A lot of my musical journey with vinyl the last few years has been spent pouring over small, dingy, sometimes smelly bins of old records hoping to find the one thing I hoped for that day. Early on that job was easy. The less you have, the more you can find. So what happens when you start getting more of what you were looking for?
Easy. Boredom at the tiny record shops. I love small local shops and the people who both own and frequent them. The truth, however, is that at some point your local shop will run out of people who can come sell their old stuff and that old stuff will be limited from the start based on the area where you live. In my case, I see a literal ton of old gospel and country-western albums; neither of which really interest me too much. So then you are just waiting on that one old dude with the killer collection to finally decide it’s time to downsize or for his kids to sell his stuff off. While that sounds sad, that is the state of affairs for the local record shop scene.
Beyond record shops, at least locally speaking, there is the ever-loving-good-god-help-us-all flea markets. The odds are good that your flea market is exactly like mine. Mine has 2-3 shops that are randomly open, closed, opening late, closing early, or whatever chaos has ensued that day. We have the “junk” record shop. Finding anything there is a true treat because you swam through an ocean of beat up and abused records to find it. Secondly there are the newbie sellers who got in while the vinyl craze is at its height. They have some decent stuff, usually specialized to what the owners prefer, and they are pricey because they just are. Lastly, there is the guy selling records, comics, porn, and anything else who has been there for a century and was wearing a MAGA hat 20 years ago…somehow. Overall, I have learned to skip the fleas.
That leaves me with 2 options: online (Amazon, eBay, Discogs) and visiting shops when I travel. While I do purchase new stuff from Amazon, I tend to always check for special versions of new albums from the artists themselves. That never lets me down. eBay is an online flea market where you can’t inspect the good first. Discogs can be even worse, but has the best selection.
My absolute favorite is to visit local shops when I travel. In the last month I visited 5 different shops in Minneapolis, MN and Asheville, NC. In Minneapolis I found an out of print The National album and am elated to add it to my collection. But the catch of the last 5 years was this last weekend in Asheville. But allow me to preface this with a story…
About 3 years ago I went to a record show (a damned mess if you ask me for the most part) and I found 2 whales. I found an early pressing of Def Leppard’s Hysteria. I’d been looking for this since I started collecting, so I overpaid. I had a budget that day and was intent on sticking to it, so when I found my 2nd whale of the day, Wilco – Kicking Television (Live in Chicago), I was without the $80 required to purchase it. An immense sadness enveloped my collecting at that moment and only deepened when the copy of Hysteria I purchased sounded horribly used and abused. To put this in terms you can understand, Wilco’s Kicking Television is, in my humble opinion, the greatest live album in the world. I adore it. I failed myself and my collection that day.
Fast forward to 3 days ago and I am looking at Eric Clapton’s 5LP Crossroads. It’s a great collection if you like Clapton and I have a soft spot in my heart for him because of an album called 24 Nights. As I handed it back to the friendly record store clerk (at Harvest Records btw…I suggest you visit), my wife sidled me and was about to ask if they had “that Wilco thing I wanted” and I immediately zoned in on it. Kicking Television was in my grasp. Visual inspection passed. It’s been used, but not beat up and listening to it at this moment, it sounds pretty great with a few pops here and there. I digress. I bought it. I got it for $10 cheaper than 3 years ago and I had the budget. I always had the budget for it after that sad, sad day.
There are other “ones” that I have in the list I carry in my brain. There are things I will never see or never afford. Those are the things that keep me visiting the dinky little mom and pop shops, combing Amazon and artist sites for re-issues and checking every local shop in every town I visit.
This is my love letter to collecting vinyl. This is probably also where I admit my addiction.