Saturday, October 29, 2011

Come Play With Us, Dewey (For Ever and Ever and Ever) - Fox Trot

Vision, the First:  Back in the late 1980s and just out of high school, I began collecting New Order import singles.  I had them all, except for the "Subculture" remix, which I'd never even seen.

One morning as I laid in bed, unable to sleep, unwilling to get up, I saw it in my head:  "Subculture," with its plain black sleeve and die-cut label opening ... available now at Cut Corner records.

I took a quick shower and drove to the used record store.  And there, sure enough, was a copy of "Subculture," in its plain black sleeve with the die-cut label hole.  Cha-ching, why yes, I would like a bag with that, thank you.

At the time, I could have given the situation more thought, but was just happy to finally complete my New Order singles collection.  It was certainly odd, but surely just a coincidence.

Vision, the Second:  Several years later, after a fruitless morning spent at garage sales, I went to see my mother.  At this point in my collecting life, New Order singles had given way to 78s from the acoustic period.  I preferred dance music and fox trots over the ever-common Victor Red Seals and Columbia Symphony Series, but I would take anything from the era, provided it was affordable and in good shape.

As I laid by the pool, basting in oil and sweat, I couldn't shake the feeling I had missed something.  A hook snagged in my mind and grew stronger, pulled harder.

I felt as though a physical rope were wrapped around my neck, and were pulling--nay, yanking me back into the house.

I went inside and checked the newspaper again.  Same poor crop of garage sale ads:  Baby clothes and gently-used electronics and wicker furnishings.  Nothing drool-worthy.  I went a step further, to the 'for sale' section, and my eyes bugged out:  FOR SALE:  FIFTY 78 RECORDS, CARUSO, SOME DANCE, $30 FOR ALL.  CALL EDITH.

I called Edith and asked if the records were still for sale.  Yes, Edith said, and gave me her address.

I and Mom drove out to Edith's house, in the historic district.  Edith greeted us and took us to a back room.  The records had belonged to her mother, she said.  Unfortunately, her mother was going to a nursing home, and the records had been found in her bedroom closet, in a hat box.  She didn't think most of them had been played.

"Back in those days, it was the thing to just have records, not really to play them," Edith said.

Here were the records.  Yep, the top disc in the healthy, sleeved stack was a Victor Red Seal, Caruso doing "Love Is Mine."  Nothing my neighbors would hear on my Victrola with annoying regularity, but nice to look at, fun to hold.  And in great shape.

The next record, however, was most definitely NOT a Caruso, and most definitely NOT a red Victor.

It was a brown-shellac Vocalion, by Ben Selvin, and a fox trot.  And in a Vocalion sleeve.  At that time, I had more fingers than I did Vocalions, which were my shellac Grail.

Past that was another Vocalion.  And another.  And here was a brown-shellac Perfect, as shiny and new as the day it rolled off the showroom floor.  I had ached for Perfect 78s since the first time I'd seen them many years hence, untouchable and ridiculously expensive at some fool's garage sale.  Fox trot after happy, merry fox trot.  Holy jumped-up jimminey Christmas, I'd hit the mother lode!!

Vocalions and Perfects and Regals and Banners.  As I flipped through the records I felt like Shelly Duval as she went through Jack Nicholson's pages, only instead of creeped-out, I was elated.  And instead of creepy pages, they were records.

Nothing in the pile was especially price guide-worthy, but they were all in correct sleeves, they were all in great shape, and they were soon going to be MINE!

While on the drive home, with the box of 78s belted against the back seat, something occurred to me--had that psychic rope not pulled me into the house and to the newspaper ads, I would have missed this collection.  Ordinarily I never checked the for sale ads.  How could I have known these records were there?  How was it possible?

Surely, just a coincidence.  But after five or six more improbable discoveries, I couldn't fool myself.  I had the shine.  

This was not just any shine.  I couldn't hold mental conversations with my grandmother.  I couldn't scribble backwards portents in lipstick for mirror viewing.  And if I foresaw a river of blood splashing down from an elevator door at the Time-Life office where I worked, it was more wishful thinking than second sight.

But if there were records calling my name, I could find them. For this was the Record-Shine.

I'm not sure when this power came along.  Thinking back, as a nerdy kid I was always able to fish a pile of 45s out from under a stack of clothing, or to find the one 78 hidden in a box of Mantovani albums.  It wasn't something I considered, just something I did.  The old man said I had an uncanny knack for finding ways to spend his money at the garage sales we visited.

I surely wasn't going to question it.  In the coming years I saw Grand Prize Victors, Brunswicks, red-shellac Grey Gulls;  I saw cardboard Hit Of the Weeks, and Standards and Harmonys with the larger center holes, and sapphire Pathes which played from the center outward.  Sometimes storage albums, occasionally record players.  It didn't seem to work for anything else, or in any other capacity.  Funny.

How do I have this power?  Was I born with it?  Is there a little boy who lives in my mouth, who knows where these records are, and points me towards them like a compass?  Dunno.

In those pre-Ebay days it seemed that my record acquisitions came in waves.  I always knew if a weekend jaunt to an antique mall was going to be fruitless.  I could drive to every junk store in three states and not find anything, if my shine wasn't right.  When it was right, however, cha-ching!

Instead of driving myself into a frenzy to find elusive records, it seemed best to go about my normal life and allow my shine to pop up whenever records were ripe for the plucking.

For years I thought I was the only one, but turns out others have this power, as well.  "Only mostly, they don't know it, or don't believe it."

Maybe its the ghosts of former record collectors, guiding us to the score.  Whatever the reason, however we have this power, SDROCER, baby!!