others, I just didn't feel I needed to own them. 

A few years ago, I preemptively decided that I loved REM. My music idols loved REM. My older brother loved REM. Therefore, I loved REM. I was surprised to find that I only love some REM, and decided I didn't need more than Automatic for the People and Document. Maybe it's the personal problem of a compulsive declutterer who loves ridding himself of things getting little-to-no use, but I like to believe others have variations of this internal debate about the music they listen to and own.

This internal debate has led me to the Beatles. The Fab Four's Sgt. Pepper is 50 years old this week. Like so many others, that album sits on my shelf. The retrospectives scattered around the web allow for a quick understanding of what society thinks of this album: 

NPR: "Why the Beatles masterpiece can't be replicated." 
Variety: "Why Sgt. Pepper should be considered classical music."
The New York Times: "Still full of joy and whimsy."

One piece I read took the stance that Sgt. Pepper is full of "substandard" Beatles songs, and argued this as the very reason the album works. If we are to believe the "substandard" argument, the Beatles managed to write the best album of the 20th century without even crafting their best work. Even when the Beatles falter, their failure begets its own kind of magnanimous success. And that's if you think some of the songs on Sgt. Pepper are substandard. Many don't. Getting better all the time, indeed.

This type of adulation creates an all-or-nothing relationship. Most people love the Beatles. Music aficionados can (and do) write volumes on why the Beatles genius is so singular and total, and the millions of veterans of Beatlemania will (and do) gladly add fuel to that fire. They were there; they know what it was like when the Beatles first took over the world. Not unjustly, but it becomes easy for everyone else to love them. It's bordering on dangerous not to. The antithesis is people who despise them for the sole reason that they are who they are --the Zeus in the pantheon of rock divinity.

Who this doesn't leave much room for is someone like me. Someone for whom the Beatles are just another band. A band that I enjoy, but a band that I can list albums' worth of songs that do nothing for me. Am I missing something? Am I lacking in musical appreciation? Am I stupid? 

All are possible (perhaps even probable), but maybe that's not so bad. Maybe someday I'll come to terms with that.

Until then, at least they look good on my shelf.

Comments