I got an excellent early Christmas present the other day. You see, I had been dropping these really heavy hints to my lovely wife about a present I wanted. By "heavy hints," I mean e-mails that say "I want this for Christmas" and a link to the eBay item page. Problem is, I'm the one in the house with the eBay and Paypal accounts, so it was determined that, for that particular present, there would be little Christmas surprise involved with the purchase of said gift.
"So," my bride said, "just buy it for yourself."
You must understand something about me. I don't buy a whole lot of music anymore. Back in the day, a week would seldom pass without me dropping a hundred bucks at the local record store on things new and old. But now, I've whittled down my record collection to a far more manageable size and, thanks to the joy of fatherhood and full-time employment, the amount of listening time that I can devote to new purchases has been seriously curtailed. That listening time is even further diminished by the dozens of new CDs that show up on a weekly basis at my job, so needless to say, I've grown fairly selective in what I shell out money for. (Downloads don't count; that's one part of my life where I could really use a little more discretion.)
In fact, "selective" doesn't completely describe my music-buying. "Monastic" is a little more like it. Sure, I'll pick up things here and there a Geraldine Fibbers CD for three bucks, a Portsmouth Sinfonia album for two bucks (seriously!) but for the most part, I get everything I want for free (or for $10 per gigabyte at www.allofmp3.com). Oddly, this makes it more difficult to convince myself that a purchase is worth making, since there's so much good music sitting around my house that didn't cost me a dime (or much more than a dime).
However, there are four immediate and incontestable exceptions to this rule. When it comes to Cocteau Twins, Prince, Sun Ra and Muslimgauze, my Amex card is whipped out faster than you can say "What's on the B-side?" Over the years, these artists have formed the peculiar four-cornered plot that is my musical taste; almost every other sonic affinity I have can be directly traced back to the resonance of their music. (I say "almost" because punk rock and metal were such an ingrained part of my adolescence that they're more my personality than my taste. As for Bollywood … well, you go to India a few times and see if you don't come back humming a few of A.R. Rahman's best.)
Though there are many other artists that I hold a deep and abiding love for, these four comprise a particularly large and expensive part of my collection. Yeah, I've got 27 James Brown records, but I've bought twice that many by Sun Ra. Sure, I've got an impossible-to-find 12-inch by My Bloody Valentine, but I'd sell it to pay the mortgage; not so for my copy of Prince's withdrawn Undertaker CD. I love my original vinyl version of Faust's first album, but I'm more pleased by the fact that my big-ass stack of Muslimgauze CDs will likely get me thrown in jail when the FBI gets around to my file. And though I think Ken Andrews (of Failure) is a master of arranging and producing guitar sounds in a way that makes my heart skip a beat, Robin Guthrie's guitar sound makes me want to jump off a building. In a good way.
So it shouldn't be surprising that, since the potential Christmas gift in question was an import version of the out-in-2006 Lullabies to Violaine four-CD compilation of remastered Cocteau Twins singles, there wasn't a huge delay between "Just buy it for yourself" and my login to Half.com. Okay, so I've got 'em all on vinyl, and I've got 'em in the box set that Capitol put out over 10 years ago, and I'd probably get it for free in February anyway. But none of those arguments seem remotely reasonable. After all, these discs were remastered by Robin Guthrie. Um, hello.
What was surprising was that I placed my order from a seller on Half.com at 10:30 on Tuesday night. The box set was in my mailbox in a manila envelope on Wednesday afternoon, with a note that said, "How's that for fast service?" Apparently, the seller was local and, being the best human being on the planet, this person hand-delivered the set to me. Sure, it was a little creepy, but I don't care; Merry Christmas to me and my obsessions.
There is some decent Christmas music in this world. This week's make-your-own podcast has 15 of my favorite Christmas songs. For some reason, they never play these at the mall.
Prince: "Another Lonely Christmas"
The Qualities (w/Sun Ra): "It's Christmas-time" and "Happy New Year to You"
Cocteau Twins: "Frosty the Snowman" and "Winter Wonderland"
James White: "Christmas With Satan"
Cardinal: "If You Believe in Christmas Trees"
Low: "If You Were Born Today"
The Flaming Lips: "A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn't So)"
Rodd & Judy: "Santa Fix My Toys For Christmas"
The Walkmen: "The Christmas Party"
Dreams So Real: "Red Lights"
The Raveonettes: "The Christmas Song"
Cold Chillin' Juice Crew: "Cold Chillin' Christmas"
Heather Noel: "Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile"
Tiny Tim & The Muppets: "Bless Us All"