A spurious theory, still popular unfortunately, tries to explain that hideous penchant of ours for collecting things as nothing but a legitimate inheritance from some of our more squirrel-like ancestors. The bare truth of the matter is that collecting is a form of escapism. It affords the harried citizens of the modern rational world an opportunity to give way occasionally to outbursts of insanity without incurring any considerable danger of losing face.
The above reflection was occasioned by a recent visit to a certain fairly well known local collector of hot dises. This avid one's rather barren music room is strown with parts of a very uniquely designed phonograph connected to each other several times over by wires which dive and coil menacingly and generally rule most of that part of the room which lies below the waist. These respective parts, each after its own fashion, are perpetually glowing and humming. The flendish ruler of this electrical wilderness likes nothing better than to set a visitor on a chair in the middle of it all and force him to submit to the latest product of his off-hour madness in the way of an identification quiz.
In no other field of artistic appreciation is there more interest in stylistic identification than among jazz fans. They are always listening to ancient collectors' items and trying to determine the author of this or that faint one or two bar solo practically indistinguishable from the whirring of the needle rubbing over the worn-out shellac. But the particular creature being described herein is not merely interested in identification, he is obsessed with it. He lies awake at nght thinking up harder and cleverer quizzes. Even the Chemistry Department would blanch at some of the masterpieces he turns out. There are lots of those falsely reassuring multiple choice questions and an ultra-involved point system which manages to cut away as much credit for every right answer as possible while counting all the wrong answers twice as much. The poor examinee begins to wonder, after a does of this, whether Bix Beiderbecke played a horn or a bass viol. But the Great Collector usually goes on and on, relentlessly playing momentary snatches of Bobby Hackett's guitar, PeeWee Russell's saxophone, and Tommy Dorsey's trumpet cleverly hiding even the labels from view as he feeds ancient record after ancient record into the mouth of the phonograph.
Sometimes after an unfortunate guest has fallen into a fit of hysterics as a result of such rough treatment, The Collector may recant a bit and satisfy himself with mere lectures on his favorite subject. He has very definite theories on the care and reclaiming of antique discs including a process of re-shellacking which probably exceeds the plans for assembling the atomic bomb in intricacy. This study even goes into such details as the difference in the spacing of numbers on Victor chain labels of the 1931 period and in his eyes a record of this vintage which has too narrow a spacing by as much as several sixteenths of an inch is worthless.
On the thousand and one niceties of refinement with which this avid acquirer of hot platters has seen fit to burden his and other people's lives, one could write a fair sized novel, but that isn't the most interesting part of it all. What really excites the imagination and stirs the blood is the fact that such a person walks the streets unmanacled, breathes the free air and during his lucid moments actually holds a position of responsibility in our society. As a matter of fact, there are many such. You meet people like him every day.