Apparently vinyl is cool now. I never saw that coming.
I've been a collector (read: incurable addict) my whole life. I was always pretty comfortable with the nerdly implications of my obsession. Even if music is inherently cool, I spent a lot of time at record shows, and I can tell you that the proportion of middle-aged virgins living in mom's basement and wearing Rush t-shirts many sizes too small outnumbers all other demographics three to one.
So I wasn't really prepared -- nor do I think were a lot of other long time collectors -- for the sudden popularity that the vinyl revival has thrust upon our little A/V club.
It's like the football team just crashed our Star Trek convention.
Everybody has their own reasons for flocking this way, be it the sound, the physical permanency, or the mere fact that a record collection is much harder to misplace than an iPhone. Whatever the reason, our underworld is spinning to the surface at 33 revolutions per minute.
One year ago, in the midst of the vinyl revival, I opened a tiny little record store in the basement of a pet shop, a rent-free labor of love called Liquid Vinyl Underground. We're profitable in the same way that the Sex Pistols were musically competent; just enough to exist.
In a lot of ways, our store, or any used record store, is the perfect combination of museum and gift shop, a place where you can actually take home the artifacts. Maybe that experience is one reason that vinyl is culturally relevant again.
Maybe it's the tactile pleasure of yoinking a rare treasure.
Or maybe people just like to hang out here to be seen. Just kidding. You should see this place. We're basically a glorified dorm with a price gun.
Still, we're selling a hot commodity, which has given me first-row seats for vinyl's cultural comeback. Granted, I'm watching in the world's smallest theatre but as any concert-goer will tell you, that is often the most intimate way to catch a performance. With that in mind, here are some notes from the front of the house.
Baby Boomers Have Regrets
No shit, right?
But no, I don't mean the existential-self-help-guide regrets that Boomers are carrying into retirement. I mean that after a lifetime of having snotty know-it-all clerks look down their Woodstock-remembering noses at my Gen X buying choices, it's my turn to judge. Bet you wish you hadn't sold your albums during the digital upgrade fad of the 1990s.
Just kidding, Boomers. You're totally cool. You're the reason we used to score such great deals on discarded wax before the hipsters came and crashed our swap meet. You had no idea you were cashing in your soon-to-be appreciating treasures for CDs that, 15 years hence, skip like Max Headroom.
Fact is, there are precious few record pressing factories left in the world and nobody out there making new equipment. We can all burn CDs 'til our computers are blue in the face but vinyl has an inherent scarcity that simply makes it a sounder investment.
Thanks, Boomers. You're responsible for global climate change and Ronald Reagan but at least you gave us your Beatles records.
Nobody Wants Your Grandmother's Stank-Ass Lawrence Welk Records
I'm going to tell you what I told the last guy that came in here with his camphor-reeking stack of Andy Williams, Mitch Miller and Liza Minnelli Farts Your Favorite Christmas Songs into a Microphone.
Just because it's old doesn't mean it's worth money.
This happens once a week in the store and every microsecond on the Internet. People with a vague awareness of the vinyl revival think they're entitled to cash in for having the presence of mind not to clean out their attics for half a century. So they drag out these showtune and big band platters that are worth less than the antique milk crates containing them, and they flash a low-res picture that somehow manages to look like it smells bad, and they say $200 or best offer.
Or at least that's what this one guy did every other day for a full year. As a vinyl dealer, I have no choice but to stalk Craigslist for cleanout sales. And I usually don't engage in petty web squabbles, but I got so tired of seeing this dude's depressing collection in my daily alerts that after the 100th day, I sent him the following message:
I'm sorry but I feel I must tell you, since I see your posting everyday, that these records have no value. This collection could be purchased for $3 at goodwill. Unfortunately, many buyers don't even own a 78 player. Please desist from posting your entry every single day as it will not improve your chances of moving this collection. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Best of luck.
He responded promptly:
"Eat shit asshole
If you don't like it then don't look at it"
Hmmm. He sure was angry for a guy with so much Xavier Cugat. Anyway, that was September of 2013. At last check, his collection remains available if you're feeling tempted.
Point is, the vinyl revival does not entitle you to money for every moldy, piece-of-shit record you find buried under your Christmas decorations.
I'm Pretty Sure I'm Going to Be Murdered and Buried in Somebody's Basement
You have to visit some pretty questionable places to prospect record collections. I've been led down into many a dark and cavernous basement while repressing the thought that perhaps I'd just taken my last glimpse at sunlight. Then I figure, he's a music fan. How dangerous could he be? Then I remember that Charles Manson was kind of a big music fan and Dennis Wilson probably told himself the same thing.
On one buying expedition, I walked into a guy's basement out in the boonies and found my eyes immediately drawn to a deer head trophy, which, it happens, was wearing a wedding veil. Not sure if the guy married it before he murdered it or vice versa.
Either way, dude had awesome records. They belonged to his folks, who I assume were in a footlocker under his bed. We shared a tense negotiation, by which I mean I was frightened out of my wits and he had no idea what anything was or what it was worth. I wanted to get a good deal but I didn't want to make him angry, lest I should become his next disembodied bride.
I'll spare you the suspense and tell you that I wasn't murdered. Not only that, but we came to an agreement and I scored a diamond of a collection. But if I ever do suddenly disappear off the face of the Earth, check the Craigslist vinyl listings for my killer.
It's So Hard To Say Goodbye
I can't tell you how many times a customer has walked out the door with a record and broken my heart. I have a sizeable personal collection. You'd have to in order to emotionally divorce yourself from your store's merchandise. But sometimes, there's still that twinge of seller's remorse.
So I price my favorite things just a little bit too high, hide them behind Meatloaf records and wave a sad farewell to them when somebody digs them out. I'll bag up an album and say, "well, that's the last time I'll ever see you again."
Yes, I talk to them. Don't judge me.
It hurts a little bit every time I let a customer take something I'd rather have. But that's the name of the game. The important thing is that it gets a good home.
That's the Whole Point
It really is. The point is to make other people happy in the same way that so many record stores have done for me; to deliver the old fashioned experience of dusty-fingered crate-digging; to provide a space for Salon-styled open dialogue of the geekiest order; to watch people chuckle at the choice garbage in our dollar bin; to see them thrill at the discovery of something long sought and finally unearthed.
It's easy to forget that the music business is supposed to bring joy to people. Ordinary human beings have been priced out of the best concert seats. Talent-search reality shows have diluted the industry's product. Most rock stars are utterly unromantic about the alleged good old days. The cost, the enormity, the hype, the cultural hollowness; these things can be such a bummer that the true motive escapes us. But more than anything else, here in the basement of our little shop where immortal recordings can be had at a rate of $4 apiece and the conversation is free, it is easy to remember exactly what it's all about.