How do you begin to relate to a book with such an insane premise as one man’s journey to find the records he sold decades prior? Surprisingly easy, even if you are like me, a woman in her 20s. Old Records Never Die:One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past by Eric Spitznagel seems to be just that, a crazy idea, but this memoir provides so much more. The premise is easy enough: to collect records from the past. Scratch that, to collect the exact same records—lipstick marks, boot prints, warps, and all. More than just looking for vinyls, it becomes an exploration of the past and the places, but really the objects that seem to hold the essence of the past. The records themselves, oftentimes battered and almost unplayable, relate to a place and time, something that even millennials, or as Spitznagel dubs my generation “postmillenials”, can relate to.
The memoir begins with a foreword by Jeff Tweedy (yes, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy) that establishes the connection between memory and records. It’s not the pristine records, safe in packaging that are important but the damaged ones, with skips and scratches. However, even he expresses doubt and some confusion over what Spitznagel sets out to do. Despite this, there is something kind of inspiring in the idea; the records and the songs on them act as a “companion[s]” or “accomplice[s]” to memory.
Now, Spitznagel isn’t a household name, but he has interviewed a lot of “people you’ve probably heard of”. You’ve most likely read at least one of his articles, which have been featured everywhere from Vanity Fair to Rolling Stone. The inspiration for this book—the crazy task at hand—came from one of his interviews.
Early on, Spitznagel reveals to us that he sold his extensive record collection slowly, here and there, whenever money was tight. To him, record collections were dispensable, nothing sentimental or important, that is until he interviewed Questlove. When Spitznagel reveals this information to him, he describes it as if he “casually confessed that I’d put a pillow over my dad’s face while he slept and held it there until he stopped breathing.” That’s how the book treats the quest, with extreme importance. These records aren’t just something you listen to but are a part of you, so Spitznagel sets out to reclaim a part of himself. As he says, “It’s what Questlove would’ve done”.
Throughout his journey, we are treated to past memories, old girlfriends and being a broke young adult. He threads in these memories as he seeks out each record. It’s almost unbelievable when he manages to find his record, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, the first time searching after selling it a decade prior. With that comes a slew of memories, including how he bought the record to impress a girl (it worked), her number somehow still on the case after all these years. Of course, this memory shows us some of Spitznagel’s humor: “Oh yeah, there’s another lost soul out there who loves the Jov as much as I love the Jov.”
All throughout, we are treated with these injections of humor. He conjures up typical images of high school awkwardness and embarrassment, the arrogance of your 20s (hmmm), and the absolute importance of appearing cool, especially with your music taste. Each record he seeks out again forms an eclectic collection, from Van Morrison to The Replacements. These records all hold some deeply personal part of him, a past life forever gone. Spitznagel weaves this past with his present; the records from his past hold as much significance and power as they did before he sold them.
Just as I found myself laughing at the many absurdities on one page, a few pages later I felt like I could cry. Spitznagel reminds us that nostaglia isn’t always sweet. It’s not always the song you were listening to when you had your first kiss but the music that scored all the heartbreaks you’ve experienced. It’s the song that reminds you of someone forever gone from this earth. He captures these emotions and memories as they intertwine with the music; the records and the past are one.
You don’t have to share Spitznagel’s taste in music or own records to relate to the book. Yes, you might not recognize a song or album (although Google can be your friend) but this isn’t only about the music. It’s about memory and Spitznagel takes us on his journey to reclaim some past, if that is even possible. As he says: “Memory isn’t about the music or reality. It’s about the comforting reflections we want to hold on to, even if they’re mostly bullshit.” His voice is a tad cynical, but this moment in the book is also moving and somehow even poignant.
Spitznagel’s memoir is not just about the past. Along the way we are privy to the new memories he creates: concerts and reconnections. Even records are not just the past, they’re having a pretty big moment currently. Theyaren’t ancient relics; they too can make new memories. Yes we live in a digital world but there is still a place for the analog.
Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past
By Eric Spitznagel
Plume (April 12, 2016)
For more on Eric Spitznagel visit his website, http://www.ericspitznagel.com/ .