I had an experience worth telling about. My readers make a point of telling me they love the odd world I inhabit and want to hear more stories from my always interesting side of the street. This bit revolves around a client I had that became a way for me to help certain slightly obsessed clients.
I was contacted by a Real Estate Lawyer. They always toss very challenging clients my way. His client’s father had passed away and they were desperate to declutter and stage the family home ASAP in order to sell it fast. I had a tight window to get all the work done. Real Estate lawyers are very much like Realtors in that they view time as an associate to prod into action and not a pal you can rely on.
When the lawyer toured me through the home it became very clear, very fast that I had not just clutter to clear but a vast Eldorado of a music collection to contend with; the kind of thing a rabid collector would sell his grandmother to posses. It included what I guessed was about eleven thousand LP’s, thousands of CD’s and CD copies and thousands more cassettes, reel to reel and 8-track tapes. There were row upon row of books and tucked between it all slick photos of smoky clubs filled with famous names, many with soft focus eyes from heavy doses of alcohol or illicit drugs and many others without names noted, lost to time and posterity, slinking in the shadows. The vast majority of the collection was jazz and big band with a smattering of pop and a chuckle of country for good measure. There were artists before they went all mainstream like a sultry Doris Day singing true heart breaking tunes never covered again. Albums filled shelves floor to ceiling, one wall was a monument of plastic sleeves and LP edges, at least twenty feet in length and eight feet high, next to a room floor to ceiling on every wall. Selecting any one album at random guaranteed a smile – a funky illustrated cover to a Dave Brubeck here or a mesmerizing portrait of John Coltrane cover there. Labels like Blue Note, Columbia, Atlantic, Prestige, Verve and Impulse were the norm on every shelf.
I also inherited the father’s computer and hard drive which contained almost a terabyte of the stuff. I was in heaven listening and learning new names and re-experiencing ones I had forgotten about: Dinah Washington, Bea Wain, Joe Stafford, Cab Calloway, Keely Smith and Louis Prima, Chet Baker, even Spike Jones and the City Slickers. I dipped into the moody sub-culture and ran across a lot of folks deeply into everything jazz. I delighted in hearing so many of those oh so jazzy names one only hears from that musical genre: names like; Art Depew, Barrett Deems, Kenyon Hopkins, Sonny Fortune, Johnny LaBarbara or any name that began with Toots.
I plowed hundreds into my Ipod when I worked I played, played, played. I work alone most of the time. I love it when I am given the keys and told to just do my thing. My time frame was a blink of an eye as usual. No simple task. It’s the kind of thing you just start. You don’t overthink it. If you thought about the logistics too much it would never happen. You just pick a spot and dig like a pit bull in full chomp. I just had at it and kept at it. I started to knee pop walk like Popeye lurching dozens of milk crates filled with records up from their basement lair and putting mountains of the stuff into storage for the client, giving away vast amounts and helping the client sell what I could and charging for my time. Can’t beat that. I filled the driveway with knee high piles of cassettes and eight track tapes and put the word out to come and get them but the majority of it went to land fill. It’s a shame but nobody wants a particular technology that is one generation removed from the original source. LP’s are of the time of the artist. Cassettes – well not so much. No surprise. Too many people hold on to cassettes feeling the memory and not snapping to the fact it is just outdated, temporary technology. LP’s on the other hand were made to play if kept well. It’s why they are always somewhat collectible with a certain crowd. At least the good music. People still ask me to donate old cassettes feeling someone else will absorb the same good time vibes they experienced in a day when they felt more vibrant, free and alive.
The house also had rooms filled with music like the eight by ten room that was floor to ceiling copies of jazz cd’s. I filled huge plastic tubs full of them and dozens of boxes to accompany the dozens of zippered suitcases pregnant with hundreds of copies.
The client’s father was seemingly obsessed with cataloging every CD album and anthology with meticulous tiny writing lovingly written in each case. I almost fell into his same cataloging frenzy. When I started to delete artists from the computer and external hard drive I thought, heck he had spent so much of his life putting this collection together I should create sub directories and do things alphabetical and, and, and. I had to back away, give my head a shake and just delete, delete, delete. Otherwise the job would have been infinite.
The job prepared me for many a client to follow who obsessively collected information with little thought of returning to read or use it. The compiling was all. One fellow approached me after a lecture I gave at an ADD Convention in Toronto and asked if I could help him organize his massive collection of information. It was a database he didn’t personally use but had lovingly assembled because nobody else was stockpiling it. He felt compelled to add and collect and sub-divide and catalog, taking up huge swaths of his personal time and life in the process. I offered a simple thought: find someone else who wants to collect the information and use it and disseminate it and who shares your need to collection it – then do a hand off. Make that your search now. The would-be compiler you find would then thank you endlessly for the work you put in. That reward, the potential thank you reward lingers in the back of people’s minds all the time and is a powerful reason to keep stuff. People, especially seniors, hang on to endless amounts of stuff in case they can give it someone and thus get a warm thank you in return. What used to be a monetary value becomes a potential thank you value – something with far more meaning and purpose.
In any case, the digital information hoarder could find relief from being the guardian of the data. He could create a new crowd sourcing data base like Wikipedia. Then he could be free to run away to compile another day. He liked the idea and went away planning to search the world for just the right person to connect with – a goal in itself but one with a finite end point.
In my case I had to stop and just let go of thousands of cd’s I’d never ever get around to listening to. I set about giving away dozens of bursting zippered cases. I put plastic bins overflowing with thousands of the copies by the curb in the Outdoor Store. I handed out huge, great arms full of jazz to anyone showing the remotest interest. I helped the client to sell bins full of cd’s and a storage unit full of LP’s. Slowly but surely the numbers dwindled. I confess as I write this I can see a few lingering piles of them around my office awaiting my attention. I was tickled making due with rediscovering great music, very fun album covers galore and a whole lot more. It was a wondrously musical, very summery interlude.