Tom Hamling, Unleashed

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In the fall of 1999, while writing for the now defunct Ammirati Puris and Lintas, a prophetic email came across my screen.

It was addressed to "New York - All Staff."

As a rabid fan of the inter-office email (Dirty Kitchen!, Alarm Not Set This Weekend!, No Hot Water on Tuesday!), I'm upset with myself for somehow losing or erasing this one. If memory serves, it kinda looked something like this:

To: New York – All Staff
From: Production Department
Nov 17, 1999 4:32 PM
Attention Staff –

In an effort to valiantly charge into the new millennium, we're updating our entire, in-house music library. We're going from vinyl records and cassette tapes to compact discs (CDs). Needless to say, this is a huge but necessary undertaking that better prepares us for the upcoming digital age.

This said, we have a huge inventory of records and tapes that we need to get rid of by the end of the year. If you're interested in taking home a piece of the past, come down to the southwest corner of the 39th Floor sometime after 5:00 PM tonight.

Some Old Person About To Get Fired

At 5:05 PM, I owned Bruce Willis'—The Return of Bruno. At 5:13 PM, I owned Ethel Merman—The Ethel Merman Disco Album. At 7:49 PM, I owned Shaquille O'Neal—I'm Outstanding. On the subway home that night, I knew I was addicted. Since then, I've scoured the Internet and cleared out about every 99¢ bin in N.Y., Los Angeles, Nashville, London and Hong Kong. I feel like I've done an okay job of emptying out the world's record stores but there's work to be done. Sometimes I feel like Dr. Richard Kimble in search of the one-armed man. Except my one-armed man is the inaudible shriek of Jennifer Love Hewitt.

There's no question the music on these albums is ridiculous. But the true humor lies in the unseen. I mean, what kind of back room discussion does it take to convince the cast of Webster to make an album about the dangers of molestation? Can you imagine the sound engineer in Burt Reynolds' recording session? Did that guy have to pretend to enjoy the noises coming from that sound booth? At some point, did he have to give Burt a nodding "thumbs up" sign? And I guess that's what my collection is all about. It's not a study in pop culture. Or kitsch. Or really even music. It's a study in the consecration of fame. A look at the insatiable celebrity ego.

To date, I own about 120 celebrity albums. I never intended to write a book but eventually just for fun, I wrote a review on every of them. A project that eventually took me down the publishing path. When I compiled 120 that I felt were in a good place, I sent them off to Mark Batty Publisher in New York. They gave a quick answer and the result is Celebrity Vinyl—a 128-page coffee table book that satirically mocks the celebrities, music and graphic design of almost every album in my collection.

The book came out in June and a large portion of the proceeds is being donated to 826LA—a non-profit organization in Venice, California that helps kids with their creative writing skills.
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