This summer, Cecily Chen C’20 was front row at a Lydia Lunch concert at the Brooklyn Bazaar in New York City.
“It was like the best concert experience I’ve ever had,” Cecily said.
Cecily blew Lunch a kiss. Lunch noticed and smiled back at her.
“She knows she’s beautiful,” Cecily said, “But then she like leaned over towards me and literally kissed me.”
Cecily remembered thinking, “I’m going to buy everything on this merch table because I have to remember this night.”
What she ended up buying was a remastered copy of Lunch’s first solo album, Queen of Siam, which Lunch signed. The vinyl had a black strip at center and blood red sides.
“In that occasion, it just felt the right thing to do," Cecily said.
This was a special occasion for Cecily, who doesn’t usually buy remastered or new vinyl records. Cecily’s extensive vinyl collection, which she estimates to number about a hundred, consists mostly of second–hand vinyl she’s bought for cheap, usually from record stores. Cecily grew up in Beijing, where the vinyl stores mostly sold new records and there weren’t a lot of used record shops.
“I like the idea of going through a box of old stuff,” she said, “I like the idea of taking ownership something that’s been owned before.”
In Philadelphia, she shops at Creep Records and Repo Records, as well as Molly’s Books & Records, which sometimes sells secondhand records. She bought a lot of her records at flea markets or at morning markets in Europe while traveling. She also shops for vinyl online at Discogs, but only when she really wants a particular album.
In general, she prefers actually going to a store, as she said, “I like the experience of finding something unexpectedly.”
She listens to her records on her “cheap, small and pretty” mint-colored Crosley record player in her room during the semester. Her better quality, full gramophone, handed down from her aunt, is at her home in Beijing.
Cecily started collecting vinyl in middle school, when she was into punk rock and the 70’s-era counterculture and aesthetic. Her vinyl collection has grown to span a large chunk of musical history from '70s punk artists such as Iggy Pop, Black Flag and Patti Smith to 80’s and '90s bands and classic rock artists such as The Doors, David Bowie and Bob Dylan. The first record she ever bought was The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead.
“I was very fascinated by that idea of owning music for yourself and I thought it was very romantic,” she explained.
Her approach to building her collection is to focus on artists she likes, such as Bob Dylan, The Smiths and her favorite band, '90s Brit-glam act Suede. She owns every Suede album and even got the whole band to sign one of her records.
“The frontman Brett Anderson writes amazingly dark, twisted love songs, or like a narrative,” she said, “He will write these almost, like sometimes very gothic and classical, but more so very sinister love songs.”
When Suede released a limited-edition box set of remastered albums, Cecily was still living in Beijing. She didn’t have a VPN (Virtual Private Network, used to get around censored sites in China), which prevented her from accessing the website and shipping the album would have been too expensive. Cecily eventually got the box set when her mother’s colleague went on a business trip and brought it back for her.
She’s also a big fan of Patti Smith — Cecily owns all of her books and records and has been to two of her concerts.
“It’s the lyrics, the poetry of it that like drew me in,” she explained, “Also about how angry it was. But not angry for no reason, it was like a cathartic burst of energy.”
Cecily also owns a lot of spoken word records, which she says she likes even more than musical albums, and often listens to them as background noise in her room. She has a recording of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas reading his poetry, but her favorite author is William Burroughs, and she credits him as the reason she started collecting spoken word records.
“I love the idea of William Burroughs’ voice following a record scratching,” she said.
Her Burroughs collections spans beyond his spoken word records to include his novels, a collection of his photography, posters, books about Burroughs, a documentary about the writer, a t-shirt with a picture of the cover of his novel Naked Lunch on it and a phone case featuring a picture of his face which, “I took it down because it was too much,” she confessed.
Cecily stated, “He’s definitely the one I went to like extreme lengths with.”
Her vinyl collection is reserved for older artists and spoken word records. For newer artists, she uses other platforms. She frequently visits Bandcamp and when she finds bands she likes, she often purchases their vinyl. She listens to small indie bands, such as Orange Drop, and owns their debut album on vinyl.
Cecily is also a big Spotify user. On Spotify, she mainly listens to indie rock artists such as Molly Nilsson, Slumbers, Soccer Mommy, and Julia Jacklin.
“My Spotify playlist is very chill and my vinyl collection is very angry,” she said.
Cecily, though she describes herself as a “leisurely” and not an intense or expert vinyl collector, has a developed love for records and really enjoys collecting and listening to vinyl.
“I like vinyls because I like the whole package,” she said, “I like the sleeves, l like looking at if there’s poster inside. I like touching it, feeling it. I like walking back and forth in my room to switch the sides. I just think it’s a very physical process and if you want to get into vinyls, like do it, it’s so easy.”