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Overview of a modern disease

A completist is a person suffering from an obsessive desire to collect each and every recorded bit of a particular group or musician.

While completists probably exist in all music genres, this disease is mostly affecting Jazz fans. Certainly, completists also exist outside of music, but there is a superior advantage in being a music completist rather than, say, a Star Wars plastic toys completist: people don't think you are the village idiot. Depending on the kind of music you're a completist for, they might even treat you with some sort of respect, while of course you might be indeed the village idiot.

Given the very volatile and creative nature of Jazz, especially in its highly improvised incarnations, be it hard-bop or free jazz, the completist syndrom may evolve into various degenerated form of the disease.

You might want to read the excellent couple of Matthew Sumera articles (available at One Final Note 01 & 02), extensively covering all the aspects of the syndrom, for a better understanding of this terrible musical sin.

The first step of the disease

The first step of the disease is well-known and described: the completist life fall apart, most of his time and money being spent into his devouring hunt for extremely rare and honerous records, sold in cavernous, funny smelling and dubious shops where he generally meet other completists who unfortunately generally drag him deeper into the disease.

The second step of the disease is crucial, as it determines exactly how the completist will de-evolve. The completist has now ruined his social life and has very little chance to ever be cured or be again of any social use - except in Music Brainz of course, but this will treated below.

His previous friends are now replaced by the aforementionned funny smelling completists, and he can no longer communicate properly with the opposite gender, given his mind and speech are impregnated (or infected) by the object of his real, truly unique desire. As such, he usually demand that the Lady be Good, most of the time Can't Get Started, unless he can Take the "A" Train, and lives in a perpetual Gloomy Sunday.

The addiction is now paroxistic, and the pain increases as it's more and more difficult for the completist to find the appropriate dose of stuff to appease his ever more demanding appetite.

It's worth noting that the ten last years have seen [File:554205.jpg exactly the very same identical sound as the original]. Which of course (given the completist sold his hitech hifi set to buy rare releases, and is left with a cheap cd player) sounds exactly the same.

Other kind of bandits tend to seduce the completists using the "rarity trick" (or "numbered limited edition"). Which again sounds exactly the same, as numbers on cd sleeves rarely make any difference in that matter.

And of course, what completist could resist buying ten hours of false starts, incomplete takes, studio chit-chat, noises of drunken artists falling from their chairs, and breakdowns?

Breakdown being exactly the state of mind of the completist, and the prelude to the transformation of his disease into one of the known variants.

The very first original edition variant

If the completist is still rich, he usually devolves into a "very first original edition completist".

This particular stance makes him seek horribly damaged and completely unusable 60 years old vinyl records, which he usually pay a fortune, and most of the time refuses to play (for the very sane reason they will certainly fall into dirt once on the gramophone). He now disregards 10$ cd complete remastered edition as food for dogs, and these who buy them as poor lost souls.

While you might first think such a nasty person should be avoided at all cost, they are indeed very interesting buddies to have as friends. Usually you can simply empty their trash-can and build yourself an excellent collection of high-quality cds. You may also find out that your gran' ma trash-can contains some of these mint looking vinyls, and actually obtain an excellent price out of these with a truly nuts first edition completist.

The fetichist variant

The fetichist completist seems, at first sight, less nuts than the previous one.

He, also, bought everything he could buy, and find himself short of stuff. Still, he own decent cd re-editions, and most time acts like a normal person.

This appearance of normality indeed hides a terrible variation of the disease characterised by a sublimated desire and the dematerialization of the stuff.

The fetichist now relentlessly seeks mythical places, where the musicians he venerates played half a century ago. He pays a fortune for trips to foreign countries, thinking he walks back in time, following the very tracks of his idols in cheap popular joints, while indeed he is the victim of a well organized racket to actually make him pay gin tonics three times the normal price, hearing a gig not a third as good as it should be, seated in a non smoking, tasteless and detestably reverent hotel bar, the popular melting-pot crowd he expected (or is dreaming about) being replaced by hideous fat bourgeois whose tastes are so miserable they wouldn't even tell the difference between a flugelhorn and an euphonium.

Ah yes, the name of the joint is still there! And he was there, at the Blue Note, at the Village Vanguard...

He is, unfortunately, 50 years late, as misplaced as that fading picture of one of his hero, sticked on the wall of one of these shameless merchantilist joints exploiting the work and image of a man who suffered all his miserable life from the disdain of these who now sold his effigy printed on low-quality t-shirts and coffee mugs.

Poor fetichist!

Hopefully, and like the previous one, there's a major advantage if you know such a completist: he may want to travel with you, and pay you very nice trips in a lot of interesting places - as long as you don't follow him, at night, into his pilgrimages...

The discographer variant

That one completist is the common variant for over-educated people who never really got out of high-school.

You can easily distinguish them from the others by a number of distinctive signs: they usually wear glasses, have horrible dressing tastes, never eat correctly and irradiate a somewhat hysterical, loud and tense energy.

There's a definitive method to verify if you truly have one of these in your living room: grab a somewhat obscure record and put it to play. Now step back a bit, as he may suddenly get agitated. He is, now. It's coming. He already identified most musicians and instruments.

His face distorts as he make a violent effort to give you the exact location and recording date of the first track. Take a close look at how his arms are suddenly agitated by nervous vibrations as he can't seem to remember the release title.

Ha! He got it! And in the same row he remember the label name, production details and catalog number of the exact edition you actually own.

Now move to the kitchen (where you also have speakers), treat yourself with some good red wine and tastes the music, unless of course you want to hear him raving the complete release history from the inception, all production details and a three hour long trivia about the dog of the sister of the photographer who took the picture of the bartender of the Helsinki coffee where the musicians once went to play a gig the only public they had being the dog in question.

Such completists are not really bad people, and can sometimes make good company in public places, to actually make you look good.

It's of course recommended not to expose them too much to music, as they might quickly be annoyingly talkative.

The hunter variant

That kind of completist is actually an extreme and very severe form of the previous. Not only they have extensive and boring discographic knowledge of all the released stuff, but they do also have the same kind of knowledge about the unreleased/buried/lost/forgotten/burnt/never-recorded/might-have-been-played/not-even-played stuff.

Most time, they refuse to admit the stuff is lost (or doesn't exist at all), long ago been piped to /dev/null by some ignoramus cheap label engineer.

They spend hours elaborating theories about what label, which sideman, or which random innocent person may have that missing tape.

They actually bug 80 years old musicians who can barely remember their name in order to obtain the matrix number of a track they might have not even played.

They phone Michael Cuscuna in the middle of the night, and menaces him to unleash compromising photographies (that don't exist :p) if he doesn't immediately release Impulse matrix number 90446, recorded on 28th March 1965 during the Village Gate session!

These are really nasty completists, and you should avoid them at all cost. They usually dress themselves as pandas though, which makes them pretty easy to spot and positively identify and elude.

What hopes for the completists?

From it's very inception, MusicBrainz demonstrated its interest in helping completists making themselves useful for something.

Not only MusicBrainz provided them with a meaning in their wreck of lifes, but it also helped them resocializing using IRC therapy and psycho-moderations sessions.

And while socializing with other completists is not in itself a solution for their unfortunately uncurable disease, at least that keep them busy on something, and may prevent them to think about All the Things They Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Their Mother.

So, in the name of all the completists who went through it, I would like to say many thanks to the MusicBrainz foundation for this noble cause they are dedicated to!

Help the completists now! Donate to MusicBrainz!


  • I love this! Thanks for the enlightenment, i laughed out many times --Keschte Brilliant panda - I know a few people like this --Joan LOL, I sense a little panda autobiography there --teleGUISE Know a few people like this? I AM people like this! Truly excellent panda, just excellent. :)