With autumn upon us and the sickle of COVID-19 still roaming the land, this is a harmless, nearly apolitical way to feed your soul

During the years I spent on the road as a touring poet, I would often find myself in towns I wouldn’t be caught dead in any other time. As a Black man, road-tripping over the years has graduated from outright dangerous to curiously precarious, and even under the best circumstances I have to exercise care. The Mason-Dixon line stops at Canada for Black folks, so it was important to pick out any safe spots along the way. My go-to was record stores. Most towns that have a poetry reading of any kind also have at least one record store. Music is a great icebreaker in any situation, and even a bad record store is a serviceable port in a storm. Record stores aren’t necessarily less racist in terms of their service or selection, but every store that traffics in vinyl needs your dollar, so they learn to deal. And the hip ones all know from where the banjo really comes.

I’ve collected records all my life and have the bowing shelves to prove it. Even when I didn’t have a working turntable in my possession, I still bought records. Of all the kinds of collectors that exist — the obsessives, the completists, the hipster dabbler — I rest in the middle of the spectrum, neither obsessive or laissez faire. I’m basically a casual collector with obsessive tendencies. My collection has some rare zingers in it, but I’m mostly about the music, so I’m happy with a $3 used copy of an EPMD record I already played to death when I was a lovelorn teen. I don’t need to drop $30 on a newly pressed Strictly Business LP to relive what can’t really be recreated anyway, unless I’m playing it in the passenger seat of the resident weed dealer’s ride after summer school lets out.

I’ve been all kinds of music collectors over the years, but in the end, any record collection is a joy. Mine is a true labor of love, a family affair that began with a series of petty thefts. I took my older brothers’ collections as they grew out of my mother’s house. The first mark enlisted in the army and couldn’t take anything with him, so I “took care” of his records for him. The second moved into an apartment where he didn’t quite have the room (and honestly, only bought records to impress women), so I became a steward of his music, as well. The seeds of my collection were a pure germination process. I simply began to season to taste from there.

Everyone should have a record collection of some size, and I want to take a few moments to lay out how to get to those 12-inch time machines, those nostalgia inducers, those markers of joy we can relive whenever we want, and tombstones over the bones of all the pain we’ve conquered. If you don’t have an older brother’s collection to steal, you’re going to be building one from scratch, but I promise you it’s easy.

The benefits a personally curated record collection provides are numerous: art, history, aesthetic beauty (covers displayed, colored vinyl), lyrics, cultural memory. Put a few dope LP covers on your wall in some $10 frames and you’ve got a fairly worthless art collection, but a priceless conversation piece.

I recommend coming up with a couple of rules before you dive in. All of this stuff is going to have to live somewhere, so you want to think about its footprint. While you can build a cheap collection, no step of this is free. And you have to play the music on something. I’ve had to institute a handful of mandates just in the last decade, as my buying ramped down. Here are a few of my rules. They’re not things I would ever say to a professional collector, and I offer them here only as a guide.

Buy what you like.

This is a piece of advice I got from my comic book collecting days. The market is fickle, and most people you’ll run into don’t want to buy your stuff anyway. Don’t blow money on stuff you think you’re supposed to have.

Leave some room for surprise.

Much like a home library shouldn’t be filled with books you’ve read, your music collection should be able to surprise you a little. So drop a few bucks on a record you never heard of or that looks ancient. Leave some room for joyful surprise and make the most of your rainy day/late night listens.

Be mindful of how you listen to music.

If you listen to music primarily in your car or on your phone, you probably don’t need to own a lot of records in pristine condition. Most new music only comes out digitally, so don’t be dogmatic about how good music gets into your ears. I spend a lot of money on Bandcamp, listening to amazing music I have no one else to talk to about, but that makes my trips to the grocery store awesome. All of this is to say, if you know you’re not going to be camped out in front of a turntable for an hour or three, buy accordingly.

Always buy blues on vinyl.

If a style of music was ever made for a little record crackle, it was the blues.

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The adage about people with opinions and colon chutes goes double for people who deal in vinyl. It’s like half the people that hang out in record stores have two butts. Fortunately, Columbus has some good folks at every stage of your collecting habit and area of need. Here are your first few steps, Columbus-style.

1. Get your turntable from Spoonful Records.

The folks at Spoonful Records (183 E. Rich Street) are very cool and take the listening experience seriously, but not too seriously. If it’s for casual listening and not club tear-ups, let them know and they’ll get you going. They won’t try to sell you something you don’t need. I’ve bought several turntables over the years, but the one I got at Spoonful was the first time the owner took the time to balance it out for me before I put it in the car. Spend as much as you can on a turntable, but don’t get anything less than $100. It will make your music sound tinny and weak. If you need speakers, they’ll have some good bookcase-size ones to get things popping. (Note: COVID-19 has made turntables popular right now, so don’t wait for the holiday sales to treat yourself. Turntables generally cost what they cost all of the time.)

2. Get your first pile of records from Elizabeth’s Records.

All the record stores in Columbus sell used stuff, but no one has more for you to browse than Elizabeth’s Records in Clintonville (3037 Indianola Avenue). Don’t let its storefront size fool you: To do this store right takes several days. You’ll find an enormous selection of cheap records here across every genre, with lots of unknown stuff in the nooks and crannies. Go in with 50 bucks and you’ll come out with a ton of stuff to get you going.

3. When you want to buy local work and elevate your hunting game, go to Lost Weekend Records.

Owner Kyle Siegrist at Lost Weekend Records (2960 N. High Street) is a vault of local music knowledge and is really good about keeping his eye out for things that aren’t very common. He’s one of a few collector’s collectors in town. Also, check out his daily “flip” videos on Facebook, where he flips through a choice section of the day in about a minute. You can ask questions and reserve stuff right as he’s doing it, which is how I’ve scored several of my latest gems. A number of stores have taken the guesswork out of digging for us this way.

That should get you going, Columbus-style. Happy hunting, and I’d love to see pics of your collections, whether you're new or old to the game.