When I first became aware of Courtney E. Smith‘s Record Collecting For Girls (Mariner), I wanted to read it in the hope of absorbing a book that I assumed would be about collecting records from a woman’s perspective. Collecting vinyl is something I enjoy and have done since I was a kid, and while what brought me to the hobby was the fact that I could buy records as an investment towards tentative riches, I was always surrounded by music. It eventually becomes about accumulation too, where you either have a grip on how you buy and sell, or you become the obsessive. As I began the first few chapters, I realized the book was less about the actual collecting of records and more about using music as a metaphor for what goes on in ones life, the literal musical soundtrack that allows us to conceptualize the good and bad, from the first flick of the needle to watching the stylus go back to its resting place.
Or something like that.
In truth, Smith is very much a deep fan of music, which lead to her getting a job with MTV (which becomes a running theme in the book) and eventually writing this. The act of collecting records exists to a point, but it is not about record collecting for the digging purists. Instead, it’s a nice essay on how Smith has used music as a steering wheel in her life, whether it was childhood discoveries, high school angst, or the good and bad things that she has had to deal with in some of he relationships. Readers who are told that they are obsessive about music (and know they are) will relate to the mentions about finding the perfect break-up song, the perfect song that may open up a conversation in any setting, and something I had not read in too many places: a Top 5 list of songs you’d like to have played at your funeral. For casual music fans it might sound peculiar if not morbid, but Smith understands that if there are going to be family or friends left when you are no longer there to say goodbye and thank you, your elitist music snob-self will make sure to create a list that will salute you during the end credits. (For the curious, my songs are, to be played in this order: DJ Shadow’s “Midnight In A Perfect World”, Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig In The Sky”, The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”, and Sunday Manoa’s “A Hawaiian Lullaby”.)
One of the more interesting chapters is how being a Smiths fan will determine whether or not you’re worthy of being a companion in a relationship, or just someone to avoid. Or in Smith’s case, if she’s looking for a guy and finds someone to be of interest, she will eventually find out if you are a Smiths fan. There are a number of rules she has established, each one being pretty much final and absolute, and even if you’re not a Smiths fan, the music snob in all of us will probably understand this since we probably come up with a few dumb ideas on future partners and musical compatibility. The Beatles vs. Rolling Stones battle is also brought up too.
Before I started this book, I also assumed that this would be an advice book for women who may secretly be record collectors but may shy away from celebrating this because the hobby is male dominated. If there’s any advice for female music fans, it’s simply that you have your own musical tastes, likes and dislikes, and you’re allowed to make it fluid throughout your life, so that your favorite group last year may be something you never want to hear until another five years. You too can have your Top 5 favorite artists, but understand that there may be a few rules in order to make that Top 5 list valid, at least to Smith. In truth, it’s about having complete independence and freedom with your musical interests, and it’s also worth looking into music you do not see in TV shows or hear on the radio. There’s a vast world beyond the same 10 songs you hear on the radio, and as Smith indicates, women have bought more music in the last few years than men, and it may be women who are actually the secret weapon towards keeping the music industry alive. If women are indeed buying more music, then as a woman you should trust your opinion and share that with anyone who may want to have a discussion about groups and singers with you.
By the middle of the book, it almost seems the title Record Collecting For Girls has a double meaning. It may very well be about ladies who devote a section of their home or apartment to a crate of records or a box of CD’s, but that love of musics goes much deeper than the surface. The word “record” or the act of “recording” is a means to preserve an document a past event, or a memory. In many ways, what Smith is doing is documenting her life with and through music used as a means of continuity, so what you are reading is a diary of someone’s recollections of the good and bad, one that women of all ages can appreciate. However, this is not something that is female-centric. Consider Record Collecting For Girls an expansion of what you may have secretly read in Sassy magazine in the early to mid-1990’s, except now the young girl in those pages is grown, an adult who holds music close to her heart and now has her own stories to share. If the question “you wanna come in and see my records?” excites you, you’ll want to enter her world and see what her (re)collection holds.