I think that most record collectors—the best of them—are like Bill Adler. They aren’t investors in rare LPs or 45s so they can make a quick buck turning them over for more than they pay for them. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Detroit, he returned to New York City into 1980 and intends to stay there.
A music journalist, biographer, record label executive, documentary filmmaker, museum consultant, art gallerist, curator, and archivist, Adler is a former DJ and the legendary head publicist for Def Jam Records in the 1980s. Because of his work, promo copies kept flowing into his life like an endless river overflowing its banks. He kept his personal vinyl collection small and eclectic. He gave away most of the albums that came his way and held on to the ones that meant something to him, one way or the other.
His love of music began when he was an infant. He recalls his father singing him to sleep as a baby and claims to remember the songs his dad sang and the way he sang them. When he was 10, he became a trombonist in his school band, probably choosing the funky wind instrument because of his mother’s enthusiasm for the Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller orchestras from her days as a teen-age bobbysoxer.
As a teenager himself, he started listening to The Beatles when they hit the radio waves in 1964. That’s when –like many kids his age—he first got gobsmacked by the beautiful noise of rock and roll.
The first record he owned was The Beatle’s Rubber Soul when his parents gave it to him as a Hanukkah present. The gift changed his life. Soon, he began buying his own records. “In later years, my mother grew hostile to my collecting: ‘Why do you need all those records?’” she says. “Why don’t you get rid of them?” He never did. His father was oblivious to the whole thing.
He began to think of himself as a collector of music memorabilia around 1969. He got a job in an Ann Arbor, Michigan record store and LP's replaced radio and its top 100 with a personal collection that accommodated his expanding musical taste. “I started collecting records to make sure I could listen as often as I wanted to the music I couldn’t count on hearing on the radio. “My love of music has defined my life at every turn in the road,” says Adler.
He isn’t much interested in collecting CDs. “Not all of the music I love has been carried along in the transition to CDs and, more recently, to ‘the cloud, says Adler. “And also because I love the 12 X 12-inch album cover as a visual medium. (Likewise, the 10 X 10-inch cover for 78s and EPs, and the 7 X 7-inch cover for 45s.) The 5 X 5-inch CD cover? Too small, and thus not so lovable…nor so collectible.”
How does he find the records he wants to own now that digitally-recorded music dominates the market (even though vinyl has staged something of a comeback? He haunts flea markets whenever he is on the road. He also checks out local NYC record stores. In Cleveland where he went to see the induction of The Beastie Boys into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he carved out a small slice of time to visit a local shop where he found a “great latter-day single” by Oran “Juice” Jones and a few rare bootleg Christmas CDs.
His collecting history includes recently finding a copy of “Ella and her Fellas,” a Decca 1957, release … “a compilation of a bunch of previously uncollected duets that Ms. Fitzgerald had cut ten years earlier with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Sy Oliver, and the Ink Spots.” It cost him only three dollars at a flea market on West 39th Street in Manhattan.
Besides records, he collects books, photos, posters, flyers, advertisements, newspaper and magazine articles, press releases, record label biographies, and underground comix and postcards. He thinks it’s important to save artifacts of our time before they disappear.
“Keats’s tombstone reads: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.’ Over the long term, that’s true for all of us. And it’s certainly true that the overwhelming majority of human cultural production is trashed and discarded without a second thought. I’m somebody with taste. I do what I can, against the tide, to preserve the things I love.”
Let’s let Bill Adler have the last word: “I’m always inspired by William Faulkner, who wrote: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’”