(The number of chain-record stores nationwide has dwindled. However, St. Louis has become an unlikely safe haven for indie record shops -- and for DJs who prefer to spin the black circle instead of scrolling their iPods. In this weekly column, we'll focus on personal portraits of St. Louis' record aficionados -- and the rooms where they store their treasures. Meet the last collectors standing. Know a collector who deserves the spotlight? Email us.)
How - and in what format -- we listen to music is a major focus in the study of today's ever-changing social media landscape. As the vinyl album fights to find a new market, avid vinyl collectors such as Andrew Allen Smith -- who teaches media literacy and history of film at Lindenwood University and Webster University, and is an ex-manager at the Plaza Frontenac Theatre -- are most concerned with the future of the LP. Smith celebrates everything pop culture with his joint collection of records he shares with his girlfriend, Sarah. We met in his apartment full of Ultraman figures and conversed about the Pixies' Doolittle and the cultural significance of the soundtrack album.
What is the first album you ever bought? Smith - The first piece of recorded music I ever bought was Nirvana's Nevermind on cassette when I was eleven or twelve. I mainly bought it because I had heard about it so much on MTV. I was just a kid. I didn't know what music was, or what a "scene" was. I just sought out whatever was the most popular, and it just happened to be Nirvana's Nevermind. I think that's what started me wanting to get interested in more obscure bands, and that's what led me to vinyl.
The first vinyl records I bought were ones that were easy to come across. I bought things like the Clash. I started buying vinyl probably in eighth grade, because I discovered Goodwill and Value Village. Records were like a quarter. I could buy any stupid record. Maybe it was good. Maybe it wasn't. I bought a lot of jazz records from the '40s because it seemed to be the collection that everyone in St. Louis had. That's where I also bought my first T-Rex album, my first Yes album. I bought them all for a quarter at garage sales and goodwill.
It wasn't until I finally found a rare record that I started wanting to go after them. Actually, it was when I was around sixteen or seventeen years old, I found The Pixies' Doolittle for seventy-five cents. Then I went looking for it in other stores, and I had never really listened to the Pixies that much. I realized that the Pixies were really hard to find. It's thrilling to find a record that you know is very hard to come across. That record was the first time that I felt that way.
Can you elaborate on the experience on buying an album or CD? How has that methodology changed for shopping for music? Has it been lost on newer generations? To answer the first part about it: Finding a record is much different than buying a record off the internet. People always tell me they found this super rare record and then [they tell me] they bought it off eBay for seventy or eight dollars.
I know in the hardcore scene in St. Louis there is this weird, obsessive vinyl collecting. It's sort of like a fetish. They need to own eight different versions of the same album, all different printings, and they'll never open them. I like collecting records that are rare, but I don't mind if they're damaged; it's just having it as a document.