Monday, August 30, 2010

Who's Who In Rockism: Brett Milano

Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record CollectingWhile doing research for “Who’s Who In Rockism”, the name Brett Milano kept popping up. Milano is a music journalist for the College Music Journal, the Boston Herald and the Boston Phoenix. I first came upon him several years ago while reading the liner notes of a Rhino records CD called The Very Best of Todd Rundgren (circa 1997).  But it is Milano’s 2003 Vinyl Junkies that seems to be a touchstone in any detailed discussion of Rockism I've come across. Even though I don’t recall the word Rocksim actually being used in Milano’s Vinyl Junkies, his book is full of passages like the following that make it easy to see how Vinyl Junkies would easily seduce the Rockist reader.

“…you don’t have to be one of those vinyl snobs—the kind who think that digital sound is flat and heartless—to appreciate that playing a record is a whole different experience. Placing the needle in the groove is a physical act—maybe a sexual one, if you really want to stretch the metaphor—and it’s just not the same as pressing the button on your CD player, where you can’t even see what’s going on. And even though they’re more high-tech, CDs just aren’t as mysterious. There’s a computer-age explanation for why that digital sound gets reproduced, just as there’s a computer-age explanation for everything.”

And here's another Rockist-friendly excerpt:

“…For some collectors, it’s not just about buying a bunch of records. It’s about living in the pop culture era of your choice. Anyone who gets deep into non-standard music is already making a decision about living outside the mainstream.”

Milano’s guided tour through the world of record collecting consists mainly of meetings and conversations with 30 or so record collectors who range in age from the mid 30s to the mid 60s, who are mostly male (although Milano seems to go out of his way to include 3 or 4 females) and most of whom—if not all of whom—are connected to the music industry in some way. This last aspect seems natural enough of course, but I found that limiting his focus group just to the mainstream record collectors gave Vinyl Junkies a lack of depth. I would have like to have heard the words of record collectors who weren’t involved in the music industry. Why not include conversations with some dentist or accountant, or janitor, who also just happens to collect records? Are the record-collecting habits of regular, everyday people operating outside the hipster judgments of the music industry/record collector hemisphere not worthy?

I’ve been collecting records since the age of 8 (I used birthday money to purchase Steve Miller's “Keep On a Rockin me Baby” 45). So I enjoyed Milano’s book, but at the same time I was let down in that he only really touched the surface of a very large and interesting subculture. At various points in the book he tried to describe the smell and look of a vintage album, the smells and looks of record collector’s rooms, of DJ booths, of record stores, and even of the rush of searching for a record, but in the end there was something missing. Milano has a understated-realistic, workman-like style of writing and his love and knowledge of music comes through clear, but he missed a real opportunity here to write something much greater. The locomotion behind every collector I’ve ever met is the idea of having a mission. Milano touches upon this during parts of Vinyl Junkies, but to really understand the excitement and frenzy that someone on a mission experiences, you have to be on a mission yourself. In the first chapter of the book Milano appeared as though he was going to create a mission—a mission for the reader, a mission for himself, etc—when he explains in great detail experiencing a record listening party with his friends Pat and Monoman. This gets the book off to a great start, but from there Milano just sorta randomly goes from one record collector conversation to another, occasionally touching upon one theme or another, but with no real sense of mission at all.

So for this reason and many more, my final verdict is 3 Wagemann heads.


***Bonus Material***
I have a bittersweet reaction to any book, movie, song, etc that has the title “[something:] junkie” in it, for it was my 1996 Golden Circle Award winning essay Streetball Junkie in which the term “junkie” was originally used to describe a person that is obsessed with something—something other than drugs—in a very addictive, drug-like way. Since then there have been a plethora of “junkie” novels, movies, etc and I have yet to see one dime for the intellectual property that I have contributed to our beautiful pop culture. But did Willie Burroughs get any monetary compensation for his creative insertion of “punk” or “heavy metal” into the 20ths centuries pop culture landscape? No. But he does get the credit, so who knows, maybe 50 years from now I’ll get my due and be considered as the William Burroughs of Generation A.D.D. (Generation A.D.D. by the way, is another term that I first popularized as well).


  1. Oh! This sounds like the book for me! I love to read it... I'm a vinyl collector and love listening to my purchases once I get them home, cleaned up and on the turntable!

    Thanks for the heads-up about this one. Onto the Wish List on Bookcrossing this one goes!

  2. Do you have much vinyl? What kinds of stuff do you collect?