Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What's important

Norman Lebrecht's latest post managed to tick me off in two ways. This itself is quite normal, as I don't often agree with him. But what is impressive this time is that he was able to be doubly offensive in one sentence.
To many men - forgive me, this is not a feminine thing - a collection is life itself.

While the sentence clearly exhibits male chauvinism, the misogyny isn't readily apparent in this one sentence. For that we must look at the subsequent paragraphs, where he feels a woman was completely wrong for selling her dead relative's record collection.

Widow or daughter, it hardly matters whom. Move on, dear, move on. C'est la vie. My condolences. I do understand (the hell I do...).

How dare this uppity female try to find closure in a positive way by donating her departed love's treasure to charity? She clearly doesn't (and can't) understand the IMPORTANCE of this collection, being a silly woman.

The second affront in the aforementioned sentence is the clear focus on materialism: "the collection is life itself." Again, clarity is gained by examining the rest of the post:

A windfall for the starving masses in Sudan? Relief for the suffering Palestinians? Gimme a break. Give your old clothes and knick-knacks to Oxfam if you like. This is a man's life being broken up, down in the knacker's yard of Tavistock.

No, this is not a man's life. It is a facet, and likely an important one, of that person. But this recently deceased man also clearly had at least one loved one, who is also an important part of his life, and likely had other interests, other things produced, other dreams. A life is not solely defined by material goods. That idea is far too much of "the one with the most toys wins" philosophy. Norman would argue that it isn't the quantity of the records, but the quality:

Some poor soul had built up this collection with care, balancing the familiar with the esoteric, Furtwaengler's Beethoven with Stockhausen's Stimmung, Mozart from Bruno Walter and Machaut from whoever recorded it first in the 1950's or 1960s. This was a person of taste and discrimination whose aesthetic take on life is being scattered to the four corners of the earth.

The value of a record collection lies in the ability to listen to those recordings. This "poor soul" can no longer listen to that collection* and it is clear that his next of kin has no interest in listening to them either. She found the excellent solution, give the records to a charity who can sell them to people interested in listening to the wonderful music. This benefits both the music-loving populace around Devon and those starving and suffering Sudanese and Palestinian masses that Norman is so quick to dismiss.

I am a musician, someone who made the decision to make his living creating and studying artworks. I clearly find this activity to be valuable, otherwise I couldn't do it full-time. However, I recognize that there are things more valuable than music. Ending poverty and other forms of suffering is definitely more important. Fortunately I don't have to sacrifice all of my music to make donations of time and money to appropriate charities. Likewise, the recently deceased man didn't have to sacrifice his music either, and yet now can posthumously help these charities.

I really don't understand what damage Norman thinks has been done. A man built an impressive collection of records, a collection that was important to him. But this man is now dead, so he isn't being hurt. I think the one being damaged is Norman and like-minded individuals, those who wish their collections were important enough to be archived in a museum or library. Norman is hoping for posterity, hoping to live on through the Norman Lebrecht music collection. Seeing a similar collection "scattered to the four corners" makes that dream of prosperity less likely. If it means that much to you, Norman, you should write up your will requiring the collection to remain intact. That will probably require setting aside funds to store and maintain this collection, unless you can get assurances from a museum or library. But don't blame the next of kin for measuring prosperity in different ways than you.

*I hear that Heaven has awesome non-DRMed audio files of every bit of music ever created, at whatever bitrate you want. Being Heaven, Nyquist's Limit doesn't apply, so you analogophiles don't need to worry.


Anonymous said...

Collectors are not reasonable people, and they do treat their collections as more important than anything else. I remember my father going out to do grocery shopping and coming back with a Schnabel record instead. If a new Furtwängler or Busch Quartet recording came out, he would simply forget his family, his job, his friends, and he would go on a hunt of the record. (This was in Soviet Union where getting foreign records was quite difficult.) And he was not unique, there was a whole crowd of people so obsessively involved in collecting, that they bordered on the abnormal. I have inherited the collecting gene, and it takes serious discipline to remind myself that tuition is more important than the newly remastered work I already have in three remasterings. I don't like Lebrecht's publications, but in this particular article he perfectly captures the attitude records can inspire. What is wrong in the article is the assumption that collecting is a man's thing. To the best of my knowledge I am a woman, and I am very much a collector in both attitude to CDs and their sheer number.

Scott said...

Okay, I'll accept it as accurate. But I still think the fixation on acquiring things is not healthy, as you imply in your comment. Your father neglected important aspects of his life (especially family and friends) to pursue things. You fight against the urge to buy things instead of investing money in knowledge/training.

May I ask you, how much time do you spend listening to your collection, and how much time looking at it (reading liner notes, examining covers, etc.)?

Elaine Fine said...

I did not read Lebrecht's statement, "to many men - forgive me, this is not a feminine thing - a collection is life itself" as being chauvinistic. I thought that it was kind of self-deprecating. I do know women who are collectors, but I the desire to buy, let's say, a record for yourself instead of buying food for your children is something that many collector-minded women would simply repress. I believe that feeding children is something woven into the genetic make-up of women, and it is, when push comes to shove, stronger than the desire to collect.

Anonymous said...

“May I ask you, how much time do you spend listening to your collection, and how much time looking at it (reading liner notes, examining covers, etc.)?”

I have been collecting cds for the last twenty years, and listening habits changed throughout time. One thing that has been consistent is that the collection evolved as a collection of performances, not of music. There were times when I would listen to the same performance of Don Giovanni 3 times a day, totally neglecting the other 11 standing next to it. Sometimes I would simply listen to one aria in twenty performances. I would buy various performances of Beethoven string quartets, but I always listened to the same one. Listening times varied – anywhere from one to ten hours a day. When I was a teenager, I would listen and read liner notes and/or librettos at the same time. I spent so much time with the librettos that I ended up knowing operatic Italian quite well. I also know quite a bit of music very well. So, it’s not all unhealthy, though there is a point where a somewhat exaggerated collecting spirit becomes obsessive and uncontrollable. It is true that it’s not necessary to own 12 Don Giovannis on cd and 4 more on dvd if I usually listen to only three of them. It’s also not necessary to have the same cd in more than one copy out of fear that it will spoil and I will lose a particular favorite. Collecting music is a great hobby if it stays within reasonable boundaries. But most collectors find it hard to stay within these boundaries once their cds are numerous enough to be considered a “collection.”