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THE TRUTH ABOUT THE "MELTING POT"

or a story of my survival as an ethnic music enthusiast



EPIGRAPHS:

"Зачем мне быть душою общества, когда души в нём вовсе нет."
- Из песни Владимирa Высоцкого
"Why should I be a society's soul when there's no soul in it at all."
- From a song of Vladimir Vysotskiy
"…Я потерял веру в человечество. Разве это не стоит миллиона рублей, вера в человечество?"
- Остап Бендер
"...I have lost faith in humanity. Isn't it worth a million dollars, faith in humanity?"
- Ostap Bender

  1. Foreword
  2. In the USSR
  3. Life-changing flight
  4. Culture shock
    and music hunt in school
  5. Being "chinese"
  6. Hell's instrument
  7. School years
  8. Becoming korean
  9. Trot*...?! Bugaga!!!
  10. Japanese
  1. Pakistani and indian
  2. Russian retro
  3. We are (proud) americans!
  4. "No one will understand
    what i've gotta do..."
  5. "Gotta keep searchin', searchin' "
  6. Hominem quaero
  7. Few rare friends
  8. So who are my favorites?
  9. In the world of records
  10. Beyond the records


FOREWORD

I've been living in NYC and collecting world music for over 25 years now. Whenever I was asked what kind of music I listen to, how I started collecting, who my favorite artists are, and how I came to such a life at all, I could never answer it in a way that would be both truthful and simple. So I finally decided to answer these questions here by sharing my story, once and for all. I really didn't expect it to grow into a small book, if I knew that I'd probably never bother to do it. Nevertheless, for those who care it's already done. If you read it, you may like something or not, agree or not, you might be surprised or shocked, but everything described is my own experience. Don't worry, when writing this, except for me no animals were harmed.

If you are a movie producer and my story spurs you to make a new blockbuster, contact me for more inspirational details and scenario ideas.




IN THE USSR

Originally, I am from Ukraine, while it still was a Soviet republic. Back in the USSR I didn't think I would ever become a music collector, it was really unnecessary. There was always plenty of great music on radio and TV. Even though all music was censored and some was not welcome, the variety of "legal" genres was quite impressive: traditional and popular (old and contemporary), patriotic, classical, easy, jazz, instrumental, lyrical, romantic, and more, even disco in the later years. Moreover, if you lived in the USSR, you'd be greatly exposed to the music of many Soviet nations and foreign countries. Alongside with Russian songs many of the popular hits were Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Indian, Japanese.... Even despite the Iron Curtain, you could still get pretty familiar with the world music without any extra effort. It was only difficult to find some foreign pop and underground performers, jazz, rock or metal, but I never had any interest in those anyway.

Below is the very first record in my collection and the only record I've brought with me from the USSR. It is one-sided and is only 3.5" in diameter. The title is "La Cumparsita". My first turntable could not handle such a small record, so it's only after about 10 years that I was finally able to digitize it.




LIFE-CHANGING FLIGHT

There came a day when my family had to immigrate and boarded a plane to the USA. At that time it was my longest flight ever and it felt really boring. There were just three audio programs we could listen to: news, some foreign pop music and classical. So, once me and my father discovered the classical channel, we just kept it on for the whole flight. And it didn't matter that there was only one album playing over and over again for seven or eight hours. It was so beautiful and relaxing. At that time I didn't know much about classical music, but father said it was most likely Mozart whom we listened to. Most of all we both enjoyed Molto Allegro of the 40th Symphony, though back then we weren't sure about the title. Listening to the 40th Symphony non stop for the whole flight, had it's impact and, I think, it was the trigger in my development as a person and music collector. It was a flight from the past to future.

Once we arrived to NY, we wanted to find a recording of that composition, so my father started looking for a CD. Eventually we found what we were looking for, but while searching, my father naturally stumbled at many other great composers and masterpieces, and he acquired lots of classical music CDs for our education and enjoyment. So there came Brahms, Vivaldi, Bizet, Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Mahler, etc. It felt like we already knew it all, but one day my father said: "Do you know what we are still missing? We don't have any vocal music...". So then came Caruso, Lanza, Domingo, Chaliapin.... Today I have recordings of maybe over a thousand classical vocalists, though I could name only about a dozen as my favorite.


The very first CD in my collection
(gift from my father)

Me and my hobbies:
the first CDs, accordion and bikes




CULTURE SHOCK AND MUSIC HUNT IN SCHOOL

Meanwhile I was attending a high school and it was a big culture shock to me.... First time in my life I've met and was studying side by side with students from so many exotic countries: China, Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, India.... All were so different... I was really intrigued about their lives, cultures, what they were talking about or thinking. I often saw my peers listening to their walkmans and I was really curious about their music, even though I already had some exposure to it back in my country. Well, soon I've realized how ignorant I were. My knowledge was just a tiny drop of the huge ocean I was now in. Being really curious I started asking my classmates to let me hear what they were listening to.


My tapes

There was probably no single day when I didn't borrow a tape from someone. Every day I was listening to something new and copied what I liked. Then I really wanted to know what was it that I liked, who is the singer, what is the title... and what kind of music was that anyway? So I gave the copied tapes back to my classmates and asked them to identify the songs and translate the titles. Sometimes I also tried to learn how to write and read the titles in the original language. However, most of the time the people I borrowed the tapes from didn't know (or didn't want to tell me?) anything about those songs. So I gave the tapes to others... again and again... Alas, it was hopeless. Most of the Korean songs I was able to identify only after my trip to Korea about 20 years later. And for about a hundred of Chinese songs, which I loved and cherished so much, I still don't have any info or even a clue.

I must add that I was (and am) very picky. Extremely picky. On average I liked and copied just about one song from several tapes. Sometimes nothing at all. So, considering that I have saved over a hundred of songs during my years in school, you can imagine how many tapes went through my hands. Looking back, I can see that I was pretty annoying. But I really became passionate about the music and wanted to learn about it.

After a few years my tape recorder broke and I had it repaired. It didn't last long and the second time I gave up repairing it. So for about two or three following years I was listening to almost exclusively classical music, as it was all on CDs.


This was my CD player and tape recorder, which has seen sooo maaaany tapes
(and died from it)




BEING "CHINESE"

Since most of my schoolmates were Chinese, and, therefore, most music I've heard and asked about was Chinese, little by little I also picked up some written Chinese. I was not really learning it. I just asked around for the music info and out of curiosity about this and that... And then, without any extra efforts, I've learned maybe several hundred characters... I could even guess the meaning of some written song titles, which made people quite surprised.

Once our English teacher was talking about different languages and to illustrate our diversity asked students to write something on the board in their own language. Among all, one Chinese guy was called to the board, but he didn't know how to write one word... There were other Chinese students in class, but out of all, he ASKED ME how to write it! And... by a coincidence I actually knew how to write that word! It was so funny! Only many years later I learned that most of the kids where from Hong Kong and didn't know how to write Chinese well.

Those Chinese writing and reading skills helped me many times later. Whenever I needed to type some title from a CD to look it up I was opening any Chinese website with lots of text, then was finding the characters I needed and copied them one by one. It was crazy, but still much easier and faster than looking for anyone to help me type them. And eventually it widened my field of view and improved my fast reading skills.

The "hunt" for Chinese music and interest in the culture surely didn't get unnoticed by my other, Russian classmates. Watching me always handling Chinese tapes and trying to learn the titles, they often asked me if I understood Chinese. And they were even more surprised when I answered "no". All my attempts to explain that I just care for the music so I don't need to understand the lyrics, were completely hopeless. It just didn't add up in their heads why anyone being in sane mind would listen to songs he didn't understand. So eventually I became crazy to most classmates, Chinese and Russian alike. Russians started calling me "Chinese" and Chinese began to avoid me. I've heard whispers behind my back, laughs in my face and saw plenty of pointed fingers.


My first Chinese CD
(also father's gift)

Started out of curiosity, I became really interested in the international music. I felt it by heart and was also trying to learn about the cultural background to understand the music better. I know for a fact, when most people hear the words "Chinese music" (by the way any Asian music is "Chinese" to them) they immediately imagine boring and inexpressive pentatonic melodies played on some harsh sounding primitive and weird instruments. But it's only due to their ignorance. Chinese music, just as music of any other country can be very different. It's just a very different musical language that has to be mastered first in order to be understood and appreciated. And learning it takes lots of time, knowledge and listening experience. If you really learn about Asian music, then you may like it or not, but you would never say it's primitive or weird. Surprisingly, I found that even professional musicians, unless they actually work in the ethnic field, talk of ethnic music (especially traditional and especially Asian) with contempt. And classically trained musicians are the biggest snobs, who ignore and despise pretty much anything that's not classical.

Once, I met an interesting old Chinese guy. He invited me to his house and offered to listen to many Chinese traditional music CDs that he used for practicing Tai Chi. One of the compositions he didn't let me skip and asked to listen to it completely. Then he asked me what did I hear? That question got me surprised. I never thought about it before. But I strained my memory about what I just heard and told the guy: "I heard a spring time, a peaceful village... farmers in the fields... then an alarm... mobilization... I heard armed horsemen, trouble came... a war... " The guy was totally stunned by my answer and he asked: "Did you hear this before? Did you know about it?!" He could not believe it was my first time. Then he told me that the composition was actually dedicated to some past war and I heard/understood all correctly. He was very impressed and he let me borrow many of his CDs.




HELL'S INSTRUMENT

During the last two years before immigration, I was taking accordion lessons. So when my school organized a multicultural concert, I naturally volunteered to participate. I thought that once my classmates see me playing, something would change in their attitude towards my "weird music obsession". If I were playing accordion back in the USSR, I would be "the first guy in the village", but here something went wrong. Of course, being a beginner, I must have played horribly. But still, for a school kid and to an undemanding audience of classmates not familiar with the instrument, I think it was acceptable enough. If my memory serves me well, I played one Chinese song and one Jewish. Well, nothing changed. And I even heard more whispers and giggles around. Someone called me Steve and laughed... I had no clue what was going on. Only many years later a knowledgeable friend explained it to me.

As it turned out, during my school years, there was a very popular TV Series "Family matters", and Steve Urkel was one of its most popular characters, a funny, out of the world guy, who was also a nuisance and who also played accordion. Also, I've learned that that an accordion was never considered as a serious instrument in USA. On the contrary, it had a reputation of being weird and annoying, just as what a bagpipe is considered to be everywhere. In USA an accordion was usually associated with a primitive folk music and stand-up comedians, so it was a subject of many jokes. This cartoon by Gary Larson summarizes it pretty well:


During my first few years in USA, I was mostly encouraged and forced to play the accordion by my father, but after the school, I've completely abandoned it for about twenty years. I became a music collector, not a musician. Besides, I quickly figured that being a professional musician in USA, especially an accordionist working in world ethnic genres a suicidal idea, leading to depression and starvation.




SCHOOL YEARS

Being a teenager in school, I've experienced a lot of emotional suffering and I have found a consolation in music, which happened to be mostly Chinese. Actually, despite my sincere interest in Chinese music and culture, I could never mingle with the Chinese and find any friends. I found them to be pretty reserved and suspicious to the "outsiders". As I am writing this, I recall reading about ethnographic expeditions to collect and study folklore of Russian gypsies and some isolated South American tribes. They too were pretty closed to the pale-faced strangers, not letting them come near or, God forbid, they might learn their sacred rituals and songs. By the way, that's the reason that today we have almost no knowledge of their authentic folklore and the natives have lost it too.

Some people might say: "Nonsense! I have many Chinese friends, they are very friendly, etc." That must be because you never asked them the questions I asked. The tribes I mentioned above were also friendly until whites tried to stick their noses into their culture any deeper than was allowed. Of course, there's no Chinese music knowledge forbidden to outsiders, but all people I've asked were not familiar with the matter and didn't have any answers for me. So, I guess, it made them feel uncomfortable when they couldn't answer about their own culture. And they surely thought I was crazy asking such unusual and weird questions.

Anyway, the Chinese songs were beautiful, well matching my feelings of the time. I have many sad and nostalgic memories connected to them. I have listened almost exclusively to the Chinese music for few years even after the school. But no more. If I hear those songs today, they immediately cause a flashback with sad memories, so I try to avoid it.

Besides the invaluable music discoveries, I did meet few great people and friends in school, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. But overall the years in school were a horrible experience. Being a subject of mockery, not being understood, not being able to share what I liked... all this caused me much pain which lasted years after. Though I tried to just ignore it and kept all feelings very private, so even my closest friends would never suspect it. Some other reason for mockery were that I came to school by bicycle (soon I had to hide it far away from school and walk the remaining blocks), while others came by bus or a car, I always dressed simply, my backpack and wristwatch were too cheap... though I still use the same watch today and I would not exchange it for any other. It's not that this silly mockery made me feel inferior in any way, it had actually the opposite effect. I just felt too lonely among so many ignorant fools. It was during my school years when I wrote this:

Who cares about my feelings?
Who knows about my dreams?
My lonely heart, squeezed by its tears,
Is ruptured by inmost love beams.

I laugh when my soul is unhappy.
I'm sad if my heart's full of joy.
My tireless heart plays with my feelings,
It makes me a dutiful toy.

Oh, heart, please stop beating and jumping,
Stop squeezing and bursting again....
Enough! I am tired of your knocking.
You really make me insane.




BECOMING KOREAN

One beautiful day, I asked a Korean girl for new tapes as usual. But that was the last drop to her. She got so annoyed and irritated that she almost yelled at me: "Why don't you listen to radio?!?!". Hmm... that was not a bad idea. So I asked her about the channel and I got it - 1480am. That day literally changed my life. Right after the school I ran home, tuned my radio to that channel and... Wowwwww!!!! I WAS SO LUCKY!!! The music was SO GREAT!!! I have never heard anything like that before, but yet, it was so natural and familiar... It felt like I've finally discovered the music that had been always hidden and suppressed inside me. The difference from Chinese music was that Chinese music I only liked to listen to, especially when I were sad, but Korean I felt like playing and singing myself, at any time. And this feeling is still in me today whenever I hear that kind of Korean music. Immediately I've recorded a couple of songs right from the radio. From that day on, every day I was rushing home from school with blank tapes ready.

I was really fortunate as the kind of music I liked was broadcasted only at that specific time and only for about an hour. It was Korean pop music from 1940-70s. Eventually, it became my favorite period for music of any country. After recording six 90-minute tapes, I began to distinguish and recognize several different styles or genres, but I didn't know what they were called and nobody in school could explain it clearly to me. Among all, one singer really stood out. I loved his voice and songs so much... and again, I had no idea who that was. It was very sad. So, one day, I copied some of my most favorites songs onto a another tape and went to the Korean town. There was a music shop, but the workers there were also really ignorant. Actually, I must note that this was the same case in all music shops I've ever been to. Music shop workers know nothing about the music they sell, only prices.

So I got out to the street and started stopping all Korean-looking people, asking them to listen to my tape. And then ran into a problem. Young people could speak English well, but they had not even a slight idea about the music I asked. On the other hand, older people seemed to recognize the music, but were unable to understand what I wanted. Both groups thought I were a weirdo. Okay, so I were. Anyway, I didn't want to turn home empty-handed, so I found a solution: I was waiting for a good moment and was stopping two people at the same time, young and old, so the young could serve as an interpreter. That worked, but still didn't help much. Even though older people did recognize the songs, most had trouble identifying the singers and remembering the titles. I've spent several hours trying to get the info in such manner, and still didn't get any definite answers. However, I got some statistics: I noticed that one name was given to me more often than others. So I went back to the shop and, fortunately, they did have a tape of that singer. As soon as I put that tape in my walkman, I felt like being carried to the heaven... YEESSS! That was him!

His name was Ko Bok Soo (고복수). If you are Korean, I know, reading this you must be rolling on the floor and laughing now. But I don't care. Today I know and have songs of hundreds of Korean singers (more than Koreans themselves could name), but even to this date Ko Bok Soo is the most special to me and remains my Korean singer number one.

Few weeks later, being a little more educated, I returned to the shop and asked for tapes of other singers, whose names I collected earlier. And I got a set of four tapes, with the most popular songs of the same kind. Then could add a few more names to my favorites list: Hyun In (현 인), Kim Jung Ku (김정구), Nam Baek Song (남백송), Hwang Geum Sim (황금심), Li Mi Ja (이미자) and some others. Well, these were just a first few names I found, and majority still remained a mystery. Ironically, the tapes with the kind of old music I loved were almost three times cheaper than CDs with contemporary music which I could not stand. Good for me.

The Korean music became my most favorite and most treasured. I was so desperate to find more information about the singers and songs. The few Koreans in school were not of any help anymore, they really knew nothing. I had over two hundred of favorite Chinese and Korean songs, but for nearly two decades I could not find anything about them. Not to mention that being recorded from radio and copied from other tapes, the recordings were of poor quality. As I could not properly name the recordings I memorized the songs by tape and track number... i.e. song 01A8, 02B3, etc... and I always listened to them in order...

Listening to these old Korean songs inspired me to pick up my accordion again and learn to play some of them. Now I can play music from various countries, but Korean still constitute more than half of my repertoire. Also, that was the time when I started learning Korean language. Not that I cared about understanding the lyrics, but I hoped that knowledge of Korean would help me to find more music of the kind. I found Korean to be very easy to learn. Actually, it felt like I was just remembering what I used to know (perhaps in my previous life?) rather than learning something new. However, I could never find a friend or a reliable conversation partner so I was starting and quitting learning many times until I gave it up. Anyway, now I have plenty of Korean music as well as plenty of other priorities. Well, on my last trip to Korea I bought several books on the older music, which I really want to read. So I will have to resume my learning some day.




TROT*...?! BUGAGA!!!

While searching for more Korean music, for long time I could not even explain what I was looking for. The names of the singers didn't tell much to people, and I was not sure about the genre. Eventually I found it was called "trot" (Koreans, start laughing again here!). And then problems came again. For many years, whenever I met any Koreans and told them I like trot, they giggled, burst laughing in my face and refused to explain anything. Some even rudely turned away from me. It all was so insulting and hurting. I could not do anything about it but swallow and keep trying. Eventually, after many years and my repeated requests someone finally explained that I like old music (duh, I knew it already), so nobody listens to that anymore. But why is it so funny that I like "grandma" music? What's wrong about the music and the fact that I like it? That nobody could explain. It was just hilariously funny to all. So funny that it made the Koreans loose whatever brains and manners they have left.

I must say that my experience was different when I visited Korea many years later. Koreans over there found it interesting and amusing that I liked trot. They certainly didn't share my interests, but they treated me with interest and respect. I am guessing that it's because trot is still widely heard over there, especially in "old grandma populated" areas, so it doesn't come as surprising. But most importantly - Koreans in Korea "traditionally" look up to Americans, while American Koreans have already dropped their stereotypes of Americans as being "all rich and mighty". I am thinking this because during my two lengthy stays in Korea I've been almost always treated with respect and kindness, while living in USA I've only experienced rudeness from Koreans or been ignored in the best case.


Playing trot in Seoul with a big sign in Korean, trying to find friends for music exchange

Anyway, I learned that music does have an expiration date for most people, just as perishable food products. There's one exemplary story that I'd like to share. I was already infamous in school for liking old "rotten" music. So, to ease the mockery and for an experiment, one day I decided to pretend I also like new stuff. I picked a Korean tape that sounded the most modern and approached one girl who used to laugh at my preferences: "Hey, I really like this tape... What is this song?" She put the earphones in and listened with interest: "Oh, wow, now that's great... cool... yeah... " She smiled and started nodding to the beat. Meanwhile, she was flipping the tape in her hands and suddenly saw the year it was produced in. The same moment she dropped the tape, threw away the earphones and screamed in disgust: "Eeewww!!!! That's from a year ago!!!"

I could not find any more Koreans and trot in NY and started looking for help online. One day I spoke to a Korean girl who was going on a trip to Korea. She was pretty friendly and I asked her if she could buy some music for me, she said okay... but as soon as I mentioned trot, she refused. I had to beg her so much.... Finally she agreed (or rather just said it, so I would leave her alone) that she would try, but she would have to cover her face with a big handkerchief, scarf and wear big dark sunglasses, because she would feel really ashamed asking for such music in a store.... hmm.... Having all this negative experience I was not surprised to hear it, though it was so ridiculous... Аfter that conversation I have never heard from her again. So, at that point I gave up my efforts to find any more Korean music and switched to other kinds.

* A note for those who don't know, including Koreans themselves: actually trot is originally an European music. It's short for foxtrot, which was popular in Korea during Japanese occupation, and then it gained more popularity after USA involvement. Over the years, trot has developed independently into a distinct Korean genre, absorbing Korean flavor.




JAPANESE

My first Japanese CD

Living in NY it is virtually impossible to meet any Japanese people, let alone ones with any knowledge of Japanese traditional and retro music. Searching online for two decades was just as hopeless. The few encounters I had with Japanese people were just as negative and hurting as when searching for Korean music. In fact, these few encounters in NY, as well as attempts to meet someone online were the nastiest and most hurting in my whole experience. One thing I learned about Japanese is that they should never be trusted. When you talk to them in person, face to face, they are nice and sweet, they promise you whatever you beg them for, but then they completely wipe you out of their memory and life. Only once someone actually helped me sorting out my Japanese music, only because I paid for it and still, after making me wait for more than a year.

Once, many years ago, when I was just beginning to discover the world music, I met a Japanese girl online. She came from a big musician family where everyone played some instrument and she played a few as well. She was very passionate about music and told me that (just like me) she was spending all her money to buy CDs. But very soon she disappeared. Only after about a month trying to contact her she showed up for a moment and explained that she had to disappear because she felt ashamed that I know Japanese music better than her. Duh... Never heard from her and never tried to reach her again.

Nevertheless, today Japanese music makes up a significant part of my collection, counting over 8000 titles. Surprisingly, most of it came from dozens of Japanese music lovers in Russia, NEVER from the Japanese. And, perhaps, the biggest contribution was from my good Russian friend in NY, who introduced me to Japanese saxophone and offered a few dozens of LPs to copy. It was also one of the biggest musical discoveries in my life. The rich velvet sound of the sax combined with Japanese expressive melodies was so great, that since then I associate saxophone sound not with jazz or some romantic music, as you'd expect, but exclusively with Japanese music.




PAKISTANI AND INDIAN

One of the largest cultural groups in my school was made up of students from Pakistan and India. Over 25 years of trying to deal with people of many nations, I must say that my interaction with Pakistani and Indian people was the most pleasant and fruitful. In fact, they've been a complete contrast. Of all other nations, I have always found them to be the most cultured, friendly, helpful, respectful and well mannered. For instance, when meeting you they would first ask "How are your parents?", and only then "How are you?". Also they do follow an unwritten rule: "A friend of my friend is my friend", which I have repeatedly seen and experienced. And unlike almost everyone else I've ever dealt with, they do know, respect and love their culture and music. They do know their national songs, best singers and talk of them with respect and pride, no matter how old they are (they or the singers). So I never had any trouble identifying Indian singers or songs. Today I still keep warmest memories of those Pakistani guys in my school and the songs they shared with me.

Once, for my religion class in college we were asked to visit different places of worship (of different religions) and write about our experience. So I've visited a church, synagogue and a mosque... I've been quite a few times in the first two, but it was my very first visit to the mosque. Unlike in a big church where you are just ignored or a small church where they forcibly try to preach to you or convert you, and unlike in any synagogue where everyone jumps on you persuading to return to the faith of your ancestors or, if you are not Jewish, ignore you or look suspicious at you, the visit to the mosque was a very pleasant, memorable experience. Almost all people there were from Pakistan. Everyone there was very friendly and curious about me. They answered all of my questions, explained their beliefs and traditions, shared interesting stories. It felt like I was with my very old friends, and we have chatted quite a long time. And then they even invited me for a dinner. We had to sit right on the floor and eat all with bare hands... uh oh... I heard about this before, but I never thought how it was still possible in today's "civilized" society... It was quite uncomfortable to me, but now thinking about that makes me smile. Anyway, unlike representatives of other nations, all the Muslims I've ever met in person were very nice guys. It's really sad that "Muslim" became a synonym for "terrorist" in today's ignorant and brainwashed world.


Some of my souvenirs from India




RUSSIAN RETRO

During my "international obsession", my father wasn't idle. Knowing my growing interest in world music he occasionally bought me CDs of traditional music from China, Japan, Mexico, Spain... But most of all he introduced me to Russian music of his time. Once in awhile he gave me some Russian names to find and presented me with new CDs that were just coming out. That's how I learned about Vertinskiy, Troshin, Ots, Obodzinskiy, and some others. Eventually they all became become my favorite as well. As it turned out, I was not familiar with most of Russian music either and I was hungry to find more. At that time there was no info on the internet, no books or anything like that. The Russian music stores also didn't have much choice if any choice at all. For example, only maybe 10 years later they could finally offer few CDs of Lemeshev and Kozlovskiy. They are really famous, world class opera singers (if you don't know), but the Russian music shop workers didn't even know their names!

Once my father asked a young worker in a music shop on Brighton Beach (The famous Russian area):

- Do you have coryphaeuses of music? (У вас есть корифеи эстрады?)
The guy got perplexed for a moment and shouted into the back of the room:
- Daddy, do we have coryphaeuses? (Папа, у нас есть корифеи?)

The more I was listening to Russian retro music, the more I was missing my own culture which no longer existed. Back in my country, old and traditional music alike were well known, respected and loved, while in USA any music that is not in the top 40 and older than few years is generally forgotten, neglected and even despised. Living in the Russian area among thousands of Russian immigrants didn't help me much. I've used every possible chance to try to learn more. I've asked hundreds of grandpas and grandmas to recall and recommend me some good singers of their time, but I never learned anything that I didn't know already. Surely, at that time they must have heard more than me, but they never paid attention or cared to remember the names.

Another problem was that I always looked much younger than I were. Actually, as I think of it now, it might have been the biggest cause of my problems, besides people's ignorance. I looked (and was) too young, so people never took me seriously. And if they did, it just didn't add up in their minds, so they still couldn't understand what I wanted. For example, when I asked Russian grandpas to recommend me someone like Vinogradov, Beibutov, Voronets... they looked at me and told me "Leontiev, Kobzon, Pugacheva..." (totally different). Duh!. Likewise, when I asked Italians to recommend me some good singers similar to Carlo Buti, Luciano Tajoli, Nino Fiore (all of whom I've discovered myself)... they looked at me and told me about Domenico Modugno, Celentano, Cutugno... Duh!!!

Nevertheless, I was still searching and finding. I was watching old movies, reading artists biographies. Whenever I encountered a new name, I always wrote it down and tried to research it. And then more and more information became available online, mostly on philophonists and retro music forums. I've got a wealth of information from there. Once I found that one of the most active participants on such forum was a collector actually living in my neighborhood. But when I tried to contact him, he refused to meet and never answered me again. Duh…

Little by little I explored the music of 1960-70s, then moved to 1940-50s and earlier, up to the 1900s and even 1890s... I've discovered hundreds of new names, thousands, dozens of thousands of great undeservingly forgotten songs. Listening to singers like Peter Leschenko, Georgiy Vinogradov or Arkadiy Pogodin I fell in love with the nostalgic retro sound of an old record and I dreamed to hear the authentic sound of a real phonograph, just as I saw it in old Soviet movies. One day I finally bought one. And then one more, a different model. And then more and more again. Then, of course, I started collecting the 78-rpms to play, mostly Russian. Once, in 2003 there was a blackout and all neighbors were dying of boredom in the darkness, but I was enjoying the music. I became really fascinated with the retro music and culture and I surrounded myself with portraits of my favorite artists and vintage things.


Me and my Russian phonographs

I kept searching and searching, and then, when I found myself digging through the 1920s and 1900s... I've discovered it was such a huge layer of unexplored music, that I had to give up. It's hard to believe, but actually, at the very dawn of sound recording industry, there were recorded more songs than alltogether in many decades after! It's just that it's extremely hard and costly to find them now. However, great majority of the recordings of the early years are of low musical value, not to mention their poor sound. They are mostly for historians, musicologists and archaeologists, umm... like me. Nevertheless, I did find lots of curious, interesting early recordings and I treasure them for their sincerity and naivety.

Once on a Russian flea market I met a guy about 60-70 years old. I introduced myself as a music collector, and, as usual, asked him to recall some less known but great singers of the past. When I also offered to help him in return he looked at me and smiled: "Huh? What can you help me with? You, 'young and green'..." And he told me his story. He was a collector too, really passionate for music since he was a kid. His parents were giving him pocket money for lunch, but he didn't buy the lunch. Instead he was saving the money to go to the movies. And he went there not for what you think. At that time, there were always live musicians playing before the movie. He came just to listen to them. And when the movie began, he was leaving. Then he was working as a radio operator on a ship. And he used his position to record reels of music from radio during this shifts. Once he was even scolded by captain for listening to music instead of monitoring broadcasts.

We chatted long time and he turned out to be from the same city as me. Once during the conversation he told me how he attended a concert of some Japanese artist... he tried to describe his music, but could not recall his name. So I told him: "It was Hiroshi Watanabe". The guy was totally stunned. He could not believe his eyes and ears. When he recovered from the shock he told me that he was looking for that name most of his life and I am the first guy he ever met who knew it. And I knew it from my father. I think they both attended the same concert, which occurred long before I were born. My father was also so fascinated with the performance, that he told me about it decades after. Unfortunately, I have never heard Hirosh Watanabe myself and when I visited Japan, I still was not able to find any recordings of him even in the largest music shops. Anyway, at the end of our long conversation I once again expressed my desire to learn something new and repeated my question. The guy sighed: "Alex... what can I possibly help you with? I am an insignificant worm compared to you..."

So, when even such passionate guy (and a collector!) was not able to help me, I realized it's hopeless to ask anyone. Very few people know music well and most don't even care. Then I started searching for books. There was not much info on the internet at that time and still not enough today. Now I have hundreds of books on Russian music - artists biographies, music history and development. I have books printed in USSR and post-Soviet editions. It's interesting to note that in the USSR, such books, especially about well known singers were printed in quantities of at least 50,000 and more likely over 100,000. And after the USSR... only about 5000-10,000 copies of each. Each year less and less. Some of the most recent books I acquired are printed in only 1000 copies or less! You see the tendency.

Of course, today you can find a wealth of information online, but not all. If you really want to learn about something in depth, books are irreplaceable.

Some of my music books, records, vintage things. Views of my rooms at different times




WE ARE (PROUD) AMERICANS!

During a recession, when I couldn't find a job for a long time, a friend helped me to get a temporary job in a department store. There I was forced to listen to the mainstream American music – so-called department store or elevator music. Every single day, over and over again I heard the same boring songs that had no recognizable melody, inexpressive sound and weak so-called "vocals". It was the same kind of music you'd hear everywhere, but listening to that daily was a real torture, especially to my ears. I could not understand why and how those people could keep playing that same "music" constantly while such a huge variety of great music existed. Perhaps they just don't know any other? So one day, when I could not bear it anymore, I offered the store manager to bring my own CDs. After a little hesitation he agreed to try.


Theater program cover of
"The Melting Pot" play (1916)

I prepared a compilation starting with some of the most popular hits from Italy, France, Germany, Russia, then included few Asian songs. And for a start I picked something that was already more or less globalized, nothing distinctly ethnic. After several songs the manager returned the CD to me with much displeasure on his face: "Do you see any Italians here? Do you see any French here? Do you see any Russian or Chinese? No! We are all Americans so we listen only to American music!" Then I finally understood the true meaning of America being the "melting pot". In other words the recipe is like this: take some chocolate, fish, milk, chicken, fruits, vegetables, spices, coffee, and all other ingredients you could find, thoroughly mix it all up, boil, fry and bake, until it all becomes a pale homogeneous mass, then chew it, digest... and get the final product.

Today, however, the whole world is such a melting pot. With the exception of India and some Middle Eastern countries, contemporary popular music of any country sounds just as "American". You could only tell it apart by the language. Most people don't even know what "world music" is. One guy asked me:


- What is "world music"? Is that a genre?
- No, it's just music from different countries.
- What countries?
- Any country.
- Hmm, but what kind of genre is it?
- It can be of any genre, just has to be from different countries, having some distinct ethnic sound…
- So what does the world music sound like?

During my search for world music I've discovered that people don't even know the meaning of "ethnic". "Ethnic" does not mean "traditional" or "folk". Contemporary pop music or rock can also be ethnic. And ethnic music can also be classical. It was very hard to explain what I was looking for as people generally don't know any traditional music either.

Another time, when I said I prefer world ethnic music, I was asked again:

- World technical music?
- Ethnic music.
- Technic?!
- "Ethnic", not "technic"!
- What is "ethnic"?!?!?
- It's any kind of music that's based on traditional music or has some ethnic flavor…
- So you like technical traditional music?

Now I see how naive I were asking people around. They are so ignorant and narrow minded when it comes to music that is not mainstream. Even professional musicians are quite ignorant on that. So I gave up using the term "world music". Then, when I said "folk" (or even "international folk"), people started telling me exclusively about American country music and some songwriters working in that genre. Few educated people told me of Pete Seeger. Still a total miss.

Whenever I meet anyone new, I always ask them what kind of music they listen to. And always, almost without exception people give me the same answer: "Oh, I like any kind of music… ". But when I ask them to name some genres for example, this question startles them as they hardly can name more than 2 or rarely 3… and that's out of hundreds. Or maybe even a thousand, counting all the sub-genres and styles… Duh… And whenever I mention that I have a hugely diverse music collection that I would like to share, that always turns people off and away.

Needless to say that whatever music most people know is only of the recent years. Once I told someone that I prefer music from before 80s… to which he responded: "Huh?! They had music back then?!?"

Sometimes times I was talking to professional musicians or big music entusiasts, as they called themselves. When I said that I've been collecting music most of my life and offered to share it with them, they ignored or declined my offer, explaining that it's not a problem, they can find all they want on CDs or online. Huh... Good luck with that! They really don't know what they are talking about. It's true that today lots more is available online, though it's still not much, likely to be not of good quality and pricey. Either way you can find something only if you know what to look for. That is the biggest problem. They'd be lucky if they find even a tiny fraction of what I was able to discover. But they don't need it. Just as in a once popular Russian joke: "Hey, I want to give you great book for a gift... - No need, I already have a book!"

After years of observations I came up with these four basic "American" requirements for a song to be eligible for listening and to become a candidate for the world-class status:

  1. It must have English lyrics.
  2. It must not contain any ethnic elements.
  3. It must have an emphasized distinct beat and bass.
  4. People must have already heard it many times within the current year.




"NO ONE WILL UNDERSTAND WHAT I'VE GOTTA DO..."
(From Del Shannon's song "Keep searchin' ")

Discovering new interesting kinds of music, great songs and artists was always a big emotional experience to me, and I got really addicted to that feeling of euphoria. I was craving for more and more, and, similarly to a drug addict, and I started experiencing breaking when I couldn't find anything new (and good) for a long time. I am not exaggerating, sometimes it was painful. But don't worry, I got over this later. Having such a passion (and even a physical need) for music, I was completely alone in the borderless desert of ignorance. Not only I wanted to find something which nobody knew, I myself had no idea what I wanted to find. Just as it is said in Russian fairy tales: "Go there don't know where, bring that don't know what". Generally speaking I was desperate to find some great music I never knew and was never exposed to - something you would never hear on radio or TV, something you would never find in playlists of millions of smartphones around. Something that is not sold in music shops and the kind of music you would hardly find even in old record shops or flea markets, especially in America.

If you, reading this, will exclaim "Huh? There are plenty of ethnic music in shops", then you really don't know. Very few music shops have a section of world music and that section is always the smallest one. Not even big enough to be called a section. The most I have seen was about 50 records or albums there. And it's needless to mention that the music quality of the offered albums still left a lot to be desired. Sure, if you are not picky you can find some ethnic music in record shops, but that's not even 0.000001% of what exist. For example, speaking of Russian music (which I am now an expert in), yes, you can find dozens of good albums in Russian music shops and many hundreds of them online, but even so, you can find only a fraction of must-to-have artists and their recordings. Also, it must be mentioned that whatever is released for sale is just the most popular, not necessarily the best. In my collection I have maybe over 100,000 of Russian recordings and I know that's less than 1% based on the available record catalogs. And those catalogs are only of few biggest labels and are still incomplete. Remember, that's only speaking of Russian music. But I was looking for world music, i.e. music of every genre and every country. Can you see my problem now?

To make the search for international music even more difficult, all available information and websites are usually in the language of the country. People seldom look outside of their small world. For instance, when I watch any Japanese music on Youtube, all comments are in Japanese, when I watch Greek music, all comments are only in Greek, etc. Whatever is available in English is usually contemporary mainstream music, which I have no interest in. So even though there's some ethnic stuff online, it's impossible for me to search. Unless I actually traveled to some exotic country, from where I brought literally suitcases of CDs, I was only limited to searching in English and Russian.

Even speaking of the most famous ethnic singers, who have recorded hundreds and thousands of songs, you can only find a fraction of them. Then what about less known or totally obscure artists? There are so many great artists, undeservingly forgotten. Even in the distinctly ethnic music there are still hundreds of genres and many thousands of artists. Assuming each has recorded at least one album or even just one song, you can... no, you still can't guess how much ethnic music exists in the world. How much of it can you find in record shops or online? Almost nothing. Of course, it's not humanly possible to find and hear all, and it's not even necessary as very few artists are actually worthy of being listened. But who are these artists? What are their best songs? Besides the few Pakistani friends, who only knew their music, I had absolutely nobody to recommend me anything. Plus, everyone has a different taste. So I had to go the hard way.




"GOTTA KEEP SEARCHIN', SEARCHIN' "
(From the same song)

I've tried to listen to every tape or CD I could possibly find, and over many years, just as an archaeologist filtering the dirt, I've dug through many thousands of albums to find few treasures.


I've been through this...

Then, having this mountain of music I was vigorously listening to it every day for well over a decade, until I stopped discovering anything that I have not known before. Well, I was not really listening, but rather quickly checking the songs, fast-forwarding and skipping, while rating them and making notes. I used every possible moment to do that, during my commute, lunch break, etc. And then, when I came home, I was retyping all my notes on a computer. On average I was able to check 150-200 new songs a day in such manner, sometime I could do 300. My record was 400 songs in a day. Yet, as a final result, I was keeping only about 10-20 songs out of all, ruthlessly erasing and deleting whatever I didn't like. Today I still have gigabytes of music waiting for their turn and I've developed a reflex - whenever I listen to something new I subconsciously look for a pen and paper to make notes.

To make my search more efficient, I've tried to develop a strategy. If I liked a melody of a song, I was looking for all artists who ever recorded it and then tried to find other similar artists popular at that time. If I didn't like a song, but only liked the singer's voice, I was searching for all songs he or she ever recorded to find some songs I would like. I was always taking notes of everything I liked as well as everything I discarded. I also paid attention to composers, if that information was available, and when I found that some composer's name was occurring more often among the music I liked, I was searching for anything of that composer.

In addition I was also trying to learn somehing about the singers, musicians, composers, their biographies and cultural background to understand the music better. As much as time permitted, I was also trying to learn about different cultures, folklore, traditions and especially about musical instruments - their history, design, way of playing and, maybe, get some tips, not obvious to a casual listener/observer. World musical instruments is a fascinating topic by itself. Over about two decades I've seen and heard thousands of them. At some point I even considered compiling all the information I got into my own, all-inclusive encyclopedia, but I gave up as I still keep discovering new instruments almost daily.

Naturally, when I was excited to find some great artists and performances I wanted to share them with everyone. But besides my parents, who did appreciate most of my discoveries, I really had no one to share with. This was, perhaps, the hardest. It took me so much time, sweat, nerves and money, but whenever I offered the music to others for free, just for the sake of it, in the best case I was just ignored, but usually treated with much disrespect or even insulted. It's really mysterious how such a terrible "humanity" can create such great art.




HOMINEM QUAERO
("Searching for a human" in Latin)


Statue of Diogenes in Sinop, Turkey

Searching for the music by digging through the gigabytes of it was fruitful, but extremely difficult and tiring, not to mention the time and money spent. Moreover, the more my collection grew, the more help I needed to organize it and the more questions I got.

I wanted to learn something about the performers, songs and understand their background. Especially I was interested in traditional music - when and how it was created, on which occasions or events it would be played, if there's any symbolism in the music and instruments, what were the instruments, how were they made and played, etc. I wanted to be able to identify the genres and styles, match the tunes with the geographical regions they came from and learn about the rhythms. For example, I always wanted to know the difference between oro, kolo, hora, honga, doina and other dances. Today I have recordings of over 100 different rhythms, but I still don't know how identify most of them.

Those kinds of things can't all be learned online, and when I started collecting, much of information was not even available on the Internet. I don't have any music education, my job is totally unrelated to any art, all my friends and buddies either worked in a technical or medical fields. Few friends who could play music were also amateur musicians and only interested in a very specific pop genre. Over the years I've met some music collectors, but no one interested in world music. So I always wanted to find people knowledgeable about ethnic music of their country or nation, and, in fact, that was my most important quest. Finding even one such person would probably revolutionize my life, but looking ahead, I must say that searching for such people was the most depressing and frustrating experience.

Whenever I met anyone and had a chance to talk, be it on a street, waiting in line, on a train during my commute, at flea markets, etc., I always asked people where they are from and about their musical preferences. And almost always I got annoyed and perplexed looks. I asked them to recommend me anything and suggest some good singers similar to the ones I already knew. I asked Chinese people about their Chinese music, Italians about Italian, etc. But nobody could tell me anything. Most of the time they didn't even know the names I was asking about, though the artists used to be quite famous in their country. If people ever gave me any information, it was still totally not what I hoped to learn. I also asked people if they, by any chance, happen know any musicians or collectors from their country and asked to be introduced... Forget it, nobody knew anyone. So 99.9999% of all I know today, I've learned by myself the hard way, very hard way, by "shedding blood, sweat, and tears" over more than two decades. Very few people were excited to hear of my interest in their music and culture. They talked much and promised to share some songs with me... but never contacted, never answered me after.

When I was commuting to and from work I even wore big studio headphones with signs on both sides: "Music lovers wanted". Maybe weird, but why not? Anyway, nobody talked to me.

Being an avid cyclist, I've participated in all largest bike rides in New York, with thousands of riders participating. On all these rides, for about 15 years I had a big clear sign on my back "Seeking world music lovers". It was surely seen by thousands, dozens of thousands of riders, but nobody talked to me. Nobody even turned their head or noticed it. Then, to get more attention I custom made and installed speakers on my bicycle to play some international ethnic music while riding. It was long before the Bluetooth portable speakers became popular. Still, over many years and dozens of rides I heard only one positive comment from an Indian guy when he heard an Indian song. And once I heard a scream behind my back: "I love world music!". It was a Jewish girl, she was mostly interested in klezmer music, which is also one of my biggest favorites. I already had a huge collection of klezmer by then, but this girl was much more knowledgeable about it. I was really impressed and very excited that I could learn from her. She seemed excited too, took my card but never contacted me. That was my whole experience with the sign.

Having all the basic needs: Cyclocomputer, Light, GPS and Music!

An original sign

A recent design with my website


I was trying to meet people in music shops and approached people who were looking through the shelves I was interested in. I gave my cards to them and offered to exchange and share lot of recordings they would be interested in. No one ever contacted me. Sometimes I offered my help or advice to them in choosing the albums, and the dialogs were mostly like this:

- Are you working here?!
- No... but I do know the music well...
- Then goodbye!

While being in Japan and Korea, with a permission of music store workers, I left small stacks of my cards on shelves at the retro music sections, trying to find music enthusiasts. Nobody ever wrote to me.

I've approached many people who carried some music instrument and the street performers who played the kind of music I liked. I asked about their art, interests and offered anything form my collection. I always gave them my cards, but they never contacted me. Occasionally I got their cards or emails too and same night I sent them some information or recordings of the songs or artists we were talking about. But they still never responded, never even thanked me. Even professional musicians were not interested in any exchange.

I tried to make conversations and gave my cards to the people crowded around the street performers, and offered to exchange music with them. Some of them also turned out to be musicians or singers or dancers. They expressed interest in my offer, but even those people who actually bought the CDs from the performers also never contact me.

Of course, I am not the only music collector in the world. However, all collectors and musicians I've ever met in person or found online specialized primarily and exclusively in one popular genre such as jazz, rock, electronic, classical, etc. Some collected music only of a certain time period or from a specific country or had another very narrow criteria. None of them were collecting or were simply interested in anything folk. Even in such a huge and multinational city as New York I was not able to find any ethnic music enthusiast, not even anyone interested and willing to learn about the music they were not already exposed to.

Actually, today there are plenty of websites related world ethnic music, you can find lots of recordings and information online (again, if you know what to look for and speak the language), many musicians and collectors have their own sites, but, as I found, generally they just want to boast or advertise themselves and sell something, nobody is interested in two way communication, especially in person.

So I tried to find people on language exchange websites, where people are supposedly looking to communicate and learn something about other cultures. Many people wrote to me first or answered me there. But it rarely went anywhere after initial "Hello!". In a few cases when we actually had some conversation, I helped them with whatever they needed, and, if they were interested, recommended and sent few songs. But then, when I asked for something from them, they said: "Sure I'd love to share, I will send you, bla bla...", but never got back to me. Since then they kept ignoring my messages, often even removed me from contacts and blocked without any word.

In the last two years I've also tried to contact about two hundred people on Facebook, specifically those who studied or played music in New York. Only several people accepted me as a friend but nobody answered my "Hello". One Korean musician blocked me after I said I liked trot. Actually, I found that the "online people" are the most careless, rude and ridiculous. I've had such a terrible experience online that I really want to skip these stories. I was hurt, insulted, cursed and ghosted countless times. All by the people who advertised themselves as "music lovers". It would be quite hurting for me to recall these numerous stories and depressing for you to read.




FEW RARE FRIENDS

Of course, there are always exceptions (that prove the rule?). Over the years I've talked to thousands of people and gave out thousands of cards. But only few actually talked back to me and became my good friends, though lots of life issues make it hard for us to keep in touch. Not only they are ones of the kindest and nicest people I've met, they are also very talented. So I am using the chance to promote them here in gratitude for their help and them being who they are. Sorry, if I haven't mentioned everyone, but here I list only musical friends, especially who made some contribution to my music knowledge and collection.


Some of these guys are musicians from New York based Andean music band "Agua Clara", which later split into two.

Agua Clara

Unfortunately this video is of a poor quality, but I picked it because it has all the original members in it, just as when I first met them. And here they play one of my favorite compositions. By the way, I when learned to play a recorder, almost all of my repertorie was from them. I pretty much learned it by playing along with their CDs. Their music speaks for itself. Please check out their other videos too.

and Espiritu Andino




Then, an astonishing and unmatched violinist - Michael Shulman, who became my long time closest friend. Tired after my work day, I was watching him perform for hours and, I must say, he is the kind of musician that you also need to see, not just hear. By the way, he also has a long sad story to tell, good enough to make a movie.


Me, Michael and Gregory Wylie (the best violin master in NY) at my place

This video I made at the same spot where I met Michael first and watched so many times.




A special thanks go to my friend Tina. It's her who finally helped me to identify most of my beloved Korean songs, and it's only thanks to her that I could greatly multiply and organize my Korean music collection. She even translated all my favorite songs to English. She plays ukulele and sings well. Soon she will start her own Youtube channel. And for now, here is a short video that we spontaneously made (with a cheap camera) when I was visiting Korea:


Tina soloing on the ukulele in a park -->



Michael Pavlenko

I've found Michael online quite a few years ago, when I was searching for help with one of my projects. Though we have never met in person (yet), I am really fortunate to know him. Michael has a great personality - friendly and kind, and what's so rare nowadays - he's crystally honest, responsible, reliable and loyal, just as a friend should be. He has helped and keeps helping me so much, I have no idea what would I do without him. Moreover, he helps me with such important things that I could not trust anyone.

Michael studied to be a history teacher, but he has changed quite a few jobs already and now he's looking to find some job in the USA. His hobbies include photography and video making, but most importantly - he studies Japanese and anything about Japan. So if you want to have a great friend and talk about Japan, you're welcome to add him on Facebook.

Just recently I've learned that Michael used to play tuba when he served in the army. He doesn't have his own website or channel, so I am happy to share the videos of his brass band on My YouTube





Ed. Front view
Ed Pitt (aka Big Beat)

After years of hard search, I have found only one well rounded person, well knowledgeable about many kinds of music from around the world. But I didn't meet him accidentally, I "calculated" him, as he once said. Being a frequent customer in one Russian music/video rental shop I made friends with a guy working there. Once I asked him: "You must have had many customers... have you ever met any collector who would appreciate the music I am looking for?". A few month later, this store guy gave me a phone number of such person. It was Ed Pitt (or "Big Beat", how he often calls himself online).

Even though Ed's primary interests are rock, blues and jazz (and has a huge... no, HUGE collection of these), he still has at least a little bit of everything else. Not only he has a wealth of music knowledge, he is also well versed in history, antiques, he collects, repairs and plays vintage guitars, drums, and writes his own songs. You can check out his own website at

www.junkguitars.com


Ed. Back view

I called Ed the same day I got his number. Then, after exploiting the phone line for several hours, we met in person. He came to my place, I came to his. All within the same day. We spent this whole day talking and after nearly two decades we still have lots to talk about. Just no more time for it. When we first met I was still a green newbie, while he was already a venerable collector, so he became like my mentor and I learned so much from him. We had very different music preferences, but it didn't matter, as we still had lots of interests overlapped, topics to discuss and we both didn't mind learning something new. Once I complained to him:

- Lucky you... you collect rock and jazz, such popular genres... there's plenty of information on that, catalogs, books, etc.. But what can I do if want to find more info on Japanese or Korean music?
- I don't know, I have no such problem. I always have someone to ask if I want to know about Asian music.
- WHO???
- YOU!!!



SO WHO ARE MY FAVORITES?

Quite often people asked me: "Who is your favorite singer?" This standard and perfectly normal to most people question always puts me in a stupor because I am just not unable to give a short satisfactory answer. I also find this question ridiculous and deep inside even offensive, as I am not such a limited person to stick to only one or several artists or even genres. When I tried to avoid answering, explaining that I have too many favorites or have no favorites at all, I sounded even more weird. I understand that people ask this to get some idea about my musical preferences, especially since I always introduce myself as a huge music enthusiast and collector, but in my case it's rather intricate. So I will try to explain it all here.

First of all it's not just about singers. There are also musicians, composers, dancers, ensembles, orchestras, etc. They are all very very different as they come from many countries, backgrounds and time periods, perform in different genres and styles. In my collection I have maybe over 300,000 titles of about 50 genres by thousands of artists. Yet, I am very picky about what and whom I add to my collection. I could care less about artist's popularity and fame, I only keep what I like or something of historical and cultural value. I have so many favorites that I don't remember all their names myself. Or, in case with some Asian and many traditional performers I don't even know their names.

At home I hung portraits of some of my favorite artists, making a kind of "hall of fame". However, I picked them not because they are my favorite or most favorite, but because these artists are truly unique and genius in everything they do. Because they represent my own culture, have the biggest response in my soul and have the most influence on me. Still, if I had more space, I'd put up many more portraits. I won't list their names here because they are not my only favorites and because if you don't recognize the photos, their names won't tell you anything anyway.

If I try very hard and actually make the list of all my favorites it might be more than a thousand names long. I really can not give preference to any artist or genre to the detriment of others. Likewise I cannot pick any artist within a particular genre. And if I just give a few random names, it would always give people a very limited and, therefore, wrong understanding of my diverse interests and tastes.

Even if I do present the list with thousand names, people would only be able to recognize just about a dozen, more likely even less. That's because none of the artists I listen to are popular in the last 30 years, 99.99% of them are foreign and many of them are already dead. Even when people heard some of these names before, they are usually not well familiar with the artists' performance styles and repertoire, so, again, it would not help to understand what I like.

Then, it is more complex. When people name their favorites, usually it implies that they like anything and everything of them. But in my case it's very different. I can have a favorite artist only because of one single song and be totally indifferent to all his other songs or even dislike them.

Now, I must also say that the opposite is also true. When people tell me who they like, I have absolutely no clue what or who they are talking about. And if I did hear some names before, I still have no idea what they sing or do. For 25 years of extensive search I have found only maybe several people whose musical preferences would overlap with mine at least 1%. Once a friend visited me, saw a whole wall stuffed with CDs, studied it and said: "Alex, you have so many CDs, but nothing to listen to...".

To conclude, all I can say is that most of the music I like is ethnic (i.e. not globalized) from all around the world and is mostly from before 1980-90s. Sometimes people ask me why I only like old stuff. It's not true. I don't like old stuff just because it's old. Nor I dislike modern music because it's modern. I only care for the music itself and it just happens that most of the music I like is old. Why it is like this - it's a whole different story.




IN THE WORLD OF RECORDS

Though I did have a few records already, it was Big Beat who actually introduced me to them and opened the whole new world of records (and antiques) to me. Since then, with him and alone I have regularly checked out flea markets and garage sales, always flipping through numerous crates and piles of records. It was like an exciting treasure hunt. While it was totally hopeless to get any info/recordings from people around, I've discovered lots of interesting and great music on the records, especially with Big Beat's help and advice.


I would argue about vinyl records sounding better than CDs, as some old fashioned audiophiles claim, but it does feel so much different when you play a record. If you don't have a passion and curiosity about the good old times you wouldn't understand it. And if you do, then it doesn't need an explanation.


Once I asked Ed:
- What does it mean when it says
"Unbreakable" on a record?
- It means that if you drop it,
it will break anyway.

Since I got into the records world, I got really excited by the borderless opportunities to find something amazing, long forgotten by everyone. Excited by the fact that I could hear the real voices of people from many decades ago, by the ability to hear authentic music from exotic lands just as it was originally performed. I was seeing records in my dreams, often imagining discovering some abandoned garage in the woods filled up with old 78s. But such hobby was quite costly. So whenever I bought anything, involuntary I started measuring all prices in records. For example "that thing costs 10 records" or "this lunch costs 5 records". Often I chose to sacrifice a good lunch and got a slice of pizza instead, just so I could acquire a few more interesting records. After all, lunch comes and goes, but records remain. Well, actually with some exceptions I didn't really care for the records themselves, I was just interested in the music on them.

Naturally, in the process of collecting, I acquired lots of unwanted records which I rescued from streets or which were given to me by some people moving out. Those were mostly American oldies, some jazz, easy and classical music. I wanted to give them away, just as the other ethnic stuff I offered for free, so I offered the records to people flipping through them at flea markets on in thrift shops. But nobody ever responded to me. Or, if people gave me their phone numbers, the numbers were not real. I was always ignored or treated rudely. Ironically, I was only successful when I offered the same records FOR SALE! Over the years I successfully sold about two dozens of crates and boxes with records. Because nobody wanted them for free. Duh.




BEYOND THE RECORDS

Once, while exploring the records on flea markets and garage sales I found a yellow translucent record. It was so unusual and cool. I didn't know the records could be like this so I bought it, even though I was not interested in the music. Another time I accidentally found a red vinyl… and then a green… Then, out of curiosity, I started checking every single record I could find, even though the covers didn't make me any interested, and found some more unusual records. Now a lot of such records are made as novelties for collectors. But at that time they were so rare. From my friend Ed I learned about picture disks, shaped disks and some other interesting types of records. One day at a flea market he pointed my attention to a vintage dictaphone with an unusual tape. It was very cheap so I got it too. Then I became really curious about the kinds of media formats that ever existed in the world and started collecting them purposefully. Today I have maybe 300 unusual types of records and about 200 other obsolete media formats along with some portable recording devices and children toys that could play various unusual media. Now that is a collection good enough to make a small museum and this became my next project. It's still in it's early stage though, but you can learn a little about it here:

www.RetroMediaMuseum.com


The dictaphone and tape that started my next collection of media formats.




THE END


P.S.

In 2016 I officially stopped collecting music. That means I am no longer looking for anyone or anything as I am really sick of it and I already collected and heard more music than you could possibly hear in your lifetime. And I still have gigabytes of music in my archives waiting to be processed. But if you want to write, share and exchange something, you are welcome. I will answer.



P.P.S.

After reading this you might have got an impression that music is all I care about, but it's not true. Music is just one of my passions and collections, not the only one. I have more hobbies, many more interests and several other extensive collections, but on this website I tried to share only things related to music.