Backstage: Confessions of an Album Addict

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: Lee's abnormal addiction... 

My name is Lee, and I'm an album addict.

It's a habit that compels me to write every morning before work, every lunch hour, practically every evening, and most weekends. I write for a number of publications, and I do it mainly to keep my contact information on press lists so that publicists can contact me in hopes of persuading me to review a record they're promoting. It's a good way for me to wrangle new music, so I feel a certain obligation to respond to their harassing emails at least 99 percent of the time.

Downloads don't work to me. I have to have something to hold, to clutch, to stack, to add to the collection. It's kinda like the person who collects stamps or coins. No, I'm probably not going to be able to listen to all of them in a lifetime. But like that stamp or coin collector, there's comfort in knowing they're there, a part of the collection, upping the completion factor. 

Collecting by any other name would be called obsession. It's a pursuit that started back in the mid-'60s. In fact, I can still recall the first album that ever graced my collection. I think it was the Beatles' second album, given to me by my parents, who knew that Beatlemania would eventually engulf me like it had all the other youngsters at the time. (Ironically, the first time the Fab Four played the Ed Sullivan Show, my parents were more engrossed than I was.) I obtained the first albums by the Young Rascals and the Dave Clark Five from my uncle, although I think I had to give the Rascals album to my cousin because it would have been unfair to hoard them both. I also remember getting a recording of a radio station's coverage of the John F. Kennedy assassination, and conversely, the First Family comedy album, a parody of the Kennedy reign in the White House that was all the rage prior to 11-22-63. And truth be told, I believe I still have all those albums in my album collection, a bit worse for wear but likely still playable on my turntable. They reside alongside early albums by the Monkees. Yes, admittedly I was a fan. 

In college, the collecting habit continued. I managed to hook my roommate Tony up as the college rep for Columbia Records, which meant, of course, free promo copies of new discs for the house as a whole. And my participation with The Miami Hurricane student newspaper and radio station WVUM also ensured a steady flow of current releases. By the time I returned home during school breaks, my album collection was already unrivaled. I was acquiring albums regularly, including some imports available only in St. Thomas, where I was residing -- the Beatles' Let It Be with the original book of photos from the film, a first copy of Tommy by the Who (the sole souvenir purchased on a trip to nearby St. Croix), and a copy of the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesty's Request with the original 3-D cover my parents brought me after a trip to New York. And yes, I still own all of these as well. 

Still, my collection didn't really flourish until I got into the music biz doing promotion for a local distributor and, later, ABC Records and Capitol Records. When I started with Capitol, we actually had a warehouse adjacent to our office, which gave me access to older albums that helped me fill the holes in my collection. Later, when I worked at home, boxes of promotional albums would be delivered almost daily by UPS and stashed in an extra room in my house. After packing them up and mailing them out to radio stations, the leftovers were ideal fodder when it came to trading with other promo people. I wasn't shy about going to their offices and rummaging through their stash of new releases. That became a weekly mission, in fact. We'd also rendezvous at radio stations and open our trunks for one another and trade the discs we were lugging around like a bunch of smugglers exchanging our stash. 

Owning a record store after losing my promotion gig also helped. Considering the fact that the store consistently lost money, the new music eventually provided me with the only motivation to hang on. However, I soon realized that music doesn't pay the bills. I then turned my brief stint at Hard Rock Café Bayside into an opportunity to continue feeding my obsession. After all, I was the guy who booked the talent, so my contacts weren't lost and I still had a handle. Eventually, I honed my talents as a writer, and while it was a blast to grab a byline, the advantages of writing quickly translated into a new avenue for acquiring new music. Lots of new music. Sometimes I receive upward of several dozen packages a week. And now I can't quit. What would I do to fuel my frenzy? 

Yup, if anyone ever asked me what drives me to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard, I'd tell them that the answer is simple. And admittedly somewhat pathetic. You see, my name is Lee, and I'm an album addict.

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