If You Were in The World’s Greatest Record Store, and You Had Enough Money for One Record, and You Didn’t Have ANY of the Records You Have Now, Which One Would You Buy? (June 29th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I apologize for that mouthful of a title, but what else was I going to call this? Today, I’m listening to the record I bought when I was virtually in the situation it describes.

I was 19 going on 20, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, and I’d scraped up enough money to road-trip with three friends to New Orleans to see the Rolling Stones at the Superdome. I had gas money, food money if somebody would only feed me ONE meal, beer money if the beer was very cheap, I had my ticket in hand already–and I had a ten spot to spare. For incidentals.

Up to that point, I’d shopped in my hometown record store (Ken’s Records, in Carthage, Missouri), an equally small store in Joplin, Missouri that really, really catered to Elvis Costello fans, a few mall outlets (cut-out heaven!), and two shops in Fayetteville, a kind of headshop-cum-bootleg emporium called Record Exchange and a decent-sized (I thought) store called White Dog. By the point of the New Orleans trip, I owned maybe 50 records, eight-tracks (yes–can you imagine listening to Van Morrison’s Into the Music on one of those), and cassettes, all of ’em housed in my dorm room. Imagine dealing with a record collection in college today! I’m sure a few folks do–but with much less reason, and with CDs dead, I wonder how many of today’s students can shell out $29.99 for a 180-gram vinyl copy of Dookie? Looking back, I’d call the gems of my collection–the ones I thought were gems–Public Image’s Second Edition, Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta, 1969 Velvet Underground Live (with grooves already worn and my name stamped on the label!) and Fenton Robinson’s Loan Me a Dime. Because I thought the artists were obscure, I assumed to records were hard to get, and that White Dog carried them because they were an untoppably cool store.

I knew little little about New Orleans at that point other than an unrealistic fantasy of the French Quarter, a sports nerd’s familiarity with the Saints and the Jazz, and Fess, whose above album had been listed in a year-end poll and which I’d bought strictly on the merits of his strange name and the provocative album title. There was no Internet, so I didn’t even know Mr. Roy Byrd was from New Orleans until I read the album credits. Getting my bills and coins together and doing my best to budget, I figured that, given all the other things we’d be doing, a ten-dollar bill, folded into a little square and hidden in a special crease of my wallet, would be all I’d need if we even found a record store that had good records.

About 11 hours later, the four of us were wandering on the south end of the Quarter, down by Jackson Square, and shuffled into an impressively two-storied record store called Tower Records (this is my memory at work with regard to the geography). I had damn-near memorized the old orange first edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide–I may have known a few things about New Orleans from it–especially all the five-star record covers I knew to look for if I was lucky, and definitely the great albums that, at that difficult time in record fiend history, were out of print, among them most of the Velvet Underground’s, Stooges’, MC5’s, and Dolls’ studio releases. We talked about those all the time. I was so certain I wouldn’t see any of them that they were way off my radar–honestly, I can’t remember what I was looking for. I do remember being stunned, and paralyzed, bu the sheer volume of the store’s inventory.

Within ten minutes–and, by the way, we didn’t have all the time in the world–I’d already spotted both of the Dolls’ Mercury albums and Dr. John’s Gris Gris. I know I didn’t see any Velvets albums or I would have gotten one of those–maybe I didn’t have time to get to the “V”s–but I dimly recall staring into Ig’s mug on the cover of The Stooges. We had places to go and things to do–we’d soon see Keith and Ronnie duck into doorway on Royal, and we could drink legally, which we would, of course, at Pat O’Brien’s–and the dudes hollered at me to hurry up and make a decision. Also, I had to pee so badly I was in exquisite and excruciating pain. It all just figured.

Panicked, I flipped through a last random row of records, barely scoping the titles and tearing my cuticles, when I landed on this one:

The cover looked great, I was for damn sure a fan of the Killer already, I knew his history and “live in 1964” sounded like a good bet, and–I had to fucking go. Out of all the great records in the most amazing store I have even been in to this day, I impulsively scoped and grabbed that one without the barest calculation, fished out that tenner and hit the banquettes.

Perhaps I do not need to tell you that Jerry Lee Lewis Live at Star Club, Hamburg, Germany 1964 is only barely arguably the greatest live rock and roll album ever recorded. The Killer is in absolutely furious form, totally in command, so on fire he’s audibly amazed at his own mastery (now think about that for a second), roaring through his hits and other folks’ so as to put them in deep, dark relief–has anyone ever cut Little Richard, Elvis, and Hank Williams on one record?–and captured in phenomenally rich and clear fidelity for its vintage. It was so damn good to me I’d write a paper about its virtues the next semester (my only straight A out of a run of B-plusses and A-minuses–Dr. Bob Henigan was tough!), and here I am 36 years later, rocking out to it on about “8” and still in possession of my original copy, as well as two separate CD editions. It is that good.

If I were able to carry everything I know now–the memory of everything I’ve ever listened to as I’ve sat agog, and my mental files on the, oh, 5-6 things I’ve still not been able to find–back to the moment before I chose this record, and happened to find myself divested of the 10,000 or so I currently own, I would buy this one again. No hesitation.

Which brings me to the title question for the reader. Feel free to comment to this post with your answer, because I’d really like to know it and, especially, the story behind it. One thing I’m fairly sure of: it won’t feature the artist chanting his own name along with the crowd, then stopping to shout at them, “Alright–alright already!”

 

Destabilized Collector’s Blues (May 18th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I’ve finally been rocked by the streaming revolution. In multiple senses of that main verb.

I’d just looked at a list of new rekkids to be released on this particular Friday. I’ve been reluctantly enjoying the heck out of Apple Music, which I’m now subscribing to, and realized that, hey, I could kick back and sample fresh tracks for a few hours. I was honestly pretty excited, and a decent day it was, nicely summed up by these examples:

So I’m listening to all of this very provocative and promising music and thinking to myself, “OK, what am I gonna buy? What digital, what vinyl, what CD?” I’m starting to drool–shopping is easy and there’s much to be bought–when I realize, I mean really realize in my 10,000-plus-units-in-every-medium-in-my-house record collector’s soul, that I don’t have to buy any of them. This may seem like a “duh” moment, but I buy for many reasons. Creators need to be paid. I like to hold albums, study their artwork, and read their liner notes. I take pride in having what my friends need but don’t have. I like to save on data when I’m out of wifi range. I’m a born curator and I love libraries, so I’m building my own. CDs and vinyl sound better. What if the web collapses? What will I leave my heirs (What heirs, asks the Greek chorus)?

But seriously. What do I need more stuff for? I began to think back across the past month, and sat bolt upright: hey, I don’t have the new Willie album, the new Sons of Kemet, the new Bettye LaVette–yet I am still a functioning human being. Normally, I’d already have those. Have have have have. My head was spinning. Really it was. I don’t buy anything voluntarily but books, booze, and toons, pretty much, and that’s been my practice for, oh, 38 years!

What has it all been for?

I’m not panicking. I know there are multiple other answers to that question than a resonating “NAUGHT!” In fact, later, Nicole, who has always encouraged my accumulation and even occasionally tried to prevent me from selling records, suggested, “Hey, I love records! Let’s just get the stuff that’s epic?” Yes, but I have a touch lower bar for “epic” than my beloved does–I’m sure next month’s new Joe McPhee will meet my definition, but I’m not sure she’s familiar with The Poughkeepsie Gypsy’s work. Also, am I cheating artists? What about my vow to pay cash for every Swamp Dogg record that comes out the chute? And didn’t I just sell 500 CDs…to make room for more?

Perhaps, in life and record collecting, the questions are more important than the answers. I’ll keep you posted. I wonder if the Wussy LP that’s on the way will qualify, but I can always check…Apple Music.

Hot takes on the above?

Bombino: every househod needs a Bombino album. Like the above, they’re all good. Straight-up Agadez-style desert blues, no impure funny business–aside from some skankin’.

Parquet Courts: I hate these guys because they’re too cute (musically and formally) by half, but I love them because they have the particular music and forms that I happen to be weak for down cold. BUT first half of this one has emotional fire, too, and thus is my favorite music of theirs ever.

Courtney Barnett: Opens with a weird, slow, kinda whiny one, but recovers with a vengeance. Not as catchy as last time, but more grown.

MC Paul Barman: In your face from jump, he’s got the rhymes as per usual—plus Questlove, DOOM, and Masta Ace.

Angelika Niescier: The lady can blow, and she pretty much must wail, with the true genius of the drums Tyshawn Sorey clattering and hissing behind her on his kit.

Note: above are very hot takes—one listen while cramming other things into my living