October 1, 2008

The Awakening

Coming across a rack of album frames at a Michael's Crafts store in late '06, I thought it might be cool to hang some old faves on the wall once I moved into the new apartment. I put a graphic together to see how some faves would look together; 3 became 5, and then 10. 

There are albums I've cherished over the years with horrible artwork like Tool's Undertow- excellent album, great inside-album art even, but uninteresting cover with no band identification. So I chose the slightly less favored Lateralus for its eye-catching holographic cover, despite its high price for being a double picture disc set.

It came down to being less about favorite albums specifically, and more a representation of my favorite artists. Off The Wall is a favorite album for 3 decades, but looking like a CBS last minute toss-together, it was a poor cover choice. Have we ever seen a worse photo of MJ? Well, actually yeah we have- any photo after 1987 or so. Considering the ghastly photos we've seen of him in most recent years with tattoo'd lips, sagging eyes, pieced-together nose and Kate Jackson wig, Off The Wall seems artistic now just by comparison.

Of all favorite albums and artists, the three most important choices were Off The Wall, Jeff Buckley's Grace, and Live's Distance To Here. These three were not just loved albums, they were soundtracks to some the heaviest times I'd experienced in life. Funny that THE heaviest two periods for me, more in recent years, have no soundtrack at all

A few of the choices I would have to find- like the impossible Distance To Here, only released as very limited audiophile vinyl in Europe. That's according to a collectors resource site only- I've not been able to locate even a single other reference of it on the net. I've not seen a copy listed any vinyl sites of or used. They do show the labels and promo sticker, which should be a bit of proof that it does exist.  (Since this post, I have seen a sealed copy sell on eBay.)

December 30, 2006 I put the above plan together. It didn't matter though, the frames were $10 each and I had to replace pretty much all the basics of a new place once I got the keys. Not to mention all my albums were still packed in boxes stored in a friends basement 500 miles away. With my truck needing a carburetor, they weren't being rescued any time soon.

With huge relief I settled into the apartment in late January. Two months later a heart-attack took my mother out, which was immediately followed by having to euthanize my 16 & 17 yr old very ill cats a week after I got back in May- my two best buds in the world. When mom passed, I was the only one that could make use of her excellent-condition van, so I drove it back from FL. My first ever 1000 mile drive alone- it took me 3 days and I LOVED it! I even smoked a pack of mom's cigarettes in her honor. Thanks Mom, R.I.P.

Having the van meant I was now able to go back East and rescue the rest of my crap from my friend's basement- including my records. In late 2002 I had moved from Columbus OH to NJ for a relationship. After 2 years I discovered it was going even worse than I had thought so I moved my stuff to a friend's basement in PA. I stayed with them for 5 months trying to decide what to do, eventually I returned to Columbus where I had some roots. Even though I had no choice at the time, I still can't believe I left my records behind like that. I also can't believe I was able to function enough to go get them so soon after ending my cats lives. I barely remember the trip now, and I remember trying to keep conversations about it to a sentence or two so as to not completely fall apart. Once I got home and unloaded the van, the rivers could freely flow. This was the first time I'd ever come home to complete emptiness. It was also the first time I poured vodka to get through something instead of playing music. Tears and vodka flowed steadily for many months!

Over a year later, when I came back from a 3rd stay in FL, I moved furniture around and decided to start getting the album frames. I went into the store planning to get 3 frames to start with, and found them to be 50% off. While I was there a guy approached me trying to sell a $90 gift/return card for $40 cash. At first I said no thanks and labeled him a scammer. After thinking about it and realizing I was going to spend over $40 there anyway, I caught up with him, got the card from him to verify at the register, and gave him the cash. I walked out with 10 album frames (and some plastic paint to do a custom shower curtain).

When I brought my records back from PA, I packed them randomly by hand-fulls into a bookcase built along a living room wall that provides a nice ledge just under the windows. It's 12.5" deep and couldn't be a more perfect place for albums. I didn't pay any real attention to them, I had switched to CDs almost two decades ago and other than the occasional grumbling over 5" CD booklets in place of 12" cover art, I never looked back. My albums had been boxed up and packed in closets since the early 90's. Now with frames ready to hang and a spot picked out, it was time to start actually flipping through them to find the ones I had in mind. Easiest way to do that is to first organize them.

All my albums were in protective poly sleeves, with typewriter-typed labels on those displaying various info likes dates, producers, important tracks. Overly anal, I know. I found dozens of albums were now in the wrong poly-sleeves, and the volume of albums noticeably smaller. By the time I'd sorted and corrected poly-sleeve mix-ups, some very important albums were missing like my original Off The Wall & Thriller, a few Heart albums (Bebe Le Strange, Dog & Butterfly, Greatest Hits/Live), some Prince & related (1999, Controversy, Purple Rain, Around The World, Parade, Sign O The Times, The Family, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Jill Jones, What Time Is It?, Ice Cream Castle), first 2 Melissa Etheridge albums (Brave And Crazy was my last new album in 1990), first 2 Human Drama albums, and God only knows what else that I haven't specifically looked for yet. All the Prince stuff was always kept together, how all the 12"s are here but the albums missing doesn't make sense. I've always been careful to not leave anything behind when I move- but in the 12 moves since they were boxed up, apparently a box or two was lost.

Ok so the logical thing to do here- hang the frames with temporary stand-ins and start looking for replacements (and the newer stuff) on eBay. While doing this, and while sorting through albums I haven't looked closely at for so many years- something happened. I've realized how much I MISS playing real albums. I've never been a background music fan. When I listen to music, I'm focused on IT. I don't open a new CD, slap it on and go on about some other business or project. When I buy a new CD, I won't even open it until I have the time to spend WITH it. To read liner notes and follow lyrics (or grumble about missing lyrics), I absorb the music and study the songs. I cut the promo sticker out and find the best spot for it in the case tray. If a there is a lack of decent packaging, I close my eyes and watch the 'movie' of what I'm hearing unfold in my mind. Even with your eyes closed, good music is as much a visual experience as it is an audible one.

For 18 or so years I've missed this 'new music' process being with a larger format- the full-sized album cover. I've missed bringing home a new album, slicing the seal, and getting that first rush of new wax smell. There is no such thing as new CD smell. At most you get new print stink from the CD booklet. It sucks. Squinting to see tiny notes and lyrics sucks.

I did the first wall with some temporary stand-ins over my desk. Later I moved it to the opposite wall where I also started hanging picture-disc 45's I had started to buy.

I had intended my first new album purchase since 1989 to be Jeff Buckley's Grace- my favorite album from my favorite artist- though long gone now. I found it had been released 3 times on vinyl, most recently this year in Europe. I had a gift card from Best Buy I planned to use for it, so I ordered it (only available online). The site said it was on back-order, and as I waited for them to get it back in stock amazon sold out of it. I ordered from Best Buy since it was expected to ship in 1-2 weeks, when it didn't I ordered it from a third-party amazon seller. I called to cancel the Best Buy back-order, and was told it will definitely be back in by the end of the month, so I kept the order on and was excited to be getting 2 copies. The amazon seller refunded my money saying it was actually out of stock (sorry!).

Then while watching eBay for a good copy of Off The Wall- used since the rarity of a still-sealed copy is apparently so high and I'd seen one sold the month before for 68 bucks, and spotted a new copy listed on amazon for $125- a sealed copy popped up with a Buy-It-Now price of $21 with free shipping! I jumped on that within a minute! Then Best Buy cancelled my Grace back-order and a few days later Off The Wall arrived.

Not only was Off The Wall the first record I bought almost 30 years earlier, but it was again my first new record in 18 years. To my amazement, it's so crisp and clean as if it were just from the factory, I can't bring myself to open it yet!

My next vinyl buys: Prince's 1999 still in its original shrink with promo sticker (picked that one up in person), and a pristine copy of Heart's Greatest Hits/Live from 1980. I've ordered Thriller 25th Anniversary double album from Best Buy and Grace (again) from an eBay seller. Still sealed copies of The Jacksons Live, Purple Rain & Debbie Harry's Koo Koo. So far 3 of these 5 have arrived but I have yet to pick them up (I have packages shipped to a friends house since our mail carrier leaves them sitting in the hallway for anyone to pick up).

I tried for Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium with promo sticker, up to $26 ($30 was my limit with shipping) it sold for $27. *doh!* I was after a beautiful copy of Donna Summer's Bad Girls, it sat all week at 10 bucks. At the last minute it shot up to $88. WTF!!!!

Before I start playing any of these beauties, I plan to update the turntable with a new cartridge and belt. It sat in the basement for a year along with the records. I wasn't happy with the Shure cartridge 18 years ago when I upgraded the one supplied with a new Technics turntable. I had misplaced the original for years. I don't trust either to play any cared-about record. Next check that comes in, I'll be spinning again, and I'll post about it.

Other stuff I'm watching for currently: sealed copies of Thriller (original), Eagles Live, Donna Summer's On The Radio (and decent Bad Girls), Fleetwood Mac Live, The Cure - Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me & Disintegration, Prince - Sign O' The Times & Controversy, Blondie- AutoAmerican and others, the missing Heart albums, of course I look everyday for Live's Distance To Here. New releases I plan to pick up are Meet Glenn Campbell, Pretenders double 10" Break Up The Concrete, the remastered Purple Rain coming in October...


Jeff said...

I do see "On the Radio" and "Bad Girls" pretty frequently. Last year I found a sealed copy of "On the Radio" at Half Price books for 1.98, with the original sticker + poster.

Getting a new cartridge (or even a new stylus) is always exciting. I try to upgrade every time I buy a new cartridge, which is about every 3 or 4 years. My current cartridge is a Grado (green series), which I love. It's amazing what a difference a cartridge can make!

I'm glad you chose to document your "return to vinyl"!

HiRize said...

$1.98 HOLY CRAP MAN!!! That's gotta be the find of the YEAR!

I'm not opening any sealed albums til I get the new cartridge, so I'm patiently waiting on the check that will pay for it. I'm looking at the Audio Technica 316EP, I've read in a few threads on vinyl asylum it works really great with my model TT.