Robert Crumb On Record Collecting

Old VinylCartoonist Robert Crumb knows a bit about what’s creepy, and he’s got a great take on the strange obsession of record collecting (which I admit I have!):

“Collecting is creepy. Record collectors put each other down for their various fixations. Everybody is convinced that his way of collecting is superior. They look down on casual collectors, who are just accumulators – the kind who’ll just pick up anything and let it pile up. A true collector is more of a connoisseur, and that’s the good thing about collecting. It creates a connoisseurship to sort out what’s worthwhile in the culture and what isn’t. Wealthy art collectors in this country have sorted out who the great artists are. If you’re collecting a lot of objects of one particular kind, you develop a very acute sense of discrimination.”

“Any of the younger guys who get into collecting are quirky and oddball types, pretty maladjusted people. They’re not into hanging around in bars and picking up chicks or nothing. If they have a girlfriend at all it’s amazing. And the older collectors I know, a lot of them just have their little room down in the basement where they go and listen. They don’t share it with anyone, and their wives don’t know anything about it. So when they die, the vultures start descending.”

“78 collectors have almost nothing to do with LP or 45 collectors; prewar collectors have nothing to do with postwar collectors. They don’t avoid each other, but they bully and pick on each other. That’s the problem, it’s lonely collecting records. You can share it, but there’s a vicious undercurrent there, the only person you can ever impress with that rare record you just got is another collector who’s looking for the same record. And the average person, I can show them the rarest record in the collection and they’ll say, ‘Yeah? So what?’

“I did try to share it with the world, I did comic stories about old musicians because I thought it was far superior to anything being done currently. In this case, I had done a comic story about Charley Patton, one of the great fathers of the blues, and the guy who published it was over at my house. So I took out one of my favorite 78s, Charley Patton’s ‘Down the Dirt Road,’ and I put it on. So I’m sitting there, having this great experience listening to this record, and he’s sitting there quietly, patiently. And after I took it off, he looks at me and says, ‘So, what did you like about that?’ I mean, he wasn’t trying to be insulting, just curious, but what can you say to that? So I don’t try to convert people anymore.”

Chicks Don’t Dig Collectors 

“Picking up chicks? Forget it! It never gets them hot, they don’t give a shit about collectors. I wouldn’t say that collectors are antisocial – that would imply that they want to do something harmful to society – but it’s not very sociable either. Very self-obsessed, kind of asocial. That’s why the world looks down on collectors, it takes a certain kind of personality. There is nothing sexy or glamorous about it. Women aren’t attracted to people because they collect. You can go up to them and say, ‘I’m an outlaw bandit’ and they’ll like that. But if you say, ‘I’m a collector’ – no chance.”

Unfortunately, I think Crumb’s take applies to guys that collect gear, too. Ouch.

Robert Crumb, artist and 78 record album collector, talks about the “creepiness” of collecting in Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting by Brett Milano.

7 thoughts on “Robert Crumb On Record Collecting

  1. Yeah, its a pretty sick obsession. I watched a friend blow his rent money on old records – which is great, but they dont hold up to rain well and are a pain to sleep on. As long as those collectors dont claim to be giving back to the music they’re hiding from the remainder of society, I’m fine with it. Keep it all to yourself, its yours and you’re so much cooler than the guy with an ipod listening to BattleHooch. Yeah for you.

  2. The problem with record collecting nowadays is that it is all so expensive…isn’t it? I live in the midwest, and “scout” for old 78’s and blues LPs in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri…and there isn’t anything. Maybe the Lennon Sisters on Gatefold vinyl, Statler Brothers, or countless Shaun Cassidy discs.

    No, the only good stuff I can see is on ebay, or other sale sites, and it is all priced out of my budget. Jelly Roll Morton 78 for 300 dollars? Robert Johnson for 2000 big ones? Wow. I wish that I had been alive to collect back in the 60’s and 70’s when a real bargain could be had; but now it is harder and harder to be a collector. I have managed to start a burgeoning collection by managing to run into some of it by negotiating with a public library to give me their old stuff for cheap once they discarded it in favor of CD format (they were actually nice enough to give me some great stuff at a dollar a record).

  3. ….and somewhat humorously – but to my good fortune – the stack of records that I scored (Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, etc.) were in fantastic condition. Now the records I left behind (Pat Boone, Night Ranger, Air Supply, add the name of some other wank act) had been played endlessly, as noted by the deep scratches.

    Great Crumb passage, thanks for including it. I will have to pick up this book.

  4. Hey, I wish I’d known people like Crumb when I was a kid. There always was the batch of people haunting junk stores and antique booths, or even just “asking around” for old things they’d hope people didn’t want anymore. The other aspect is: everyone assumes that record collecting is a “guy” thing. Well, I’m a middle-aged woman who collects records (traditional jazz and blues, ragtime, opera, and classical)and I have been doing it since my early teens. My husband doesn’t have a problem with it the way apparently a lot of wives do when their spouses collect – the only complaint he ever had was the mustiness of the 78’s bothering his allergies, so we had to devise alternate methods of cleaning and storing. However, I detected a certain snobbery; indeed, often downright chauvanism – in some male collectors I’ve run across when I mentioned my shared passion for old recordings: how could a mere FEMALE know anything really about jazz?! How could she be really capable of appreciating the music? Or there’s the inherent snobbery of musicologists – because I am not a musician, how could I possibly comprehend the nuances of the recordings? This all gets really off-putting when one is a music lover and also appreciates, as well as is knowledgeable of, artists of the past. I’m crazy about the Jazz Age/Great Depression era: the movies, the culture, the books and magazines, and the performers in both the jazz and operatic world. If one is willing to read and research, collecting is not daunting. I’ve always had fun doing it as well as taking it seriously as something beyond a “hobby.” And it’s pretty mind-boggling to discover what still lurks at yard sales and flea markets – maybe I can’t always get the most rarified hot jazz sides, but I’ve stumbled upon some treasures among the blur of 1920’s pop, and know how to determine the ubiquitous from the harder-to-find. It’s great listening – I transfer everything onto cd to preserve it, but there’s assuredly something to be said for the ambience, not to mention the ritual, of playing original 78’s.

    1. Woah! what’s a middle aged woman doing on synthtopia?

      Seriously though you just go ahead and keep being badass! There should be more out there like you.

  5. I was looking for sites to find history and or reasonable prices to sell records for in all three formats 33, 45, and 78's and then in both 45 and 78 formats I have a few that were made to play on other than standard players but then I found this site and don't know how to contact posters but if anyone should be out there like Screamin' Dave who is looking for records I wouldn't mind striking a Good Deal to help others while helping me out and I have an email on yahoo at dpjr69

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