If I were a rich man

From the day I was born, until I left for England in 1980, I’d never lived anywhere but Calcutta. That time was spent principally in two apartments, 70C Hindustan Park (1960-69) and 6/2 Moira St (1969-80). We weren’t particularly rich, but we weren’t poor either; life was good. So it was quite a challenge for me to pack 23 years of my life, and whatever passed for my inheritance, into a single suitcase.

I wasn’t really that much into clothes; anyway, I didn’t have much that was suitable for English weather. There wasn’t much else: all I had room for was a few copies of the family magazine, my references and education certificates, a handful of photographs, a few keepsakes. That was it.

That meant that I left behind all the books I grew up with, all the music I grew up with. It was a real wrench, but nowhere near as much as leaving everything I called home, my family, my friends, the neighbourhoods I grew up in, my school, my college.

Since coming to the UK, I’ve been gently building a decent book collection, so much so I’ve had to move home a couple of times just to make space for the books. Right now I’m waiting for a time when I have enough money to build a proper library … I have the vision, the space, the planning permission, even the books. But the time is not right, I just don’t have the spare money.

I’ve tried to do the same with music, but I’ve cheated: instead of collecting vinyl, I moved to CD. So I now have maybe 1700 CDs, pretty much everything I’m interested in. 90% of the CDs relate to recordings made in the 60s and early 70s. In fact over 80% of my collection is between 1966 and 1972, focused heavily on that wonderful space where the folk and folk-rock of the mid-to-late 60s merge with the heavier stuff of the late 60s and early 70s, creating a sound and feel best exemplified by Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, The Who, Traffic and Blind Faith, by the Doobie Brothers, by Loggins and Messina.

Someone else didn’t cheat. Paul Mawhinney. Read his story here, go watch the video. [My thanks to Daniel Edlen for tipping me off. He’s got a good blog, worth a regular visit.]

Paul has built up a unique collection of over 1 million pieces of vinyl; at its peak the collection is priceless, he thinks it would be valued at $50m. Right now he’s aging (nearly 70), ill (he has diabetes and is nearly blind) and has been desperately trying to sell the collection for some time now. The price has come down, he’s looking for a paltry $3m now.

If I were a rich man, I’d buy the whole collection. Today. Not just for personal enjoyment, but to leave as a legacy. It’s not a collection, it’s a piece of history. The man that hath no music in himself….

So. Is there anyone out there with the spondulicks? [In fact, is there anyone out there who even understands what a spondulick is? Sometimes I wonder.]

Maybe it’s time for us to club together, set up a twitter fund to acquire the collection, use social tools to find a place to store the collection, digitise it, do a Google Books on it. Anyone from Google listening?

In the past it’s been about a Getty or a Gates stepping in. But surely that’s the old model? Surely today is about the way Barack Obama raised his funds, small pieces loosely joined?

Anyone interested?

12 thoughts on “If I were a rich man”

  1. The legacy is best preserved if the collection becomes public, and I don’t mean through institutions, but through the wealth of people networks. Yes, Obama is an example.

    I’m not a spondulick but I know crowdsourcing. We could explore something.

    But, what will Paul do with the $3mil at 70?

  2. for somebody who wants a ready reckoner for spondulicks

    Spondulicks = greenbacks


    i remember the conversation we had about using jargon(this technically might not be one), you said one should link them wherever possible…. :)). Thank you for introducing the word.

    Probably you could index your collection and place it on this site, so that we could atleast know the names and look up to listen to them.

  3. I don’t know a great deal about the detail of the collection, but the examples that come up in the video suggest it’s about quality, not just quality. Now all I have to do is to figure out a way to get to Brewster Kahle.

  4. There was a feature on this collection on TV in the UK quite some time ago. The guy ran a record store and kept aside one of every stock item over something like 30 years. There may well be some quality in there but I’m sure there’s a huge amount of dross which explains why nobody’s come up with what is probably an inflated asking price. Even at its current asking price that’s $3 a record. That’s high.

  5. Now that you come to mention it, John, I have faint stirrings of memory. Of this thing you call television, that is….

  6. I liked Taleb’s description in Black Swan of Umberto Eco’s library (30,000 volumes) and how the value was in what was as yet unread.

  7. Thanks for the nod in my direction, JP! I’m glad that my post got some exposure on Twitter. I told somebody with his share of influence via email that this story is way bigger than me. I hope it finds a happy ending. I, too, would buy it if I had the time, money, and energy to devote to caring for such lovingly collected vinyl.


  8. Music. My initiation years are 1969-1973. From the “late” Beatles to Bowie and the resurrected Lou Reed, with the early hard rock or was it the late blues of Led Zep, and the early intellectual music of Yes and Genesis and Roxy Music to Brian Eno.
    And those are my roots; yet I oscillate around those roots in diverging circles, and the more I discover older and younger music, the happier I am. Classical and jazz and free and Delta blues and Mali blues and electronic and you name it.

    And this links me to cultural roots and opening oneself to the “other”, the stranger, yet keep strong links to your birth place and family.

    JP, that is YOUR story, so I am looking forward to more structures musings (if I may say so) on local roots and culture and Calcutta and opening up despite/thanks to deep rrots and becoming a citizen of the world without losing our identity.

    Best regards,
    Benoît (occasional contributor yet regular reader, or a typical Web 2.0 citizen)
    And this

  9. Thanks for the EFF reference, James. Daniel, nice of you to drop by. Benoit, good to see you here, hope all is well with you.

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