welcome things readers

ahd bae tha' fr'a dollahHello to those of you who have found this blog via a link from a things magazine article on collectors, in which the subtitle of the present blog, “it’s not hoarding, it’s curating!” is taken as a symptom rather than a disease. Lately I’ve been documenting my camera collection and a recent haul of photo books, the latter of which I was in the process of reviewing in toto before succumbing to a fresh episode of binge-booking. But that’s for another post. But those collections are well within the realm of the ordinary and respectable, if no less obsessive in their futile attempts to fill the void with eponymous things that can’t hold you when you’re feeling blue. And while what I am about to show you is no exception to the melancholy rule, what you should really see is my Sheena Easton collection (ed. note: which is perhaps not so much a collection as a loose gathering of a handful of related things), which I blog about here.

I, hoarder: photo-book edition

These are the photo-books I acquired last month:

I don’t expect to have months like that all year, but I have had enough of them over the past several years to remind me why I stopped collecting photo-books. Then again: they’re an investment! Two of the pictured monographs are comps – a review will be forthcoming of the John Gossage book. Most of the times were purchased the old-fashioend way – with a credit card, in one ramen-fueled mid-January flurry in New York (thank you, Dashwood Books, Deborah Bell Photographs, and the ICP shop). This year I hope to actually write about some of the new acquisitions and older titles in my collection. My first photo book review, of Michael Schmelling’s Atlanta: Hip-Hop and the South, is up at Blogcritics.

Photographer Michael Schmelling’s most recent project was borne of his admiration for Outkast’s 1998 album Aquemini, which created a palpable and rhythmic sense of the New South metropolis. Celebrity reeled him in, but as Schmelling began to explore the city’s growing music scene, it was the unsigned artists who really intrigued him, and it was these unknowns who inspired Atlanta: Hip-Hop and the South, a remarkable marriage of photojournalism, music, and art.

We are living in a golden age of the photography book, and like the best examples of the genre — standard bearers like Robert Frank’s The Americans, modern exemplars like Ed Templeton’s Deformer — the design of Atlanta is at least as important as the the photographs themselves. Schmelling’s previous book, the small press edition The Plan, documented the work of Disaster Masters, a company that cleared out New York-area homes of the kind that make Hoarders one of A&E’s biggest hits. Those photos were printed in black and white on newsprint and bound like a White Pages index (soon to be an obsolete format in itself), suitable to the density and disposability of its subject.

Chronicle Book’s Atlanta: Hip-Hop and the South is a more ambitious and more handsome book, but thematic elements remain steadfastly home-grown. Sure, you see bling and bravado, bold women and big cars, tattoos and pit bulls; but you also see makeshift studios with egg-crate soundproofing, weather-beaten loudspeakers, hand-written lyrics and set-lists. Such details are the photographic descendants of Stephen Shore’s or William Eggleston, but in a very different culture.

Essays by New Yorker critic Kelefa Sanneh put the photos and the music scene in context — you can hear Sanneh and Schmelling talk about Atlanta on WNYC’s Soundcheck. An appendix features interviews with Atlanta hip-hop figures from the famous — Ludacris, Outkast’s Andre 3000 and Big Boi — to the less known. A download code is included for a mix tape of some of the unsigned artists featured in the book.


I, Hoarder: 180 gram vinyl edition

ahd bae tha' fr'a dollah

I have three different vinyl pressings of Love’s desert-island-disc Forever Changes. I have two Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s lps – most don’t realize there was more than one, but it predated “Come on Eileen” and is more informed by Northern Soul than the Celtic whatever of their second album. I have no fewer than four Sheena Easton albums (at least three of which were purchased in the last twelve months, none for more than a dollar), and this afternoon discovered I still had the promotional album card – a thin slab of cardboard with the cover art on one side and promotional text on the other – for her Strut album. Does anybody out there like jazz tumpeter Woody Shaw? I have several of his 1970’s lps for Columbia, the entire run of which was collected on a box set by Mosaic Records, but I’ve never listened to them and can’t remember where I bought them – maybe one or two came from a trip to Amoeba Records in Berkeley in the ’90s. Man I bought a lotta records there.

In short, I hoard vinyl – I have hoarded it since the 80’s, and have memories of the dollar used bins at Kemp Mill Records in Georgetown where you could have picked up a mono pressing of St. Pepper for less than $10 (sadly, I didn’t). I remember when Zodiac records, a Latin music specialist on Columbia Road, mysteriously acquired an incredible record collection full of punk/new wave lps that they were selling for $1.50 a pop. I picked up early Roxy Music, Todd Rundgren, John Cale solo records; I passed up a first pressing of  X-Ray Spex’ Germfree Adolescents because I already had a copy. Too bad, because a few years later I saw them selling for three figures.

In the early oughts I lost a few boxes of records to mold damage owing to a flooded furnace room, but besides that I’ve never made a concerted effort to shave off the collection’s unruly beard which is now several ear-splitting decibels beyond ZZ Top.  In the ensuing years, there has been a resurgence of record stores (and I mean record stores) in this town, with three excellent sources of used vinyl within walking distance; the dollar-bins at one of those shops is the bane and boon of my existence, full of strange records of all lands with jaw-dropping covers that – well, like this:

Or this:

you too can help prevent national mp3 download day

There are thousands of lps in my basement, and I weeded a boxful this week. Some were easy decisions: did I ever need the Blow Monkeys lp? I’d always thought their hit, “Diggin’ your scene,” had an unresolved chorus that should have gone on for another bar. I don’t think I ever listened to Difford and Tilbrook’s post-Squeeze album more than once – for that matter, I can say the same of Squeeze’s last album, and do I really need any besides Argybargy? If that? They were a band I used to eat up like corn flakes but they no longer stay crispy in my milk. I never listened to my Guided by Voices double-lp bootlegs, but I’ll probably give those to my brother if he wants them. And I always thought Pussy Galore was trying too hard.

Of course, I went for a walk this evening and bought a new lp, Excavated Shellac, a collection of old string-centric 78s from foreign lands compiled by the curator of the blog of the same name, and issued by Dust-to-Digital, producers of the fantastic Goodbye Babylon set of old gospel. I bought it at Melody Records, the best new record/CD  store left in Washington, DC. I remember buying a picture-sleeve 45 of “(Just like) Starting Over” at Melody Records, when they were still at the corner of Connecticut and Q, the week before John Lennon was killed. Over the years their stock shifted from vinyl to CDs and now they again have a healthy selection of new vinyl. When I bought a Big Star 45 at Melody several months ago, it was the first time I’d bought a 7″ single from Melody in more than a decade.

The thing is – I could have bought a whole stack of records from the dollar bins I could have bought twenty one-dollar records for what I paid for Excavated Shellac.

My apologies to those not infected by vinyl geekery. I feel I’ve gone on ad nauseum like a friend goes on about where he’s seen what movies and how he saw  that movie at the Jerry Lewis Cinema in 1971 and how an appallingly expurgated version of it ran on the CBS Late Movie in 1975. I have waxed more than was my intention, and could wax some more. I have a problem. I am a recordaholic.

I’ll post updates on this continuing crisis, as developments occur.

a brief history of hoarding: the library book sale

The library where I work has an annual book sale, and I’ve been going every year since I started working there many moons ago. This year I donated a Macy’s bag full of books. I never buy more than I donate – not even close – but somehow the scattershot weeding I do to fill up that shopping bag of donations seems to clear less space than the scattershot things I buy; some of which goes home, much of which clutters my office years later.

british sheep breeds

I had this taped to my office door for several years. It’s still in my office, but I took it down this year to scan it and I never put it back up, giving me an unobstructed view of the American flag themed tissue paper that my industrious project team members used to plastered our office doors.

the interview

From the 1983 Betamax video Japanese electronic industry — entry into the future. You never see the woman’s face during this brief creepy interview. Her hair bobs slightly as she nods.

This year’s book sale was fruitful, and with the increasing quality of cellphone cameras, I can faithfully document the materials I don’t buy.

I didn’t buy this:

the warren oates memorial cable knit

I did buy this:

for a long time, i used to go to bed early

And this:

and whiskers on kittens

I didn’t buy this:

But I bought this:

I should weed this weekend.

cats and kittens in colour

things i found in the attic

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things i found in the attic, originally uploaded by a nameless yeast.

Yesterday I found my copy of Ghostly Men, a small non-fiction book about the Collyer Brothers, the most famous of the old-time hoarders. It was right under my nose, or rather on a three-shelf case under the nose of a five-shelf case, most of whose latter’s shelves are doubled-up with books. I knew it was here somewhere.

The hit reality show Hoarders, which appeared on basic cable just after I decided to do something about my pack-rat’s environment, takes us into the homes of contemporary Collyers, and I’m relieved to say that the terrible conditions in which these capital-H Hoarders try to live don’t look much like the crap I’ve accumulated over the years. But I still have decades of clutter to go through and have been steadily weeding and making discoveries (as fans of Sheena Easton may have already discovered) and clearing space and the soul.

This morning I took a shot at the attic – not the crawlspace as I’ve previously written about, but the main floor area. I only spent an hour up there but I filled a garbage bag of junk and also found school and other papers I’d like to hold onto, some of which I’d been looking for for a long time:

things i found in the attic

The Circle Theater was where I learned about the movies. I saw hundreds of filsm here when I was in high school, many of them one-dollar matinees. The most unusual double-bill was Fast Times at Ridgemont High paired with Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence; I didn’t much like either of them, but this was the place where I first saw some of my favorite movies; Badlands, Chinatown, North by Northwest. It was a run-down, vermin-infested theater but Washington, DC is a poorer place for its loss.

things i found in the attic

My late mother was a seamstress, and I’ve long wanted to see if the accoutrements of her trade were still stashed away in the house. I found old patterns in a bag that was again right under my nose.

things i found in the attic

I found school papers and old drawings, more of which I’ll post anon, but this most intrigued me, from a Social Studies folder. What an awful vision of community was presented to our young minds ca. 1977.

The six-pack of Coors belonged to one of my brothers and was acquired ca. 1972, when the brand was hard to come by in these parts.

Except for the beer, I’m not planning to throw any of these out. The struggle continues.


I'm a Neanderthal Yeast

I had the day off monday. I usually spend it running errands, maybe getting drunken fried rice for lunch and seeing the latest Adam Sandler movie – and, more often than not, shedding a tear at its sentimental resolution. (The only Adam Sandler I saw that *didn’t* make me cry was REIGN O’ER ME, the post-9/11 stress syndrome picture which was slathered in Very Important Resolution and seemed far less emotionally convincing than LITTLE NICKY). But this monday I spent the day off weeding, and perhaps apropos of Sandler, I went back to my childhood.

I don’t much like the language of twelve-step programs, but to be honest, living in a big house enables the shit out of me. My present and past acquisitions are scattered to the far corners of three floors and an attic, and part of the task of weeding is clearing out one space in my room only to bring in something I’ve left elsewhere in the house, more or less negating the space gained upstairs. It’s like the world’s least inefficient conveyor belt with no chocolate shop at the end in which to sell my irregular samplers. I can work for an hour or two and know I’ve made a quantitative difference, but then take a look at the resultant space and see hardly any aesthetic difference at all.

It goes both ways. Last month, in the early stages of my weeding renaissance, I dragged a copy-paper box full of old New Yorkers out of my room and took it up to the attic. The most recent issue in the box was late summer 2001, and the issues went back to the mid-90’s. That I didn’t just empty the box outright has been gnawing at me, and I pictured its contents, sitting on an old cocktail table in the attic, crashing through the floor and sending decades of clutter and pithy columnists all the way down through to the basement.

So I went up to the attic with that simple goal in mind – to bundle up the spawn of David Remnick and mercilessly drop them in the recycle bin. (If you open up the recycle bin right now, you’d see Gore Vidal’s sour puss, advertising whatever it is they advertise on the back of a 1990’s New Yorker, peering back at you through the twine. Don’t let him sway you, he means no good.) And I did just that, but not before taking a detour into the crawlspace.

I don’t remember the last time anyone went up into the crawlspace, but if you calculate years by the number of seconds it takes for the rattle of dust and dirt to pour out of the corners of the crawlspace door and trickle down the attic stairs and finally come to a stop; clearly it had been decades. Another temporal indication would be the 70’s-era shopping bag from Woodward and Lothrop department store, which had closed in 1995.

The bag contained parochial school papers I’d long forgotten, and if I had remembered them I’d assumed they were thrown out long ago. The cavemen photos, from the Smithsonian Museum of Natrual History, are most likely the first photos I ever made, for a school project on Neanderthal Man. I think they were taken with a Kodak Instamatic 110. Not bad. Although I’d grow into photographic influences like William Eggleston and Martin Parr, in these photos I see a budding Nan Goldin.

On the back of this drawing (the stains under the title at the top of the page are fresh sweat), I wrote “Eleventh Station [of the cross],” which is the Crucifixion. But I’m not sure even the advanced abstractions of what must have been my seventh-grade mind would have made the leap from crucifixion to a puppy caste system. It’s not unlike an Adam Sandler movie.

sheena take a bow

I’ve been weeding. I’ll weed maybe a handful of books or CDs at a time, and with as much clutter as I’ve accumulated over the years that barely makes a dent. Because, despite what it says under my blog header, I hoard. Not on the Collyer level but I missed that by a matter of degrees, and I was perhaps only saved from that fate by a major termite infestation that required sorting out and throwing out 40 years of basement clutter.

Still, I buy books I never read and CDs and lps I never listen to and movies I never watch. I end up buying duplicates. With no discernible organizational system, I’m not surprised to find two copies of a book I’ve never read. What surprised me was the CDs. Despite having at least 80% of my thousands of CDs in alphabetical and categorical order, I still found five inadvertent duplicates – which doesn’t count remasters of CDs I found filed right next to their original, arguably inferior but perhaps more valuable for sentimental reasons iteration. (n.b., If anyone reading this would like a sealed copy of the compilation CD, “Brazil Samba Jazz Vol II,” with the Tamba Trio’s terrific version of “Se voce se pensa,” let me know.)

I hoard to fill the void, and I found absolute proof of that last weekend when I discovered, in the back of my closet, a bunch of empty boxes of various sizes, shoe boxes and shipping boxes that I thought I might need some day. Some of them must have been in my closet for more than a decade, and had accumulated several inches of dust. I took those metaphors to the recycling bin right away and I can walk in my closet now.

I’ve been weeding regularly, and I’ve made progress, and discoveries.

As I weed I come across things I forgot I had. One is a VHS tape of Sheena Easton’s Act One special, one of dozens of tapes I scrounged from a video store’s $2 closing sale several years ago. The program was originally broadcast on NBC in 1983 and captures a moment in the Scottish singer’s career between the girl-next-MOR success of “Morning Train” and the tarted up persona of “Strut” and “Sugar Walls” (number 2 on the PMRC’s “Filthy 15,” right behind her collaborator Prince Rogers Nelson’s “Darling Nikki.”)

Act One is a strange piece of celebrity self-consciousness, with Easton trying on a variety of 80’s fashions and identities only to fail to hide behind any of them. Maybe it’s all that 80’s make up, a Bonny lass hidden under a very pretty cakeface. She is not one of those performers who disappears behind her roles. Rather, Act One reveals that for Ms. Easton, as for many of us, as many disguises we try to hide behind, who we are will unmistakably shine through the cake.

Speaking of clutter, I happen to have a copy of Chambers’s Scots Dictionary at my desk. Did you know that gardy-moggans are what they call long sleeves?

The first number “A song for you” serves as an overture of the major themes we will be exploring in the next hour; most strikingly, that of a Whitmanesque multiplicity and a personality in fragments (or shallmillens, as her people call them). Easton comes into focus from a black silhouette of her head against a stark white backdrop (apt echoes of Bergman’s Persona). A soft-focus head shot dissolves into Ms. Easton leaning against some kind of prop box, mirrored on the other side of the box by her animus, or anima, or some androgynous harlequin mixture of both. Not that I’m suggesting anything.

As the overture comes to a close, the camera closes in on Ms. Easton pouting for the camera and attempting to look soulful and amorous underneath the volumes of 80’s makeup; then she breaks out of character and asks somebody in the booth “is tha’ akae?” Looking for approval. Over the studio intercom an unseen techinician tells her there was a glitch and they’ll have to make some adjustments before they can continue with the production.

Ms. Easton then wanders through NBC back-stages killing time when she happens upon The Tonight Show set. A tarp is draped over the guest chairs but Johnny Carson’s desk is open. Sheena takes Carson’s chair and sets up the framing device for the rest of Act One, where she imagines herself a talk-show host. She interviews herself, surveying her career from the relatively subtle makeup of “Morning train” to today (then, 1983), never imagining the makeup she has in store. She also invites guest stars, including Al Jarreau and, naturally, Kenny Rogers, who joins her in a duet of “We’ve got tonight” in which you are forced to imagine that Ms. Easton would romp (rommie, v. to rumble, to beat. to stir violently) in the hay with that grey-haired beast simply because he’s there.

It’s when Ms. Easton takes her seat at Johnny Carson’s chair that Act One begins to remind one of Werner Herzong’s Grizzly Man. The documentary shows copious footage of the video Timothy Treadwell made in the wilderness as he tried to live with bears, but despite the magnificent natural backdrops and the danger we knew was coming, his tone struck me as that of a child putting on a private show in their bedroom. Ms. Easton put on that show for us in what indeed was only the first act of her career. It’s a keeper.