An obsessive record collector’s personal essays categorized by song.
Harmon’s (Scape, 2009, etc.) opening essay is a paean to the life of a collector, a life he recognizes for its obsessive tendencies that align him with other collectors equally impulsive and pathological about their habit (he owns more than 4,000 vinyl records). Like any serious collector, the author occasionally gives the impression of pretension or snobbery—he openly admits this tendency—but his taste is varied and eclectic enough to spare the label from sticking. The opening serves as an introduction of sorts, but it does little to set up the following essays, as readers are thrust into Harmon’s peculiar format and style without any substantial statement about his project. Each essay is dedicated to a song or two that serves as a metaphor or theme for Harmon’s musings. For instance, the author uses Section 25’s “Trident” as a platform to discuss Reagan-era nuclear proliferation and the Soviet Union. There is never any definitive connection, however, between the band’s choice of “Trident” as a song name in 1982 and the creation of the Trident II missile in 1981, other than coincidence. This type of associative connection is common in Harmon’s essays, which have more to do with feeling and memory than argument. Harmon is often sentimental as he rhapsodizes about his home state of Massachusetts in several chapters, naturally referencing the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner,” his childhood love of early U2 and his distaste for Bauhaus. He even waxes on the uniquely ephemeral quality of music that makes it more prone to wistfulness than other art forms. Ultimately, the personal nature of these essays often makes them feel more like journal entries and fails to synthesize an overarching narrative or argument.
Harmon’s dedication as a collector will be appreciated by any audiophile, but his essays lack cohesion and continuity, making the collection feel too insular.