When I was a kid, there were two people I wanted to be: Bruce Wayne and Sherlock Holmes. I idolized these two heroes because of their planet-sized intellects, their use of science and logic to solve crime, their almost egotistical level of self-confidence, and above all, their unparalleled detective skills. I would, literally, train myself by solving hundreds of logic puzzles in order to one day become as good a detective as Sherlock and Batman. I even pursued a career in science because it gave me a chance to use my detective skills to solve biological puzzles that no one in the world has figured out yet. And even today I still read Sherlock novels and I occasionally tap into my collection of Batman comics. Not to mention I’ve expanded to the likes of Columbo, The Question, and Nero Wolfe.
So I hope you can guess that I approached my entry into the vinyl scene with that detective mentality. When I started I had nothing more with me than some vague ideas and a few preconceptions, and now I am striving to reach “Sherlock Holmes Status” (otherwise known as “The Bruce Wayne Directive”).
“Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one ‘Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.’ In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials, and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue.” (Sherlock Holmes in “The Sign of Four”)
Level I: Knowledge
This is the very first step to reaching Sherlock Holmes Status. You have to accrue as much knowledge about the field as possible. I do this on a daily basis regardless of the topic. In science, I make sure to scan the vast literature for new discoveries and I’m always reading publications as they come out. For music, I read blogs and books, I follow up on DJs I respect, and I constantly use my record collection as a springboard for research. If you give me a soul artist’s name, then you can rest assured that by that night I would have searched the internet or any books I have lying around for her singles, what albums she’s dropped, who she worked with, what label she favored, and any memorable and noteworthy anecdotes in her life.
But it’s not enough to just have breadth, to reach “outwards” and accumulate tons of facts. Your knowledge base has to have depth as well; it should reach “downwards”, deep into the subject matter. It’s not enough to know that to get sound out of a record you have to put the needle down on it and have your speakers turned on. In order to reach Sherlock Holmes Status, you have to know how the needle translates those tiny bumps in the groove into sound. If you don’t know then you were like me a while back. So figure out how your record player works by doing some research, or ask me if you see me, or better yet ask someone who really knows and takes apart turntables like lego pieces (which is what I did to find out myself).
And this brings me to an important point. I know that reading books and blogs is not enough when it comes to something like music, which is, almost by definition, social. You have to talk to people. Just make sure you consult with the experts, i.e. those people who have been in the scene for far longer than you have and are holding on to gems of knowledge. Do not be afraid, but always be respectful.
And most importantly, I listen to music constantly. While I work, when I wake up, before going to sleep. I’m always humming, or singing, or whistling, or nodding my head to some song that’s stuck in my head. Aside from knowing the people and the history behind the music, you have to know the music itself. Hell, I’m jamming right now as I write this.
In essence, I have just outlined the recipe for reaching Level I, and I follow it religiously. I read blogs, books, or anything I can get my hands on (here is a student’s honor’s thesis on Lavell Kamma that I was turned onto by reading up on The FUNKY16CORNERS blog). I ask questions and I spend my weekends at the record shop chatting with Dick about music (the man is an encyclopedia). I even looked at my needles under a microscope to understand the intricate details of the design (lab perk). And even with all of that, I have not even come close to scratching the surface, and I wouldn’t say I’ve reached Level I.
But here’s the best part.
Even when I do reach Level I, I can never leave. This part of the quest is ongoing and never ending. And, as my mentor would say, I have to always keep a baseline state of “I Don’t Know” while I continue to accrue new knowledge.
Stay tuned for Level II.
“The Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study”. (Sherlock Holmes)