April 26, 2009
Music to my years
Being suckered into buying re-issued memorabilia may sound irrational but it makes me feel like a boy again
By Ignatius Low
On Tuesday night, I went out and did something that always gives me tremendous pleasure.
I went to HMV and bought a box set. One of the last remaining three, to be precise, of the new Sounds Of The Universe album by British pop group Depeche Mode.
Spying it about 20m away as I was approaching the entrance of the store, I broke into a run and grabbed the box with both hands - startling an innocent bystander who was looking at it.
I then triumphantly carried it around the store like some kind of trophy, checking all the other copies to make sure mine was the most pristine.
When I got home, I opened the heavy black box carefully to examine its contents - three CDs, one DVD, one poster, five postcards, two hard-cover books of glossy photographs, one 'panoramic' photo insert, two enamel collar badges and one certificate of authencity.
Fifteen minutes later, when there were no more endorphins to be had from sniffing and running my fingers over the 'specially inked heavy cardboard paper', I put everything back carefully, closed the box and put it on my display shelf.
I will probably open it maybe twice, maybe thrice more in my lifetime.
The pleasure of a limited edition box set is partly in the beauty it possesses, but it is much more in possessing its beauty.
As I sat back to admire it one more time in the half light of my Ikea bookshelf lamp, I couldn't help but pity the guy I had seen at HMV who was also contemplating buying it.
I saw him turn the box over and over in his hands with a look of longing in his eyes.
Alas, he made the mistake of discussing the $99.95 purchase with someone who was obviously his wife or girlfriend. She had stern words with him and he meekly put it back.
The only rule worth remembering for any serious collector of music, film, toys or comics is never discuss anything with a woman. Least of all expensive box sets.
There is one very simple reason for this.
Guys, you see, are true collectors.
Girls, on the other hand, just cannot be bothered.
A female colleague of mine is a typical case in point. She loves Taiwanese singer Jay Chou so much that when she visited Taipei recently, she even made a special trip to his old high school to take photographs.
But does she have all his CDs? No. Some of her albums are even pirated versions.
I was aghast.
'How do you sleep at night with all these gaps in your collection?' I asked her.
Very well, she answered. The bottom line is that she just does not feel a need to complete her collection.
'Why do you have to?' she challenged. 'So what if you have a complete collection?'
Now, that is a question which just does not compute, as far as I'm concerned.
When I put it to some friends and colleagues recently, most of them put it down to a sort of 'acquisition instinct' that seems to exist more in men.
'Life is a series of conquests for most guys,' said one male friend. 'We see it and if we like it, we acquire it; and then, er... we just move on to the next thing.'
Another friend thinks it's all a silly game of childish one-upsmanship.
'It's not just enough for a guy to have a Rolex anymore,' she complained.
'He must have this particular edition released in that particular year, limited to so many pieces.
'Knowing about it already makes them proud, but they must also buy it because other guys don't have it and it's so much more expensive.'
'My boyfriend has three sets of every Transformer toy he buys,' said another exasperated female colleague, describing typical irrational collector behaviour.
'One is to display in Robot Mode, another is to display in Car Mode and the third is for storage in the cupboard, still in its plastic wrapping.'
Women, on the other hand, somehow seem to be a lot more rooted and practical, especially after they grow out of their 'schoolgirl' phase.
They'll buy something because they like it and want to use it, and so much the better if it turns out to be special or rare.
But they rarely let themselves become obsessed with it. There's never a strong desire to 'buy the whole set' or 'eBay the special edition' because, well, there are just so many more sensible things to do.
It's also a lot lighter on the wallet, which is something I've become painfully aware of over the years.
Box sets and re-issues are the weapons of choice in a music industry that constantly makes suckers of ageing sentimentalists like me.
It's strange because people tend to think of men as being rational and logical, and accuse women of making emotional decisions.
But, in this case, the stereotypes seem to be reversed.
For me, being a collector of records and CDs has been nothing less than therapy for the soul. And to be honest, I've loved being exploited.
I've loved starving through recess time in school just to save up for those German 12-inch singles in the 1980s that were 'platte in farbigem vinyl' (meaning they were in coloured vinyl).
I don't ever get tired of telling the romantic story of how my 17-year search for British singer David Sylvian's exquisite 1989 Weatherbox ended unexpectedly in a tiny used records shop in Hong Kong's Mongkok area.
And I don't ever regret having bought some albums five times over now - some at the same time, packaged in alternate covers (I love you, Tori).
For, you see, the magic of the Depeche Mode box set really isn't in its nifty packaging or its scarcity.
It's in that special something that brings me back through time to the wide-eyed boy I was in 1986.
Maybe I have always been that boy, even now in 2009. But it's most certainly the boy that I always want to be.