01 April 2014

Object Lesson I

I have to hold my tongue a lot. Or I try to, but I'm often sure I don't do it nearly as much as I should. I'm sure people who know me these days can predict my responses to certain things, can rely one show me to forego saying anything positive; but instead deferring to some other restaurant meal, or some other band, or selection of goods on offer or whatever -- to something better I'd eaten or cooked or seen/heard before, elsewhere. Ever the jaded city sophisticate, having lived in a heart of civilization for some two decades, and who therefore has a broader frame of reference/experience. Not that I scoff or snort dismissively or shrug it off "meh"-ingly. Most often, I just pass on saying anything that remotely sounds like any sort of a judgment call and defer to prior experiences. Which is probably even more annoying than being firmly, brusquely opinionated.*

I only mention this because this past weekend I went to a record show this past weekend; one held in my new locale. Vendors from a number of places, one have come from as far away as Detroit. His selection was much like that of the other sellers -- lots of stuff from the last days of vinyl, meaning: crates full of shitty rock and r&b from the 1980s. Dross and dregs. Not that it mattered much to me. I have enough records, thank you. Enough so, that many of them are still boxed up in storage while my wife and I inhabit a small short-lease place as settle into the new environ. So I'm not in the market in the market to compulsively buy LPs like I used to. It wasn't even my idea to go to the event, it was – for reasons I still don't fully understand – my wife's. If anything, it was a good excuse to stroll around the historic district of downtown now that some spring weather has finally begun to teasingly set in. One seller starts a conversation with me over the merits of the Temptations' Psychedelic Shack. He's a nice enough guy, and it turns out he runs a music shop in a neighboring town. From him I learn that Simeon of Silver Apples currently lives in the neighboring town in question.

Anyway: The other reason it didn’t matter was because the prices – for records both crap or worthy – were absurd. On which you can maybe blame the increasing scarcity of the format in question, as well as showroom mark-up. I walked away with a copy of the item above, which was in very good condition and priced at about 10% its usual.

Which brings me back to my starting point: If I scoff at the pricing, it's mainly because of nearly two decades of experience spent thumbing through in used record shops on the south side of Chicago. Seeing things I was used to see going for a few dollars now being slapped with asking prices ranging from $20-40. Or at least tempted to scoff, but more often snickered. Because yeah, record shops on the southside were good for certain things. You could go downtown to the Jazz Record Mart where you’d see an old copy of Grachan Moncur III’s Some Other Stuff, a copy on which the prior owner’s offspring had totally gone to town on the front cover with red and purple crayons, but which would still (apparently) command an asking price of $50. Or you could stick to the southside, where you could stood the chance of walking out with a copy of something like the below for ten dollars or less...

Each of proved to quite good, and – I later discovered – quite covetously/sought-after rare, fetching high prices elsewhere. And then there's the sort of thing what could be grabbed for a dollar or two-three a pop. A couple of random examples...

But maybe those days are over. Case in point, an ironic sidenote: I recently found out that one of my old southside neighborhood record-digging spots has since gone of business. No big surprise, actually. But I learned of this while reading that the store’s remaining inventory had been inland by about eight blocks, becoming part of the library of one of the various reclamational “community centers” set up by artist Theaster Gates.**

See also: Archeology, ancient cultures.

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* e.g.: Did I ever tell you bout the times I saw Godspeed! You Black Emperor twice in their early years, and it totally overwhelmed me to the point the point I got all emo and almost wept. Or the time I saw Lightning Bolt (ever heard of them?) play an unannounced performance in some shabby industrial loft in Baltimore to a small clique of about 30 hipsters? Now that was intense(!). Or about how real Jamaican beans&rice or injera bread should be. Speaking of which, there was this Ethiopian restaurant on the northside where Phil Cohran provided the musical accompaniment on Friday night, and blahblah, blahblah, blahblah...ugh, somebody just shoot my ass, already.

**  Admittedly, there was a spillover social aspect to the southside bin-trawling experience, as well. The mixed crowd. LIke beat-digging brothers going through the bins of 45s, slapping discs onto a miniature Fisher-Price type) that they had belted to their hip, checking grooves through a set of headphones. Or some older dudes that were having a serious conversation over the "cheapo" bins you might be thumbing through, one solemnly discoursing about how the Isleys hadn't been given a fair shake in decades, because "certain people" couldn't put the span of the artist's career in historical perspective, let alone think about the fact that they weren't writing pitching their assessment to the artist's core audience. The comment about "certain people" being followed with the parenthetical aside of "--present company excluded, I'm sure --"; tossed in with the assumption that I might be eavesdropping, which I half- was, or at least enough that I almost fell over laughing at the finesse of the etiquette.


davidly said...

I was fortunate enough to see a lot of these guys live back when a band I was in was doing Mondays at Kahil El'Zabar's short-lived club Rituals. Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Rituals Trio and David Murray, Malachi Favors, along with both Lester and Joseph Bowie, Harrison Bankhead and a whole lot of other names I can't remember. Yeah, and those Chicago record shops were something special. Some good ones on the north side, too.

Robin Tomens said...

In the years pre-PC Jazz vinyl prices have fluctuated dramatically in London during my time here. Early-80s, many bargains to be had because 'no-one liked Jazz'. Then the 'Jazz Revival' (you can guess what happened to those prices). Now, with so much available as a file, high pricing on stalls or in shops only mirrors similar desperate lunacy on sites like Amazon. Only rich fetishists will oblige. Great Art Ensemble album, by the way.

Greyhoos said...

@ davidly: Like a schmuck, I didn't go to nearly enough of those shows. But one of the last ones I attended was a good one -- Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, Bankhead, Jeff Parker, and with Josh Abrams switching out between bass and guimbri. Thing was held in the small performance space set up by a magazine I was writing for, so it was a pretty intimate, non-club setting. T'was great.

@ Robin: I think record shows might be the worst place for pricing, certainly worse than most shops. I had more than one vendor tell me something like"I'm heading back Memphis after this, and I really don't want to have to haul a lot of this shit with me. So I'm ready to make deals."

And I suppose I should have qualified the above by adding that I also dropped a fair amount of $$ at Dusty Groove on the near-northside, where there's always cheap bootleg vinyl reprints aplenty to be had.

And, yeah -- nothing like having a few year's jump on the next revival trend. I had that luck with being ahead of the post-punk craze, when you could find LPs of that ilk (Rip Rig & Panic, 23 Skidoo, A Certain Ratio, etc.) for about a buck or two each in most shops. Nobody wanted that stuff at the time.

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