Boy, Put Your Records On: Duncan Gingrich, Record Collector


Duncan Gingrich: English major, honors student, record collector

As any student of English knows, the English major attracts a wide variety of personalities and unique individuals. We all have our quirks, whether we be dedicated fan fic writers, comic book enthusiasts, proud wand wielders, introspective thinkers on the universe, or–most likely–some combination of it all. You are unlikely to come across a boring encounter with any who roam Simpkins Hall, home to the English major on Western Illinois University’s Macomb campus.

One such wanderer and resident of Simpkins goes by the name Duncan Gingrich, a third year English Literature major. He, like his fellow English majors, is more than meets the eye, and behind the freckles, reddish-brown hair, and comedic side-commentary there is a hobby, nae, a passion that is a mystery to many who know him. Duncan is not simply a student of English, but also a record collector. Not common in the generation of iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube, but Duncan finds a value in vinyl that supersedes the convenience of 21st century inventions. “Analog tech of all sorts really turns my crank, especially on the aesthetic front. Digital’s more practical and affordable, sure, but there’s something about putting needle to wax that Apple just can’t replicate.”

If Duncan owned a handful of records, we may question whether he truly deserves the title “record collector,” but for barely having reached the second decade of his life, Duncan has fostered an impressive collection. Duncan has tracked down over 200 records through donations, garage sales, antique stores, record stores, and every now and then a Goodwill.

This type of dedication does not come from a passing whimsy or fleeting interest. Duncan’s memories of records in his life go back to childhood, though his collection didn’t manifest until his teenage years. “My parents had a neat hi-fi stereo when I was a toddler, but I didn’t get a collection of my own going until the winter of 2011. My uncle heard that I had asked for a player for my birthday that year; at Christmas, he gave me the chance to dig through an old orange crate packed to the brim with some really neat albums. I walked away with three-dozen records that year.” Thus began what continues to grow into a testament to a lost art.

Duncan’s collection is more than just songs on outdated technology. Spanning seven decades, Duncan’s tastes encompass some of the greatest artists of their age, but also many lesser known talents and hidden gems. “At the moment, I have a grand total of TWO records from this millennium: Gorillaz’s ‘Plastic Beach’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories.’ Other than that, my crates overfloweth with Golden Oldies. From Sinatra to Pink Floyd to Pavarotti, my tastes are stylistically eclectic but consistently anachronistic.” The amount of history held in the lines on those records is a value beyond $9.99 a month for any song you could possibly hope to listen to at your fingertips.

Owning hundreds of records spanning multiple decades is one thing, but Duncan’s passion goes even beyond simple ownership. Duncan doesn’t simply look at or listen to his records, he knows them. For a brief glimpse into the expansive knowledge Duncan has acquired on his records and the songs they hold, he went through each decade of records he owns and gave his favorite along with a record-jacket worthy description of each:

50s: Frank Sinatra, Come Fly With Me
One of the swingingest, smoothest collection of tracks Old Blue Eyes ever put out. “Moonlight in Vermont,” with its haiku lyrics and lush orchestral backing, is a definite must-listen from this Sinatra classic.

60s: The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour.
Though their least commercially-successful studio release, MMT is easily my favorite of their entire discography. “The Fool on the Hill” and “Flying” are two of the Fab Four’s most criminally-underrated tracks.

70s: Pink Floyd, The Wall
While technically not my favorite album of theirs, The Wall was my first proper Floyd album and (until I discovered Meddle) my absolute favorite of their entire oeuvre. “Hey You” and “Goodbye Blue Sky” are some of their best work on both the melodic and lyrical fronts.

80s: Supertramp, Breakfast in America
I judge an album by how many tracks I can remember after one listen; by that criteria, Breakfast in America is practically a retroactive Greatest Hits compilation. From the deceptively sunny “Logical Song” to the jaunty “Goodbye Stranger,” Supertramp are in top form on this essential part of any self-respecting music enthusiast’s collection. (Seriously, “The Logical Song” is REALLY good.)

90s: Radiohead, The Bends
Cheating again, as OK Computer is an objectively superior that I’ve yet to pick up on vinyl. However, The Bends is still rather solid, with “High and Dry” standing out amongst a slew of their usual melancholy jams.

2000s: Nnnnothing.
Yeah, there’s a bit of a gap between Radiohead and Daft Punk. Which brings me to…

2010s: Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Sure, I was vaguely aware of the French EDM duo for a while, but it wasn’t until their 2013 powerhouse dropped that I truly began to appreciate their craft. “Get Lucky” staked its claim on the airwaves, sure, but “Contact” and “Beyond” and literally everything else on that album accomplished what other artists couldn’t: ending the reign of my classic rock snobbery over my collection.

Unfortunately, Duncan rarely has the opportunity to listen to his impressive collection, as he lives at home with a family of five. “My opportunities to listen in peace are few and far between. However, I make a point of throwing on a neglected album whenever I find a moment of solitude.”

Some may say collectors such as Duncan are living in the past, but from the sound coming off that vinyl, it seems like a great place to live. Similar to the controversy over the printed book versus the ebook, or the painting versus the photograph, digital music will not force records to extinction. Technological advances  may increase convenience and affordability, but the original sound, look, and feel of that first invention are an art that we will never truly outgrow.

Record collecting has made me appreciate just how potentially rewarding trying something new can be, in an intellectual sense. There’s nothing to be lost in stepping just outside of one’s comfort zone, but quite a lot to gain; stumbling upon some new and wonderful concept or idea is always an enriching, edifying experience. The risk is low–on average, no more than ten dollars an album–and the reward is priceless.