Saturday, February 05, 2005

Buy it again, it's the ownership society

When I used to look for albums at thrift stores (the heyday was in the early 90s, when vinyl was refuse to most people) it often happened that I would come across albums I already owned, and I would want to buy them again, so delighted I was that I found them and that they were such a deal. A quarter for Gene Clark with the Godsin Brothers? Fifty cents for Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust? Somebody really ought to buy that. I really ought to buy that and give it to somebody. I'd end up with several copies of the same album because I wouldn't want to pass up the discovery. I buy my favorite albums over again. There's an element of insane compulsion to this (having an emergency backup), and of historical preservation (resucing the albums before they're composted), and of sheer scoreboard (the margin between cost and expected utility irresistibly large). Consequently, I started to think I enjoyed the thrill of the chase with music, the thrill of the hunt and the purchase, at least as much as I enjoyed hearing the music itself. It seemed like capitalism's way of perverting my psychology, so that I enjoyed spending money wisely and shrewdly more than I enjoyed actually doing something (listening to the music, in this case), thinking that the moment of choice in purchasing was a more satisfying exercise of my musical taste than the moment of hearing the songs I treasured.

I thought of this when I saw the Kinks Village Green Preservation Society had been re-re-reissued. Completist collector types are going to feel compelled to buy it again, just like they bought the previous two issues of it. I used to think these CD collectors/superfans were being exploited by the record companies, who keep refining releases and holding back extras to ensure obsolescence of each iteration of an album. I used to think the obligation to buy the same album again was an onus. But really its probably a pleasure, a joyous opportunity, a treat to have a legitimate reason (other than insanity) go vote with one's wallet for a favorite album again, and exercise one's taste in that way, which feels so much more significant expression of it than simply listening to the record. Buying something, owning it, is more integral to consumer pleasure than the use of a thing, whatever it is. The endorphin spike comes when I finally decide to walk out of Virgin Megastore with this re-re-re-reissue of Live at Leeds, not when I hear, for the seventeen-thousandth time, "A Quick One While He's Away." This is the reality of life in "the ownership society"

Buying a record once, amidst all the choices now available, signifies a commmitment, a real sign of personal approval, a staking of (and establishment of) identity. The moment of consumption, of making that choice, as I've argued before, is now the critical moment of pleasure -- dollars need to be invovled to make us understand its real, socially recognized and legitimized pleasure. So the chance to buy something twice lets you show that you love the record twice as much.

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