Writer Eric Spitznagel can relate. In a spasm of mild mid-life crisis, he dedicated himself to reclaiming a slice of his own youth: the essential pieces of his long-lost record collection, a library of classic and not-so-classic albums squandered through the years in exchange for the ephemeral pleasures of food and gas money. But his quest also came with an obsessive twist. Simple replacements would not do, only the same physical artifacts. So he launched himself upriver into the wilderness of used vinyl with a Colonel Kurtz-ian zeal and the obliging, somewhat bewildered, occasionally wavering consent of his wife.
The task is obviously pointless and futile. Finding (and confirming the authenticity of) your 10th-grade copy of Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet--when your search zone spans most of the Midwest--is the equivalent of finding a needle in a cornfield. In his introduction to Spitznagel's memoir of the project, Old Records Never Die, musician Jeff Tweedy writes: “The thing he did, which you’re going to read about in the following pages, I don’t really understand it. I don’t what to spoil this for you, but seriously, something is wrong with this guy.”
But this, or a version of this, happened to me. In my early 20s, I'd sold many of my books, having grown sick of heaving heavy boxes during my frequent moves. I can't say that I missed them--most were relics of my childhood, and I was on to bigger and better things, or so I thought. Then, more than 15 years later, I ran into a coworker in the lobby: "I think I bought one of your old books this weekend." She described a mass market edition of 1984, its cover's negative spaces blacked in with a ballpoint pen (a trademark of mine, accomplished in the negative spaces of class), a flipbook-animation or two drawn in its margins, and a scrawled proto-signature (mine) disfiguring the first page. (Having read 1984 in the 8th grade, I worried about the subject matter of these cartoons, but see below: somewhat disturbing, but a huge relief considering the possibilities.)
Several months later, it happened again. This time, my past returned to me in the form of a gift: A blank journal crafted from the covers of a hardcover copy of Huckleberry Finn, the same distinctive edition that my mother had given me when I was about 11 years old. She had purchased a used copy bearing an inscription that I remembered clearly, because I irrationally dislike writing of any kind in my books. When I opened the journal, there it was: the same looping script commemorating the gift from grandmother to grandson.
Two miracles! Needless to say, these artifacts now rank high among my favorite possessions. So when I saw Spitznagel's book, I was all-in, not only because I understood the heavy magic carried by such objects, but because I knew that success was entirely possible. Spitznagel's funny and thoughtful account, with its thrills-of-the-hunt through the backrooms of used vinyl dealers and under swap meet tables manned (usually literally) by like-minded manics, doesn't disappoint.
Here Spitznagel lists the 10 records he wants back most, including Slippery When Wet. Old Records Never Die is a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month in Humor & Entertainment.
I gave away most of my vinyl records several decades ago, which was clearly a horrible idea. Let's not rub it in, okay? I'm aware that mistakes were made. Prior to unloading it, my collection included around 2,000 albums, spanning everything from Midwestern punk that changed my DNA to cringe-worthy pop that I secretly loved to music I just pretended to appreciate because I thought it made me look cool. I shouldn't have let it go, but these things happen. If you came of age in the 1990s, you knew two things to be absolutely true: One, with the end of communism, the U.S. had beaten its last global nemesis. And two, CDs were the future.
When I set out to find my vinyl orphans—a misadventure you can read all about in my new memoir, Old Records Never Die—I knew I'd never find all of them. That would've been insane, and impractical. But after flipping through countless boxes—in record stores, flea markets, garage sales, and basements across five states, until my hands bled and became callused lobster claws—I would have been happy to track down just ten of the records I'd lost.
You might also like:
- Headbangers: They're Just Like Us
- Wax On: An Ode to Record Collecting
- Hell Hath Some Fury: 10 Minutes with a Punk Rock Icon
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