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Spinning Stories

Syx Langemann’s new documentary goes down the rabbit hole of record collecting in Essex County
Author: Matthew St. Amand
2 months ago
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Obsessions burst upon us with little-to-no-warning, like a lightning strike from a clear blue sky. They settle upon us suddenly, sometimes steering people into realms of delight and discovery, and steering others off the edge of a cliff. Windsor photographer and budding vinylmaniac, Syx Langemann’s documentary, Spinning Stories, goes inside the world of record collecting—the kind of obsession that leads toward the light.  

Minutes into “Side 1” of the eight-part documentary, AM800’s Dan MacDonald describes the moment this obsession took hold of him: “The first grown-up record that I had as a kid was… a Solid Gold CKLW Big Eight Record, and the first track I heard… was Bob Seeger’s ‘Heavy Music’ and something in my head… just went ‘Bing!’—On—and like it recalibrated my brain and sent me on this musical direction I’ve been on since then.” 

Speaking about his motivation and inspiration for making the documentary, Syx explains: “My obsession is with talking to people about record collecting and finding out: ‘What is the punctum?’”

The word “punctum” was coined by Roland Barthes in his book Camera Lucida. It refers to the element in a photograph that personally affects the viewer, often an unintended detail that resonates with emotional intensity.

“I want to find out: ‘What do people get out of it?’” Syx continues. “What drives this activity/obsession? What makes somebody click into that mode where they don’t care what other people think of what they’re doing?” 

Once the human element enters the conversation, the reasons behind record collecting splinter in all directions. Some vinylmaniacs collect because they love the music. Others collect because they’re “completists”—having to own every recording by beloved musicians and bands. And others beyond this collect albums because of their rarity, with little regard for the music itself.

Most record collectors’ odysseys are ruddered by a search for their “grail.”

In this world, a “grail” is a highly sought-after or rare record that is considered the ultimate find for a collector. Grails are as individual as the collectors themselves. The only value most grails have is to the collector who seeks it. Often, personal history and emotion are deeply intertwined with it. Sometimes a grail is just a great album. 

Syx reveals his grail within the first ten seconds of Spinning Stories: The Elephant Riders’ album Clutch. This album is one of the main reasons he became a record collector.

“I grew up in Southwestern Ontario,” Syx narrates in the documentary’s introduction, “a very unique part of Canada surrounded on three sides by the United States—an area where physical boundaries don’t stop television or radio signals, but they do stop your ability to stream some music. And this album [Clutch by The Elephant Riders] is one of them.”

In 1999, Syx moved out west. When he returned to Windsor in 2014, he “lightened the load” by getting rid of his CDs. He burned them onto his computer using iTunes to import them. It was only after Syx parted with the CDs that he discovered that Clutch by the Elephant Riders is still not licensed in Canada. iTunes didn’t recognize it and did not import the album to his computer. 

Along his search for Clutch, Syx immersed himself in vinyl culture in Windsor-Essex. After securing funding from Bell Media—which specified that his documentary take the form of eight 10-minute episodes for Bell Fibe TV1—Syx embarked on a journey that took him into the homes and hearts of Essex County record collectors, who shared their personal stories:

Seated in a wood-paneled basement where every inch of the walls is adorned with images and posters of Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and countless other artists, vinyl collector Sheila Roberts states: “This basement is where I learned music from my older brother who was Zeppelin, Jethro Tull—”

“Stones,” chimes in musician Eamon McGrath seated next to her.

“And he was eight years older than I was,” Sheila continues, “and I got to just sit down here and listen to him play albums. That’s where it all started.”

Founder of The Drive Magazine, and avid record collector, Dave Hunter appears and shares his memory: “As a kid, my dad had a very big collection of albums, and I remember vividly… the album cover of Kansas or the album cover of The Beatles, or the album cover of Tattoo You by the Stones. And that’s what started my collection… not because I loved the music, but because it brought back memories of things in my childhood and songs and being in a certain place at a certain time. And it’s not because I think that the albums are worth gazillions of dollars. They mean everything to me.”

That emotional memory connected to albums recurs throughout the documentary.

The record collectors talk about the first albums they bought, recalling the time and circumstances. Syx speaks to artists about the first vinyl release of their own music. He even speaks to Robyn Raymond of Red Spade Records about “cutting records”—physically etching the vinyl—and she reminisces about the first records she cut.  

Singer/songwriter Brendan Scott Friel explains that his record collection began when the vice principal at his school was getting rid of her records. “For some reason she chose me to give the records to. And I remember having this weird one-eighty experience where I was like: ‘Wait!’ She was this strict disciplinarian… kind of a Nurse Ratched kind of vibe and all of a sudden, she’s giving me records and I’m like: ‘You’ve got Floyd in here! Jethro Tull!’ And my brain exploded!”

Physical space is a complicated reality among the collectors. One collector explains that he owns one thousand albums. If he brings home a new album, he must get rid of something to make room for it. The emotional space these records take up in the lives of collectors is nearly total.

The emotional poignancy reaches its zenith when Dave Hunter, who passed away in June 2023, describes his weekly Facebook posts “Sam’s Over Easy” where he photographed his son, Sam, holding up a different record every Sunday morning. The posts garnered hundreds of views and comments each week and the tradition is carried on by Dave’s wife, Shawna. Dave jokes in the documentary that he has enough albums to do “Sam’s Over Easy” until Sam is thirty-two years old. 

The intangible uniqueness and draw of vinyl takes on an added dimension when, in “Side 4” of the documentary, musician Tim Swaddling advises artists: “Don’t mix your record to sound how you want it to sound on vinyl. Pressing to vinyl does something to the sounds, warms it up. Leave room for that.”

Syx makes the rounds, interviewing record store owners at Dr. Disc, downtown Windsor, Vintage & Vinyl, Front Road, LaSalle (reputedly haunted), Dead Parrot Records, Ottawa Street, Sunrise Records, Devonshire Mall, Galaxy Records, Windsor, TNT A Blast From the Past, Essex, and Vintage & Vinyl, Amherstburg. Each came to their profession through a deep and abiding love for music and collecting.

Liam O’Donnell, owner of Dr. Disc, says: “… I put my whole collection in here and kind of purged that out. I was bringing in my own stuff to strangers and I wanted to give a little speech on each one of these things I’m selling, but you don’t do that. You just let it go.”

Spinning Stories discusses an interesting, eclectic selection of music, ranging from solidly mainstream, to indie, to the unabashedly “out there.” Viewers will undoubtedly be on their phones or PCs, as they watch, searching for songs and bands mentioned by the collectors. Olivia Holt bought N’écoutez pas (Do Not Listen in English) by Québécois band Fly Pan Am based on its cover art. The music on the album left Olivia wondering: “I don’t know what we’re listening to. I don’t know what this is, but it’s noisy and sort of ambient and bizarre and wonderful, and now I just can’t stop.” To be sure, the album is a fascinating, challenging aural odyssey.

Syx even addresses how collectors clean and organize their albums. Many, of course, arrange their albums in alphabetical order. Some organize by era or genre. One collector organizes her 45-rpm collection by colour. As for cleaning and caring for records, some collectors use antistatic carbon fiber bristle brushes. Vinyl collector and noted Frank Zappa aficionado, Todd Ternovan, cleans his records using a Spin-Clean® record washer. Among the collectors, the care and maintenance of their albums is part of the experience.

Bell Media funded the creation of Spinning Stories, but Syx owns it. Which means after a short period of exclusivity, Syx is free to recut the documentary any way he likes. The plan is to release ten-minute swaths on TikTok, making use of all the footage he could not fit into the eight 10-minute episodes that Bell will air.

Like music, itself, the reasons, and motivations behind record collecting are as mysterious as the human psyche. Syx is expert at drawing memories and experiences from his fellow vinylmaniacs, but there are no definitive answers. There are only stories—and that is enough.

Spinning Stories will air via Bell’s DirectTV service in two million homes east of Winnipeg. Delve deeper into the series by visiting its Instagram www.instagram.com/spinningstoriesdoc. Stay currenct on where and when to view the documentary by checking out www.facebook.com/SpinningStoriesDoc. To learn more about the art, experience, and obsession of record collecting, visit your local record shop.

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