Last Saturday, I had a horrible nightmare: I was dating Diana Ross. I was perched on a sprawling white sofa in a posh Manhattan apartment. Miss Ross was sashaying about, throwing attitude at invisible servants, while I struggled to explain to visiting friends why it was important for Diana and me to stick together. Yes, she's long past her prime, but she needs me, I assured them. My friends shook their heads and reminded me that I'm gay. I date boys. This relationship was unnatural and unhealthy.
When I woke up, I knew my dream was an omen. It was time to weed out my record collection. Diana Ross, and hundreds of other specimens that have outlived their usefulness, were about to be handed their walking papers.
I own literally thousands of CDs and vinyl records. As a DJ and music critic, it's an occupational hazard. Even though I periodically discard items I no longer listen to, the constant arrival of promotional CDs, coupled with my insatiable appetite for buying used LPs, makes stemming the tide impossible.
Other people have a spouse or significant other; I have records. The pathetic nature of this state was recently driven home during a rare visit from a young DJ friend. He walked into my living room and immediately commented on how deceptive my decorating scheme was. "It looks like you have furniture, but really it's all just records." He's right. Three out of four walls are lined with shelves of albums and CDs, and the stereo is set up against the fourth. Then there are the stacks of acquisitions To-Be-Filed, which multiply like mushrooms in a dank forest. And the basement houses boxes of titles I rarely play, yet could never bear to part with. . . .
I spent the entirety of a balmy August Sunday paring down a decade's worth of wax and CDs. Looking down at the grime on my fingers, I realized many of these records had barely been touched since they were filed. Why was I keeping them? What reason on earth could possibly prompt me to hold on to 20-odd Fela Kuti reissues, or the entire Lida Husik catalog? And then it dawned on me. I've been carrying around obscure records I have no intention of playing, simply to impress people I've never even met: My Imaginary Friends.
Why do I possess a copy of the original cast recording of Divorce Me, Darling, the ill-advised sequel to Sandy Wilson's The Boyfriend? And three different versions of Cabaret? Because apparently someday I expect to be hosting brunch for a gaggle of fierce show queens who will shoot domestic champagne out their noses when I pull out Songs I Taught My Mother, a 1955 oddity by none other than future The Facts of Life star Charlotte Rae.
Won't Ian, the 97-pound, vintage T-shirt-wearing refugee from the Cha-Cha Lounge, be impressed by my extensive collection of 7-inch singles by the Make Up, Dub Narcotic Sound System, and Small Factory? Will sassy Bavarian techno connoisseur Giselle let her jealousy show when she sees that I own every imaginable release from Dietrich Schoenemann, John Selway, Taylor Deupree, and all the other budding N.Y.C. DJ-producers I used to run with in the mid-'90s?
The answer to both those questions is "No!" Because these people aren't real. Carrying around music I don't actively enjoy, in the unlikely event that I'll ever have an opportunity to impress these fictitious amigos, is—to repeat the wisdom of some other Imaginary Friends—"unnatural and unhealthy."
Now that I think about it, the only non-dates I've ever had over for dinner didn't even give my record collection more than a cursory perusal. The first time my friend Wesley and his girlfriend came over, he didn't check to see if I owned his albums (I do, although some of them came out of storage for the occasion)—just as I don't rifle through my friends' bookcases to see if they have any of my wares prominently displayed. How gauche!
In the past few months, five of the friends I once felt knew me well enough to socialize in my apartment and not feel oppressed by my records have split town. Cultivating new friendships has been a big priority, and Sunday, as I filled box after box with albums destined for resale or Goodwill, I felt as if I was opening up a space in which such budding relationships could flourish. Kind of like when you break up with a longtime roommate and suddenly start getting dates again.
And yes, my two-CD Diana Ross anthology was one of the first things to go. If I truly need to hear "Touch Me in the Morning," I'm sure one of my DJ colleagues can oblige. Or better yet, beat some sense into me. That's what friends are really for.