Perfect Sound Forever

The Vinyl Anachronist

Part XXIII: Ms. Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips

Remember that Geritol commercial from a few years back, the one that pissed off all the feminists? Some father figure straight out of a 50s sitcom (you know the kind, middle-aged, yet still with preschool-aged children) waxes rhapsodic about the little woman. She cooks, she cleans, she rides him like a buckin' bronco every night. "My wife," he proclaims with a proud grin. "I think I'll keep her."

I had a moment like that a few weeks ago. I'd been looking around for a while for a decent storage system for my LPs. The previous apparatus, consisting of cheap, thin walnut-laminated boxes, did not survive the move across the country two years ago, and for the most part my LPs have just been sitting propped up vertically in stacks against the wall in a closet. Not an optimum situation, in other words, one that makes this vinyl lover hang his head in shame.

Well, LP storage systems just don't plague the local Tower Records like they used to. That old corner in the back is devoted to CD storage racks, many of which only hold 25 or 50 CD's. (It bothers me to think that this is adequate for the majority of people!) I checked out my usual vinylphile haunts, and there were LP racks to be found, but at a cost. One rather hefty steel LP rack was capable of storing 1000 LPs (perfect!), but it cost $1200. That's a $1.20 per album! Just for storage! I thought about making shelves myself, or even resorting to that old 70s bachelor stand-by of stacking wooden planks on cinderblocks, but I just never found the time nor the motivation.

My wife Cindy came to the rescue. First I have to tell you a little bit about her. She loves a bargain. Not Wal-Mart type bargains, but real, genuine funky thrift store kinds of bargains. Dresses-for-fifty-cents kind of bargains. I'm the kind of person who'll save up and spend $75 on a shirt, knowing it will probably last for years. Cindy will just buy 75 shirts for the same amount of money, knowing they will last for years, too.

One day I came home to a wonderful surprise. Cindy had found a big, beautiful cabinet for storing LP's. It was made of real, thick, sturdy wooden shelves. It could hold at least 2000 LPs. It fit comfortably into the closet in the same amount of space that my records took up sitting on the floor. And it cost us $10. That was "I Think I'll Keep Her" Moment #1. Moment #2 came a little while later that day after we loaded the LPs into the cabinet. Cindy stepped back and noted that all of our LPs filled only about half of the space inside. "Hmmm," she said, shaking her head. "We should fill this the rest of the way." Yes, I'm one lucky li'l Vinyl Anachronist.

I knew Cin would employ her usual tactics, namely volume volume VOLUME! This could be a bad thing... lots of flea-market finds, black discs that looked they'd been used for some parking-lot Frisbee tournaments. But she surprised me with how resourceful and lucky she was in the following days. First she hit the thrift stores and came home with the usual novelty finds. Doris Day. Harry Belafonte. Even a Lawrence Welk album which featured "Baby Elephant Walk." "Lawrence Welk?" I chided. "But it's 'Baby Elephant Walk'!" she explained. Most of these albums were the usual thrift-store disappointments, namely, snap-crackle-and-pop. But she found a rare RCA "Shaded Dog" of Rubinstein playing Chopin, an LP which might fetch $100 in mint condition. It was a tad less than mint, but still listenable. Our price? A buck.

Next, with her guidance, we hit several of the local used record stores, and we fared much better. At Rockaway Records in Los Angeles I found such sparkling finds as a mint copy of Plastic Ono Band for five dollars, and an orange-vinyl copy of a rare Boxtops bootleg for ten. Cindy filled in the holes in her collection with the usual crap from Depeche Mode, King, Morrissey, Ultravox, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. All her picks, she informed me, were "rare" and "things I've been looking for for years." Whatever.

But then we ventured into the karmic grand-daddy of all used record stores, a place where all the records are "mint" and "hard-to-find"...Atomic Records in Burbank. It isn't the biggest store I've seen, but it reminds me of that Stephen King novel Needful Things. Yes, they have EXACTLY what you've been looking for, whether it's an original pressing of Ike Quebec's Soul Samba, or every Stranglers album ever recorded, or a mint copy of Big Star's Sister Lovers, or a Parlophone pressing of Sgt. Pepper, or the Stooges' Funhouse, or Safe As Milk, or We're Only In It For The Money, or... or... or...

God, we spent a lot of money that day.

Finally, however, Cindy revealed her ultimate weapon in procuring vinyl from the unknowing masses. That's right... e-bay. She'd been playing around on e-bay for as long I had, but while I was spending my time looking for Luxman and Marantz receivers from the 70s, Cindy was adding some very impressive finds to our LP collection. Of course she was still operating in her I've-been-looking-for-that-for-years mode, finding LPs from bands I'd never heard of such as Fuzzbox (a rather bland '80's girl group which nevertheless impressed some of my record-collecting friends) and Secret Affair (not bad, a lot like The Jam).

It's when I started asking her to find things for me that the true power of e-bay unfolded before my eyes. First up was The Ramones' Rocket To Russia, a true and almost unforgivable hole in my collection. Cindy actually found an LP copy that was not only mint, but it was signed by Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy and Marky! And what was the current bid? Fifteen dollars. I had Cindy bid thirty. Did we get it? Sadly, we didn't, because we forgot about the closing time of the auction, and we were outbid by someone at the last minute who won this prize for $31.50. Oof. I did find and win another mint copy a week later for $15.

Since then I've been able to get a mint copy of The Flying Burrito Brothers' Guilded Palace Of Sin for $17, Roxy Music's Country Life for $10, and Devo's Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo! for a mere $3. In fact, since we discovered that our two little boys absolutely love Devo (which might have been fueled by the fact that Cindy is friends with Gerald Casale, the bass player), we now possess all their albums on vinyl for a fraction of the cost of new CD's. And of course we are enjoying the warm, smooth, expansive sound of LPs, rather than the bright, screechy, half-assed digital masterings. So there.

I know this sounds like a love poem to the missus, and it is to a certain extent. But my point, in an analog context, is that Cindy is quite a bit younger than me, a denizen of the Digital Age. Yet she has no problem in identifying the sonic superiority of LP's over CD's, and when confronted with the choice of buying something on either vinyl or compact disc, she goes for the LP. In fact, during our hunting and gathering, I noticed quite a few people in their twenties and even younger with stacks of LP's tucked underneath their arms. (I wonder what some of these young whippersnappers use for turntables these days!) Yes, folks, this means that vinyl has a future. It is readily available, and, talking to some of the shop owners and e-bay mavens, it is still a good business to be in.

So did we fill up that $10 LP rack? Not quite. Come to think of it, it doesn't really look like we made a dent in all that empty space. But Cindy is determined. Volume volume VOLUME! Now if she could just stumble onto a mint copy of Two Virgins at a garage sale for $5, then I'd really be impressed!

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