I started collecting records as soon as I had the money to do so. Before that my parents would buy me things like the latest Beatles albums that would come out conveniently close to my birthday and Christmas. When I went to Monash University I met Rob Smyth and another couple of people through the poetry scene who were beginning to import records from the UK and the States. A couple of years later they would set up one of Melbourne’s first import record stores, Euphoria (named after a track by the Youngbloods). The imports were cheaper to start with than the Australian releases (and the local branches of the record companies, as I discovered, further showed their contempt for the market by dispensing with gatefolds and even skimping on colour for the rear covers). By the time I left University I had been introduced to various other musics: to jazz via Miles Davis (played to me by Margot and John Scott); to ‘classical’ music through Debussy (discovered on a demonstration disk engineered by my uncle), late Beethoven quartets and Anton Webern (an older fellow student), and Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (again, the Scotts). My friends were mostly unsnobbish about music and would juxtapose all kinds of sound in the course of an evening.
In 1987 on my first trip to the United States I visited August Kleinzahler in the Haight and was duly regaled by him with tracks from his extensive record collection. August was not a rich man, as his new book of essays Music I-LXXIV (Boston, Pressed Wafer, 2009) testifies. I can testify to this as well. August’s rent-controlled apartment (where he still lives) was furnished humbly but comfortably. But what stood out at the time was the content of the refrigerator: cat food (for the moggie), chilli (for himself) and ice (for the whiskey). August has had to sell off his collections at least twice, through necessity mostly. Yet he has also been an inveterate taper over the years, teaching himself things by hearing them over and again and in differing versions. His musical education was also inseperable from learning his own art. When he attended classes held by Basil Bunting in Canada the old poet would spend most of the time reading poems then playing music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods (mostly), especially the work of JS Bach. Back in San Francisco August would pester the knowledgable proprietor of a small store with questions as simple as ‘What’s that?’, ‘How does he do that?’ He’s been asking such questions ever since and these brief essays published mostly in newspapers file some of the answers. They are a testament to his researches though there is nothing at all dry about them. When my copy arrived yesterday I was going to hold off reading until we went for a holiday but I find I’m now two-thirds of the way through it.