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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Last Collector Standing: Michael Allen Has a Radiohead License Plate, a Cat Named Gibby Haynes and a Thing for Weird Vinyl

Posted By on Thu, May 27, 2010 at 1:09 PM

click to enlarge JON SCORFINA
  • Jon Scorfina

The cultural sea change of downloading has not stopped Michael Allen's quest for vinyl LPs. A collector since childhood, Allen showed an early interest in this column and emailed us to be profiled. Though he is a self-proclaimed vinyl "junkie," it hasn't stopped him from taking advantage of the myriad of modern ways to collect music. He recently showed off his diverse collection while hobbling through his apartment nursing a sprained ankle. We discussed his OK Computer license plate, a chance encounter with Samwell, and his cat, Gibby Haynes.

Last Collector Standing: When did you first start collecting music? Michael Allen: I was a beneficiary of the fabled "cool older sisters." I had two - my sisters Susan and Kathy. [They] are 10 and 8 years older than me. Susan was the first alternative kid in our neighborhood that I knew. She had black hair and combat boots before anybody. She listened to a lot of Ramones and Siouxsie and the Banshees. That's what I grew up listening to through her. Kathy was much more of a teenybopper. She listened to a lot of Prince, which was cool. She also got me into hip-hop. My dad listened to a lot of classic rock and my mom listened to oldies. So I had those combined influences.

My first record-buying excursion was Susan took me to the record exchange when I was 8. I had just received a stereo for my birthday. She asked me to pick out something to bring home. The first album that I bought was In 3-D by "Weird Al" Yankovic, which I've still got. [laughs] I started amassing records from there. Susan's influence on me growing up was incalculable, because I don't know where my taste would be without it. She had this very punk-rock style and attitude that I wanted to emulate, obviously because she was my big sister.

click to enlarge weirdal3d.jpg

After that, the most formative moment growing up for me was two things that happen pretty much concurrently. I transferred to Bishop DuBourg in the middle of '99 to go to high school, and it was right down the street from the Record Exchange. I started spending literally almost two hours a day everyday after school going through the stacks [at Record Exchange]. That's where I got very, very deep into music. Then [in] August of '99, Spin released an issue called the 90 Greatest Albums of the '90s, and my worldview just sort of exploded. It was my bible for a number of years. I still have not listened to every record in there because every one that I found would introduce me to ten other bands that I was interested in. Those two things happening at the same time really fed into each other because I knew what to look for at Record Exchange.

When did you first start downloading music? When I graduated high school my dad gave me an iMac for a graduation present. That was the first computer that I owned at home. I started downloading a lot of music then from iTunes.

Is there a cultural or generational divide between collecting records vs. downloading music, or are they one and the same thing? I think there definitely is [a difference]. iTunes has made it a lot easier to disseminate music. People seem to collect singles now as opposed to albums. It's kind of a throwback to the '60s, when the single ruled [before] the album came to prominence. It's a very different listening experience.

I would say that the greatest asset for me is that iTunes makes it ridiculously easy to put together mixes. It's just completely transmutable. There is not as much effort involved as making a mix tape from vinyl. That requires a lot of time, dedication and creativity. Recently, I've discovered a little group in St. Louis that is devoted to cassette-only mix-tapes. It's a lot of fun and a great creative outlet. One of my main passions is making music mixes, and I primarily use iTunes to compose them because it's so easy to drag and drop everything. I'm obsessed with getting good segues. It's very simply to do on iTunes but very difficult on a mix tape. In terms of those two in comparison with one another, that is the best contrast I can think of.

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