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[whitespace] Enid Enid of 'Ghost World' is one of those rare female vinyl lovers.


The Enid in Me

There's something about vinyl that can't be denied

By Gina Arnold

I HAVE A CONFESSION to make. I do not alphabetize my record collection. Isn't that awful? In one format or another, I own more than a thousand plastic items that play music, and they exist, higgledy-piggledy, in an order known only to myself. Frankly, even I can't lay my hands on things very quickly anymore.

It's one of those things I keep meaning to do something about--like losing weight, relining the kitchen shelves and organizing my tax receipts in some kind of logical manner. In short, it'll never happen. The fact is, despite my occupation, I'm just not the alphabetizing type.

"The type," of course, is an obsessive record collector, generally a guy, generally older and geeky, generally much like the character on The Simpsons who owns the comic-book store. "The type" is perfectly depicted in Ghost World, the movie by Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes. Far from being a Halloween opus, Ghost World is about the intense friendship between two teenage girls, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, their persnickity and enclosed worldview, and their weird relationship with an obsessed record collector played by Steve Buscemi.

Ghost World is one of those great movies that is sort of about nothing. It takes place in nowheresville--a town made up of thousands of minimarts, where nothing ever happens, in spades. And yet, despite the incipient boredom and aesthetic ugliness of the setting and the scene, the film manages to create a world--and some characters--we care about, because we recognize in them some great truth about life.

For me, what rang true about Ghost World was the relationship between Enid (Birch) and Becky (Johansson). Upon leaving high school, they clearly have the kind of two-against-the-world mentality that unites them in the kind of friendship that allows no one else a place. And yet at bottom they really have nothing in common: you know that by the time they reach 20 they won't even be friends anymore.

Seymour, the record collector, rang just as true. When I was younger, I worked at a certain college radio station that was populated with guys like him, and despite (or perhaps because of) the onset of CDs and MP3s, a lot of them still exist. For some reason, there are very few girls with the record-collecting strand of DNA (although a few, like Enid, do walk the earth).

That must be why I, apparently alone among rock critics, have lately been contemplating the sale of my vinyl record collection. I love my records, but the fact is, I don't play them. I don't even think my turntable is hooked up right now.

Still, it's a big decision--way too big to make in a day, or even a month, but the fact that I'd even consider it puts me in a class by myself. Most people either have 1,500 lovingly collected records that they refuse to part with, or they have about 20 records they love and play all the time.

But real record collecting is all about the object, not the music. That's why collectors, like Seymour, often have side collections (in his case, of racist commercial art; other examples are kitschy salt and pepper shakers, Playboy memorabilia and cute ceramic fish). I used to worry that if I sold even the most unplayed of my records on Touch and Go or Kill Rock Stars, I'd never be able to hear them again, but thanks to MP3s, that's just not true: even if I can't find the CD version, I can always pick it up online.

On the other hand, thanks to MP3s, I really missed my moment. I asked my record dealer if my collection was worth much, and he said he didn't think so. "What is it? Seventies punk and '80s indie rock stuff--Otto's Chemical Lounge, the Jesus Lizard, Belly?"

Just about, I replied. He sighed, "Well, it's not worthless, of course." But old blues and beautifully rendered covers are far more valuable than, say, a first edition of the Rolling Stones' Some Girls is now. Once upon a time, I think that cover was worth $75, but now it's about $10 more or less, if you throw in the eBay factor. So, sadly, there's no down payment on a house for me hiding in the shelves; I'll be lucky if I can buy a new sofa. Maybe I should bag the whole project. After all, there's still pleasure to be had in them thar vinyl, and I bet ol' Bruce, my dealer, wouldn't be too happy about the fact that they're not alphabetized. Anyway, who needs a playpen? When push comes to shove, there must be a little bit of Enid in me after all.

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From the November 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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