It's true, we're all obsessed with our discs

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MEN BUY more records than women. They bought more vinyl than women. They buy more CDs than women. Mini-discs, laser discs, anything-you-like discs, men will be buying more of them. It is a fundamental biological difference between the sexes. Yet, curiously, it has remained unexplored by sociologists, unlamented by feminists. Until now.

Writing in the September issue of the BBC's Music Magazine, Germaine Greer says men are obsessive collectors, building up walls of shelved CDs, buying every version of every symphony or sonata principally to own it. 'Male CD collectors,' she says, 'will ask each other if they have the latest Chilingirian or the rarest Michelangeli pirate in much the same way that dogs sniff each other's bottoms.'

Now there's a little metaphor to enliven the interval conversation at the Royal Festival Hall. And what of the female of the music- loving species? Women, says Greer, are more likely to make compilation tapes to give to their friends (illegal, incidentally, ladies). 'In such cases competition is not the sole or principal motive . . . giving compilation tapes strengthens networking. The message is 'these things please me and, because we are true friends, they will give you pleasure, too'.'

In matters CD I am an unreconstructed male, a full-blooded bottom-sniffer. Greer says men compare and contrast single passages from recordings of the same work 'much as little boys used to deploy populations of lead soldiers or swap and re-swap cigarette cards'. Will women never understand?

I remember a marvellous scene from the cult film Diner, set in America in the late Fifties. It showed two newly weds nearly ending their marriage as the husband screamed at his young bride for not replacing his records in the right categories or under the correct colour codings. 'But it's all so complicated,' she wailed. 'I just want to hear some music.'

In what I found a most poignant moment, he forced her to test him on what was on the flip side of every record he owned. It was a test of experience and worldly wisdom his male friends could spend hours enjoying. 'But you never ask me what's on the flip side,' he accused his wife, discovering all too soon the trauma of marriage. 'That's because I don't give a shit,' she sobbed, uncomprehending.

There can be no meeting of minds here. Women are biologically blind to the bonding power of music. If I think back to university days, I can recall times beyond number when I would enter a study bedroom full of males and find them all listening to music together, a core, communal activity.

I have never seen a group of women do this. I have never even seen two women do it. Perhaps it is hormonal. Perhaps it is a matter for David Attenborough. But women will turn the music off when a friend enters the room and tidy up the CD covers, rather than turn it up and spray the more fashionable CDs over the sofa.

For the CD collection oft proclaims the man. It is a statement every bit as important as clothes or interior design. Watch people as they enter a house for a party. The man will always finger through the CD collection, something a woman never does.

Then, as the guy in Diner knew, music is not just the food of love but the food of supper quizzes. Listen to music by all means, but if you take no interest in the statistics, anecdotes and folklore surrounding it, you might just as well read the score. 'Which rock group had the biggest number of consecutive releases entering the charts at No 1?' I ask when a dinner party looks like running out of steam. People normally oblige by answering the Beatles; in fact, the answer is the long-forgotten Slade. Men find that sort of thing interesting; women invariably look bored.

Even those advanced women who do buy CDs and records in proportions similar to men display an inescapable gender habit. They listen to a CD right through, passively and unquestioningly accepting the order of tracks decided upon by the artist or record company; the knob that says mix or random select remains as pristine as the day the machine was bought.

I am an incurable track-hopper. This has rendered my record collection unsaleable, scratched beyond repair. But with compact discs, track-hopping can be indulged in with complete safety, and the curiosity, restlessness and sense of adventure that are the marks of the real music lover can be pandered to with abandon.

Women even manage to miss out on the pleasure of purchase. In record shops they know what they want and go straight to it. Or they ask the assistant where it is. Never do they spend a happy hour or more browsing through the CDs, seeing what the new releases are, comparing the track order on a re- release with that of the original vinyl, asking to listen to the remix.

CD collecting is one of the last invisible bonding activities for men: a club without walls, a way of sharing a passion. Until women appreciate that, they will never fully appreciate music.