By 1985, I was financially able to start buying a few of my own records here and there. The radio wasn't really cutting it for me anymore. I was too curious about the big universe of the underground scene out there. Luckily my podunk Illinois town had not one, but THREE killer record stores. One of the greatest aspects of record stores during the '80s was the phenomenon of the cut-out bin. Most records have always had a point where they just don't sell anymore, so the label would eventually be stuck with a lot of bulky stock that would never go anywhere. So, the labels would dump their overstock for pennies on the dollar to a cut-out dealer, just to get rid of it all. What this meant was, you could go to any record store - underground or mainstream - and find all these cool, weird sealed LPs for a few bucks that nobody wanted. Nobody, except for me, of course. I remember going into a totally square, corporate chain store in 1989, and buying a Dils live record for a dollar, for example. Hilarious. They didn't know what it was, and certainly didn't care. It was junk that just came in the box from the cut-out distributor as far as the store was concerned. Those were the days!
|Trouser Press Guide: MEMORIZED|
Another store in my hometown featuring a wider scope of genres was the venerable Appletree Records. One might buy prog, jazz or mainstream rock records there in addition to the punk/new wave stuff. After the decline of 229-CLUB, I quickly installed myself at Appletree as the resident "young kid who knows too much about music". At one point I had typed up a flier featuring a list of records I was dying to hear which politely asked anyone who saw it to make me copies (featuring stuff like John Coltrane's "Ascension", 1/2 Japanese's "1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts", the Mars EP and other crazy shit I had read about). This sheet went straight up on the wall of Appletree Records, however I got no response. Ha ha ha. I was pretty desperate. There were a lot of records you would hear about and just couldn't find, no matter how hard you tried. Those were different times. My first Albert Ayler record (.99 cents!) came from that store as well as slabs by Material, Art Bears, Killing Joke, Lounge Lizards, Dead Kennedys, James Blood Ulmer, Flipper, Last Exit, Blurt, Shockabilly, Johnny Thunders, Pussy Galore and more. I would occasionally special order vinyl there, like the Antilles label stuff (Slits, "No New York", Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society). I remember how psyched I would get when some crazy record I was looking for wound up there by chance. I recall barely containing my excitement when a sealed copy of Ornette Coleman's "Body Meta" surfaced in their bins for $3.99. I was buying all kinds of straight retail stuff there too like Stooges and Captain Beefheart records, early Frank Zappa remaster cassettes on Rykodisc and not-so-hot contemporary releases on the Shimmy Disc and Caroline labels. Give me a break, okay? Back in 1988, you had to buy the new Live Skull record! There was not much else coming out that didn't suck! The store had a lot of weird imports and I now kick myself for not snatching up some of the choice items. I remember finding Essential Logic singles and stuff like that in there for a few bucks a piece, but you couldn't buy it all, especially not on my meager budget. At one point I blew a chance to work there because I was a bit too naive and honest when it came to the "morals and integrity" section of their application. Adolescent note to self: instead of telling the truth, tell your employer what they want to hear when you want to get the job. Check.
The third cornerstone was a bizarre local institution tagged Toad Hall, which was a three-level affair in a house run by a couple of old weirdos, one of which was long rumored to have had a sex-change operation. They sold comics, movie posters, books, porn mags, old board games, video tapes, records - any kind of superfluous collector garbage you wanted/needed. I originally started going there around '84 or so, looking for cheap copies of '60 Jack Kirby Marvel Comics, but eventually realized they had some cool records there also. When I was young, my parents were reticent to let me go in the place alone. It was a bit creepy. I would head there on Saturday afternoons by myself and scour their basement for jems, emptying unlabeled and unpriced boxes of vinyl and spinning whatever I found on their crappy listening station turntables. In '87, I was absolutely dying to hear more James Chance and one afternoon I just waltzed in there, and used copies of the first Contortions and James White and the Blacks records were just sitting there for four bucks each! The musty used record shelves at Toad Hall were where I got some serious back history research done. I was digging out battered old Roxy Music, Hawkwind, Hampton Grease Band, Black Pearl, Last Poets, MC5, Funkadelic, Godz, Blue Cheer, Pere Ubu, Massacre and Material records - you name it. Lester Bangs would have been proud. My serious 8-track collection started there too after finding some '65 Coltrane, King Crimson, Yoko Ono, Beefheart, Mothers of Invention and other cool stuff like that. The real motherlode came in 1988 when I was on the prowl for free jazz. One day a ton of new boxes sat on the front table of the shop. Like a magnet to steel, I was drawn towards them. The jerk who hung around the store acting like he worked there (you know the type), told me to move along and that there would be nothing interesting to me there. I said, "how do you know?" He just smirked. I began to dig through the crates and my eyeballs just about popped out of my skull. Here were hundreds of classic free jazz records, and I had the first dibs! I frantically grabbed a bunch of the gems and sheepishly went to the counter to ask how much I was going to get wallet-raped for them. The guy at the counter, looked them over, shrugged his shoulders and said "four bucks each". I almost passed out from relief. I walked out of there with a clean copy of Sonny Sharrock's BYG record "Monkey Pockie Boo", a sealed copy of Ornette's "Science Fiction", Don Cherry/Ed Blackwell's "Mu Part One" and Archie Shepp's "Fire Music" for less than 20 bucks. I would be back in that place week after week for years, plunking my chump change on the counter and stocking up on Pharoah Sanders, Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley, Sun Ra, Roswell Rudd, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Jazz Composers Orchestra and that sort of thing. At the time, their normal jazz stacks were full of '70s Miles Davis records too, so I was buying funky used copies of "On The Corner", "Get Up With It" and "Agharta" for a few bucks each. Back then, you couldn't even give those records away. Toad Hall was continually getting in some extremely obscure used items. I don't know how they got there, or who the hell from my town might have bought them the first time around! Two complete mystery records were L. Voag's "The Way Out" and "No Cowboys" by Prag-Vec. I bought both of these because they sounded interesting, but it would take years and years to figure out what they actually were and who they were by. There was very little access to this kind of information back then. Imagine liking a record a lot and not knowing who it was by! That used to actually happen. For years after I left town for college, I would continue to return sporadically to Toad Hall and root through every last nook and cranny looking for one last hidden nugget.
|My 1989 NMDS want list. None of these were in stock. EVER.|
I am glad I came to age in an era which didn't offer instant gratification. I learned how to seriously search for things and also how to truly savor them once they were found. In terms of recorded music in the Western world, these are bygone concepts. Culture is suffering from cracked-out short-attention deficit and it's hard to say if things will ever come back around. It is difficult to convey to younger people the feeling of what it was like to have to be so vigilant and intrepid to locate the music you really wanted to hear . . . the process isn't necessarily superior to how things work now, but it's what I know.