When I first meet Andrew Winistorfer, he’s crouched in the corner of Union South’s Badger Market, pulling Choco Tacos from cardboard boxes and stocking them in the freezer that lines the store’s back wall. To the hundreds of people who pass through the doors of Badger Market every day, he looks like just another bumbling college student employed by the University of Wisconsin. But none of those bumbling students have minds that work like Winistorfer’s.
When Winistorfer gets off work at 3 p.m. after eight hours of managing the Badger Market and the Essentials gift shop in Memorial Union, he heads home and begins writing about music. Whenever he isn’t making sure Choco Tacos are fully stocked, he’s writing articles for Vice Magazine’s music channel Noisey, with titles like “Country USA Is a ‘Paradise’ and You Can’t See It Because You’re a Fucking Hipster;” “I Taught My Dad How to Turn Up at a Waka Flocka Flame Concert in Wisconsin;” and “A Portrait of Kanye West Through One-Star Reviews of His Albums We Found on Amazon.”
But these writing projects make up a small portion of his usual daily output of literary brilliance. Since August 2012, Winistorfer has run a popular Tumblr called “Vinyl in Alphabetical,” in which the writer goes through his vinyl collection alphabetically, writing short reviews or anecdotes for each. In the 23 months since Vinyl in Alphabetical began, Winistorfer (and various guest writers) have written about 447 records. That’s 19 records a month.
The concept itself isn’t entirely novel. There are myriad Tumblrs floating in the void of the Internet devoted to music reviews and even reviews of personal record collections. But rarely can such blogs lay claim to brilliant writing. Winistorfer begins his review of N.E.R.D.’s 2001 album In Search of… with this: “There’s a moment, somewhere in the split second between the first ‘dum bum’ of the synths of ‘Lapdance,’ where I can remember what it was like to be 16. I remember the feeling of being independent, but feeling utterly helpless.”
Winistorfer’s Vinyl in Alphabetical isn’t just a collection of album reviews; it’s an intimate portrait of a man’s life inseparable from the music that provides its soundtrack.
Popular music ingrained itself in Winistorfer’s life from an early age. His first complete sentence was a John Cougar Mellencamp lyric. At age five, he inherited his parent’s combination turntable/cassette player, which allow him to listen to tapes of Kriss Kross’ Totally Krossed Out and the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” soundtrack. Then his dad gave him The Beatles 1967-70 on vinyl. Little Winistorfer put on “Across the Universe” and his life was never the same.
“I remember being, ‘This is it. This is really great,’” Winistorfer said. The turntable was broken a month after getting it, but his love for popular music had been ignited.
This love for music didn’t translate into journalism until high school. Winistorfer began writing movie reviews for his high school’s newspaper in his hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He got into an argument with the editor of the paper, not knowing his work was actually going to be edited.
“The editors were like, ‘If you don’t like the paper start your own.’ And I was an asshole 17-year-old, so I did,” Winistorfer said.
So he created an oppositional paper in the form of a Blogspot that he kept active into his college years at UW-Oshkosh. It became clear that journalism was his calling and he walked into the office of the Advance-Titan, UW-Oshkosh’s student newspaper. Before he knew it, he was writing at least one record review a week, sometimes three or four, in addition to profiling local Oshkosh bands, “which were as dry and boring as you can imagine.”
This led to a position as associate editor at Prefix, where Winistorfer blogged about music for 30-plus hours a week. He made a small living, but grew tired of content farming all day, which he considers to be the “lowest of the totem pole” in music journalism. He watched his Prefix peers move on to publications like The Village Voice, Pitchfork and Spin. He took part in the hiring of Drew Millard and Eric Sundermann, who are now both editors at Noisey. Winistorfer, however, had no intentions of leaving the Midwest for a career in music journalism in New York City.
“I don’t really want to live on the East Coast,” Winistorfer said. ”I like the Midwest. I think there’s stuff happening here that’s arguably more interesting — like Country USA — and way more fascinating than Governors Ball. I’m way more interested in that culture. The sociological aspects of the Midwest I find way more interesting. I’m Midwest through and through.”
Soon he grew tired of his work for Prefix, which remained a relatively obscure publication throughout his time there.
“I hated music blogging. Like, no one is reading this. They’re just seeing the headline on Twitter and that’s it,” Winistorfer said. So when he was offered a full-time managerial position at Target, he quit and began freelancing for Noisey. It was around this time he came up for the idea of Vinyl in Alphabetical.
“It started as these things do: I was drunk during a weekend,” he said.
That weekend in summer 2012, he began thinking about how he listened to records, which were kept in crates in his living room. He alphabetized them and began tweeting his progress, starting with artists that began with the letter A. Eric Sundermann told Winistorfer it sounded like a good idea for a Tumblr, and Winistorfer took on the challenge.
“It was a thought experiment: Can I think of something to write for my entire record collection? What can I do about a Michael Jackson record I got from my dad?” Winistorfer said. Ultimately, the blog became a creative outlet, a way of expressing his thoughts on the music he listens to for hours and hours every day of his life — a lifestyle that would be impossible without his flexible job at the Badger Market.
“I have time to do the writing I want to do,” he said. “Writing is the most pure thing I have in my life.”