In 2000, Alan Zweig was a record collector and an unsuccessful filmmaker. In his own words, he was miserable. With his debut documentary Vinyl from that year, he not only examined zealous vinyl collectors but also looked at his own record-collecting passion and the effect he thought it was having on his non-existent family life.
More than 20 years later, the now-acclaimed documentarian has made Records, a film he describes as a “sort-of sequel” that updates his own personal journey, while looking once again at the eccentricities of people who are extra passionate about LPs.
Records premiered on TVO Tuesday and is streaming on TVO.org, YouTube and Roku.
Are you comfortable with being a record collector?
There’s a joke by Lenny Bruce I heard as a kid. When he’s asked if he’s proud to be Jewish, he says, “The most I can I say is that I made the adjustment.” That’s what I’d say about collecting vinyl. It’s also what I’d say about being Jewish.
Since you released Vinyl in 2000, streaming has become the dominant way in which people consume music. Is listening to actual records more archaic than ever?
There will always be people who get something out of physical media. They can’t get something out of music without it.
Your new film begins with a yard sale, with people going through crates of LPs. If streaming hasn’t changed some people’s listening habits, has the internet changed the way they collect records?
Most people I know who have records don’t buy most of them online. Part of the experience they enjoy with physical media is the feeling that they found it. Some people take that further than me, and really feel like they’re anthropologists. The other thing is that they’re bestowing value upon something that was valueless because it was undiscovered or unappreciated or unknown. These things happen with people at garage sales. There’s something about going on a search and bringing home physical media with which you will have a personal relationship.
One of your interview subjects describes his connection to music and records as a relationship or an emotion, but without the parts that can hurt him. Do you find that sad?
That interview subject is named Sam. I would say that it is sad-ish. It’s sort of the difference between 2000′s Vinyl and my new film Records. In Vinyl, I might have considered that sad or even pathetic. Or at least something I would judge, projecting from my own experience. Maybe I would have thought that was why I had all these records and no children. That’s how I might have thought all those years ago, but I don’t even like saying that now.
And how do you feel now?
I think what Sam said was true. But he’s happy. He has found something that makes him happy. In his case, he has a life. But he definitely had a difficult childhood and a difficult relationship with his parents. We judge these people as eccentric. We tell them to get a life. Back when I made Vinyl, I was sensitive to these things. Now I’m not.
This film is as much about your personal and professional growth since Vinyl as it is a study on album collecting. You’re clearly a happier guy now.
I once blamed all my problems on records. But it was somewhat disingenuous. I thought the records were a symptom of my avoiding engagement with the world. Twenty years later, I’m just as much into records now as I was then. It’s not like I got into records a little less in order to let in people. But the thing I was worried about back then was something worth concern. I’m talking about my obsessions and keeping people out.
Now that you have a daughter, has your relationship with collecting records changed?
I was so miserable when I made Vinyl. But I could see that the misery was a choice on a certain level. Just because my daughter has brought me so much joy, doesn’t mean those were the only choices in the world – being miserable without a child or being happy with one. I was in my 40s and had nothing to show for it. That’s how I saw it. I was a failure as a filmmaker, and I wasn’t a father. I really revelled in that.
With music, you aren’t shutting out humanity, though. Music is less inanimate than, say, baseball cards, isn’t it?
Yes. Art is an encounter with humans. It’s not an object. It’s an expression of another human being that you’re getting. If that’s how you connect with the world, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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