Every year, I celebrate a holiday that is dear to my heart by waking up early in the morning, visiting stores crowded with far more people than I find in these same stores on other days of the year, trading messages with loved ones (some who participate and some who do not) about my journey throughout the day, and talking with a lot of other people who love music for a wide variety of reasons. The same way other people dramatically alter their daily routines and patterns of interaction for other religious or cultural celebrations of various sorts, I transform into a kid at a candy store each year for Record Store Day. While I likely could (and probably will at some point) write much about Record Store Day itself, in this post I want to put on my interactionist glasses concerning the question I hear most during my holiday adventures.
What is your favorite record?
Like many music lovers I know, my answer to this question can vary greatly depending on what the question means and what I’m experiencing at the time. If I interpret this question in terms of what I’m listening to most at the moment, it will be a different answer than if I interpret this question in terms of what record I think is most technically sound, original, or any of a hundred other factors. As a practicing interactionist, I realize that people typically act toward things based on the meanings those things have for them, and that as a result, the meaning they associate with the question, records themselves, and many other factors may shape their response to this question. As a result, I often revise the question. Instead of asking about favorites, I tend to ask people what records are the most meaningful to them, and why.
In my case, the answer to this question remains surprisingly constant over time, and I often find the same with other music lovers. I think this is because the most meaningful records for me are those that speak to specific times and experiences in my life, and continue to recall these feelings and memories each time I hear or even think about them. Since what is best or worst in music tends to be a matter of interpretation and experience, like so much of social life, the most meaningful records in anyone’s collection likely speak to important aspects of their selfhood, lived experience, interpretative frameworks, emotional turning points, and relationship to the broader social world. What are the most meaningful records for you, and why do they mean so much to you?
For me, I always first think of the Counting Crows debut album August and Everything After. While I love each of the songs, the meaning of the record itself goes deeper than listening pleasure. I remember first acquiring this record (for sentimental reasons I have a cassette copy of this record in my office) right at the time I learned I was adopted. I remember reading the title and thinking “adoption and everything after” as I listened to the songs over and over again throughout the coming months as I tried to make sense of my newly realized backstory. I remember feeling my confusion in Perfect Blue Buildings, my sense of isolation in Round Here, my anger in A Murder of One, my hopefulness in Mr. Jones, my sense of loss in Anna Begins, and my desire to just feel okay again in Rain King. I still feel these things when I hear or even think about these songs. For me, it is not a record of music, but rather a record of the many emotional and identity transformations I experienced – a kind of soundtrack to my identity, emotional, and ideological work processes.
After that first thought, my mind always turns to Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses, and even typing the words just now I can smell the scent of coffee, stained journal pages, and dark bars filled with music. When this record came out, I was working my way through college, spending countless hours in coffee shops doing school work and hanging out in bars to see bands so I could write my first few reviews for local newsletters and pamphlets (writings that later led to my time as a music reviewer for a local paper). To this day, this record means “writer” to me. I often pull it out when I’m having trouble with a manuscript, or when I feel like I’m on the verge of a breakthrough with this or that paper, or when I really need to curse or cry after an especially annoying rejection letter. Somewhere within these 18 songs lives my identity as a writer, and I call upon this sign equipment whenever I doubt the reality of that identity for even a second.
As I begin writing on and operating the SSSI Music Blog, I find myself wondering how other interactionists might answer the same questions in the comments section or in a blog post of their own. And so I ask, what are your most meaningful records? Why do these mean the most to you? What records would the soundtrack of your experience contain?