Old and New: A 2014 Resolution

Thanks to Art Dudley, Norman Blake's Old and New was one of my three major musical discoveries of 2013. What will 2014 bring? It should be an interesting year, to say the least.

Happy New Year! I hope you’re somewhere warm, like Rincon or San Clemente, taking in a ton of golden sunshine and perhaps enjoying a rum punch. In New York, New Jersey, and much of the rest of the country, the New Year came with several of inches of cold, white snow that fell from the icy sky like the confetti we happily tossed about on New Year’s Eve. This is a perfect day to stay inside and listen to that pile of records you’ve so carefully propped up against the wall.

Over the last seven years, I’ve pretty much purchased any damn record that sparked my interest. Of course, there were a few other considerations: I also needed to eat, drink, pay my obnoxiously expensive rent, and wrap myself in some sort of clothing. That means, on average, I’ve spent somewhere around $5000/year on music. Thinking about it like that is sort of depressing: I could have paid off my college loans using that money. (Oh well.) I could have also placed a down payment on a home! I could have saved for my future!

I’ve never really thought much about the future. Considering that one of my responsibilities at Stereophile is to make sure each issue ships to press on time, one might think that I’d be great at planning. But a byproduct of working for a monthly magazine, surrounded by urgent deadlines, is that I’m never really sure of what’s happening beyond what’s directly in front of my face. Also: I hate planning. I prefer envisioning, dreaming, tackling.

But, in terms of record-buying and everything else important to me, 2014 will be a very interesting and different kind of year. On Thanksgiving, I proposed (marriage) to Ms. Little. (She said yes. Crazy, I know.)

What does this mean for my record-buying life? Just as every other purchase I made over the last seven years had to be weighed against a potential record purchase, every other purchase I make this year will have to be weighed against a contribution to Our Wedding Fund. Have I mentioned that I have $0 in my “savings” account? I get paid money, I spend money. What was Ms. Little thinking when she agreed to marry me? Apparently, I bring “other” things to the relationship. (Good to know.)

On top of our desk, beside one of my PSB Alpha PS1 loudspeakers, sits an old tin can that used to hold John McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal. Every time I even think about buying a record, I stick $20 in that tin. (Making oatmeal, by the way, is a very analog process, not unlike spinning vinyl. If you haven’t already gotten into it, you should.) In case you’re wondering, I purchased the PSB Alpha PS1 desktop loudspeakers at “industry accommodation” cost, which varies but is typically 50% off retail. In 2013, I also purchased a new pair of Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 loudspeakers, three 1m lengths of AudioQuest Big Sur interconnects, and one 15ft pair of AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cable. Unless something crazy happens, I won’t be making any hi-fi purchases in 2014. I just can’t afford to.

By October, when Ms. Little and I plan to celebrate our love with family and friends and cousins we hardly know (thanks, Nat!), we should have enough money in the tin to support our dream dance party.

Not really. Despite our modest ways and most valiant efforts, it seems inevitable that we’ll have spent a small fortune on our charming, little Jersey City wedding. (Good thing Ms. Little actually has money in her “savings” account. Women!)

Anyhow, I won’t be spending $5000 on records this year. I have a plan—a resolution, if you will, or perhaps even a vow: In 2014, I will buy no more than one (1!) new record per month. (This is crazy. This will never work.) I italicized “new” because I think I should cut myself some slack for used records. I mean, there’s always the possibility that I’ll discover some amazing veteran artist who I’d previously neglected. In recent years, I was shocked by guys like Robert Wyatt, John Prine, and Delbert McClinton. And, in 2013, I finally came around to Tony Joe White, B.W. Stevenson, and Norman Blake, and I tracked down used copies of their records that sold for criminally low prices.

I’ve already made a list: The 35 Most Anticipated Albums of 2014. Why “35” when there are only 12 months in a year? Just in case, I guess. I like odd numbers. This is just my list; it’s not yours. The list is handwritten in red ink, in the same lined pad I use to take my listening notes. I’ve only listed the names of bands that are said to release new albums in 2014. I haven’t listed album titles because: 1. I’m freezing cold; 2. I suck at planning; 3. Many of the album titles are TBA. My sources include Pitchfork, Spin.com, The Fader, The Wire, Stereogum, and my own PR contacts. I would share my list with you, but many of the releases are still embargoed. If you’re as silly as I am about new music, you can check out the pages I’ve mentioned above and make your own guesses.

I plan to be diligent, resourceful, highly selective. At the end of all this, you and I both should have a much clearer understanding of what’s important to me, musically. And why would that be important to you or me? I don’t know! Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just fun. Maybe we will have things in common. Will I go for pop or noise? Jazz or blues? James Chance or James Blake or both? If I can keep my word about this—that is, if all goes as planned—I’ll come away with a monthly post detailing the album on which I dropped my precious coin. I’ll explain why I purchased it, where I purchased it, what I thought about it, and whether it caused Ms. Little to change her mind about me.

Wish me luck. Cheers!

ken mac's picture

...on your impending marriage and the high times to come. 

Funny, I just finished reading Art Dudley's review of the Jadis I-35 and now you're onto the hopeful best 35 of 2014. Synchronicity? Fate?

Can the patter of tiny Mejias feet be far behind?

Bill B's picture

Congratulations!  One adapts to supply and demand, too.  If you buy fewer records this year, you will have time to go back to the ones you have and dig them deeper.

misterc59's picture

Congratulations Stephen, maybe you can convince one of your local record stores to set up a registry for you!

.dexter's picture

I for one will be disappointed if Stephen's money goes towards anything other than vinyl purchases...

SidVithmad's picture

Stay inside and listen to that pile of records indeed!  Since New Year's, I've been doing just that.  I also made the One Record per Month resolution.  I think I'll employ your used records exception though, so thanks for that ... I think.  Congratulations on your engagement, and a sincere thank you for your great work online.  

[I was a long-time Stereophile subscriber, but I cancelled my subscription when the unrelenting barrage of subscription renewal notices flooding my mailbox became downright absurd.  I miss the magazine.  I don't miss the subscription renewal notices.  Peace.]

John Mitchell's picture

Congratulations to you and Ms. Little, Stephen. May your lives be filled with music, peace, and love.

You may find that you enjoy your records more when you're more selective in choosing them. One new record a month and some used gems along the way can provide plenty of pleasure, and sometimes even ecstasy. After all, you don't plan to get a new wife every month, do you?