I am, and always have been, a bargain hunter. A good deal is often more valuable to me than what I buy, and there is nothing I pine for more than a good deal on a vinyl record.
My love of vinyl peaked during the 2010s, the decade during which I DJed three to four times a month. That phase of my life ended with the COVID-19 pandemic, but I now own about 1,100 records, and I still keep two Technics SL-1200 turntables and a mixer in my living room. Nothing amuses me more than an evening of journeying from one record to the next. Well, except for buying those records.
Even as I write these words, I’m waiting to pounce on a steal that an algorithm might offer. E-commerce software has trained me to salivate at the prospect of fluctuating prices. I could describe to you the eclectic mix of music I enjoy: jazz or psych, electronic or postpunk, ’90s dance divas or private press gospel reissues. But that’s not crucial to understanding this guilty pleasure. I’m not always looking for albums I genuinely want. Instead, I scroll through the world’s vast network of online stores, filling my carts with anything on sale or marked for clearance. For more obscure albums, I binge at Juno Records, the British specialty platform. Montreal’s Aux 33 Tours is my go-to in Canada, and I sometimes peek at Discogs for anything used and collectible.
What’s important is to have something to look forward to each time I sit down to work on a novel or translation or magazine story. For me, procrastination is part of productivity. That growing word count may take weeks or even years to see the light of day and garner a reaction. In the meantime, shopping offers immediate satisfaction, surpassed only by the ring of the doorbell when, days later, the package arrives.
There are so many reasons online retailers eventually clean out their shelves: a flash sale, a back-catalogue cull, an item taking too long to move, a reissue campaign that overestimated demand for an artist’s work returning to vinyl. I imagine that lonesome album landing months ago at some regional warehouse, back when its marketing was still fresh and full of potential. The physical beauty of an album can sometimes be at the root of its demise. For every hotly anticipated release that sells out in days, there can be a dozen contestants, still lavishly dressed, sliding in price. As potential suitors skip past it, uninterested in spending $45 or $60 for its colour variation or tip-on jacket or half-speed mastering, I keep watch from a distance. The tragedy of our modern age is that the world produces too much beauty and so much of it wilts unwanted.
I was eleven when I moved to Canada and the concept of shopping took hold in the family. For the first few years of our lives here, first in Montreal and then in suburban Toronto, we drove to malls every Saturday afternoon without fail. My parents were quiet bargain hunters too, hiding, I suspect, behind the pretext of having to collect all the essentials to fill out our new Canadian lives. But even after our succession of new homes—four in the first four years—filled up with the basics of daily existence, they kept shopping.
The weekly trip to the mall coincided with my weekly allowance. Fifteen dollars in hand, I would be granted two hours to roam. It was my first taste of freedom. I wanted a quick way out of being an “immigrant kid” and transformed myself into a “music kid.” I always went straight to HMV, then Sam the Record Man or Sunrise Records. Even department stores like the Bay had a music section. Back then, I bought cassettes. I would compare prices from shop to shop. I would dig into the clearance section at the back of every store until my hands hurt from the rough plastic of the packaging I pushed past to get to the bottom of the bins.
My hands no longer bear scratches from those weekend excursions. I use them primarily on my keyboard, where a repetitive strain injury poses the bigger risk. My music allowance is now larger. But I get the same thrill clawing through the infinite offers of the internet to where an undiscovered gem waits for the person dedicated enough to dig that far.