Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letting Go and Traveling Light

Here's a wonderful article from jazz critic Terry Teachout (h/t to Christian Hamaker for pointing it out.) It reads in part:

I, too, once felt the mad desire to own every jazz record ever made, and to have them all shelved in chronological order at arm's length from my desk. Today I own just two racks, and whenever I acquire a new album, I get rid of an old one in order to make room for it. Not only has this imperative made me ruthlessly selective, but it has forced me to reconsider my priorities. Time was when I bought records in order to say that I had them. Now I keep them only because I love them.

No doubt the day is almost here when it will be possible for people like me to download the Complete Performances of Everybody to our computers...except that I'm no longer that kind of person. I love Art Tatum, but I don't want to own every record he ever made. I want to own the ones that matter to me, and let the others go. I want to be able to pull a CD or book from my shelves at random and know that it will please me, just as I hang on my walls only paintings and prints that move me deeply.

Why have I come to feel this way? Because I'm fifty-four. Life, I now know, is short, too short to waste, and the actuarial tables leave no possible doubt that most of mine has passed me by. As a professional critic, it's my job--my destiny, you might say--to spend a fair amount of time experiencing art that I don't like. Insofar as possible, though, I don't propose to waste any more of the days that remain to me consuming bad art than is absolutely necessary. Unless I'm being paid to do so, I won't even finish reading a book I don't like, or listening to a record that fails to engage me. I have better things to do, and not nearly enough time in which to do them.

Yeah, buddy. This has been the Summer/Autumn of the Great Purge at the Whitman house. There are several reasons for that. Our kids are more or less on their own now, and we're planning to downsize in the next year or so, and we have to begin the process of jettisoning the accumulated dross that we will no longer be able to store. And I'm unemployed, and frankly the sale of some of that accumulated dross has helped us pay our bills. But in the Age of Everything, there is much to be said for making hard choices. Time is passing, and it cannot be replenished. So I've given away or sold a bunch of books, most of which I haven't even looked at in decades. It's possible that I'll miss that medieval philosophy text book that I haven't cracked open since 1976. But I doubt it.

And I'm in the process of unloading about 4,500 CDs, some of which I've simply given to friends or family who are interested in the music. It's not totally altruistic. In my case, I've backed up the music I'm interested in keeping on a 2 TB hard drive, and then I've backed that up on another 2 TB hard drive. I ought to be good to go forever. But forever, as always, is an illusion. You can't back up a life. It's been good to have that at the forefront of my mind.


Sam Anderson said...

Andy, let me be a humble reader and take some of that music off your hands; particularly Dylan, The Modern Lovers, Daniel Johnston or the Byrds.

cnb said...

I can appreciate the point of the article, and I think that one day I will reach it, but I am not there yet. The trouble with limiting myself to the things I love is that I don't yet know what I love. Oh, I know some things, of course, but I am still in the exploration stage, and the thrill of discovery is still a fairly regular thing for me.

Having said that, he is right that it is a good idea to put up some resistance to the 'completist' that is probably lurking inside every music lover (or book lover, or stamp lover, or whatever). For instance, I recently acquired, on 50+ CDs, the complete piano works of Franz Liszt. That was a ridiculous thing to do, no question.

karen said...

You and my brother in Nashville would have a lot to talk about --he has collected over 15,000 records, mostly rock and country I think, plus a huge # of CD’s. Not sure what he’s going to do with ‘em now.

Gar said...

When can I come over and buy?

Pilgrim said...

My uncle is 80. He had a farm auction last Saturday and got rid of all his old machines and tools. Nine wagonloads and several yards of tables.
Wonder how it felt.
An American life.