Backstage: A Music Obsessive's Collection

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: The haunted hoarder. 

This column requires that I clean out the cobwebs of my memory, as well as the dust that's gathered on the albums, photos and memorabilia that clutter up my music room. It's there that I find my own fortress of solitude amidst floor to ceiling shelves jutting out at unlikely angles to accommodate stacks of CDs and vinyl albums that otherwise would have no home. It's a large room, mind you -- approximately 500 square feet to be accurate -- but after years of fixating on collecting, I've simply overrun its parameters.

I have no idea how many pieces I have in my collection. At the time of Hurricane Andrew, I had some 12,000 vinyl albums, and the times being what they were, only a handful of CDs. When the storm hit, most of my albums were on shelves in my back room, while those stacked on the floor consisted almost entirely of country and jazz discs because there wasn't room for them elsewhere. The hurricane left my house intact and inhabitable -- unlike my neighbors, whose second stories were left at 90-degree angles while their roofs were displaced. To be sure, my house was a mess: holes were punched in the walls, windows were smashed and my porch blew away entirely. Three adults, two small children and two dogs huddled in a tiny downstairs bathroom as water seeped in under the door. 

Still, the full extent of the damage wasn't evident until the next morning. That's when we discovered that the brunt of the destruction was focused on the back room where my albums were housed.

Fortunately, the damage to my records was limited to those albums stacked on the floor, nearly all of which were lost to the scourge of the wind and rain. Those on the shelves suffered only minor casualties, with most of the wear limited to the album spines. I stashed the ruined wares in the garage and kept them there a few years, unable to sever them from my collection entirely. Eventually it became obvious they were ruined beyond recovery and I placed them in the trash reciprocal and bid a final farewell. 

Nowadays, CDs dominate my album collection, and while I don't have an exact count on the number that has multiplied over the past 19 years or so, I'd estimate it at anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 or so. It's a lot to pack into a single room, especially when that room also serves as a repository for extra clothing, a set of drums, various games, old newspapers and all manner of knick-knacks that haven't found a home elsewhere. Consequently, I've had to improvise by building shelves out of bricks and stray boards, tacking their contents back to back and improvising some storage that intrudes on the floor space -- back, behind and in front of speakers, a TV and even other shelves. Sometimes I feel like a contortionist because of the way I have to bend my body and maneuver myself into a tight space just to mine the advantage of every nook and cranny. To make matters worse, the lighting is less than ideal, consistently mainly of a few bulbs protruding from a single ceiling fan and a couple of overhead florescent lights that rarely if ever light up entirely the way they should. It sometimes seems like Mission: Impossible when I'm trying to track down an obscure album as I grasp a flashlight, press my face up against the shelf and thumb through a stack of CDs. 

Filing discs away is dreadful. When CD packages arrive, my office is a repository for those discs I'm not ready to stash away permanently, so to speak, and as a result, there are different stacks placed according to category. Three shelves of discs are designated strictly for personal pleasure -- albums I've received that I simply haven't had a chance to check out. Another pile is reserved for albums that could be candidates for a column I do focusing on independent releases. Another stack is a priority pile that will get pitched for regular reviews. Likewise, there's a stack for odd and obscure albums that don't have a shot in hell, and still another stack consists of "maybes." Then there are several shelves reserved for older albums that were, at one time or another, review contenders but, because of an editor's reticence, never got tapped for a review and still sit there waiting to get filed or resurrected somehow, even though they're no longer considered new releases. 

Some would call that organization. Others might consider me as an obsessive nerd. The fact is, when I'm desperately looking for an album and I'm unable to locate it, this system never serves me very well at all. Between the piles in my office and the stacks in the music room (which includes not only the main collection, but a secondary accumulation of albums that I deem not quite good enough for the main collection, and then a third collection kept in postal bins that weren't quite good enough for the secondary set) my filing plan can get quite complicated. It's not quite rocket science, but in some respects, it's a bit unmanageable. 

Suffice it to say that between the two rooms and the various groupings, I can literally spend an hour looking for a single album if I don't first find it where I first figured I would.

Likewise, redistributing CDs to the main collection can be a nightmare as well, because for the most part, I've run out of room. So rather than try to squeeze them on the shelves by placing them straight up, I'm forced to stack them one atop another. But even that doesn't help at this point. Even a massive shift likely wouldn't free up much space. As for making the shelves higher, that's not an option either. Three of the four walls in the music room are already occupied entirely and the fourth wall, is crowded with pictures, pennants and other well-preserved relics that recall my days in the music biz. 

As far as the albums themselves are concerned -- those of the vinyl variety anyway -- I'm proud to say I still have the first discs I accumulated back in the '60s, including all the Beatles, Stones, Herman's Hermits, and Dave Clark Five albums I purchase or was given when they were new.

Yup, you can call me a collector... or you can call me a nerd. My wife will agree with you on the latter. I simply think of myself as obsessive. Yet, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, not there's anything wrong with that.

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