Thursday 22 March 2012

the travelling blues: vinyl records from toronto and san francisco

Believe it or not, this most recent writing hiatus has a good reason behind it. I've been a-travelling, followed by a-moping—because any seasoned traveller knows that an overseas jaunt is not complete without at least 10 days of moping about upon one's return home.

Faced with a particularly vicious strain of moping about, I tried everything to place me back on the path to sprightliness. But even a bottle of gin and a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (undoubtedly the cheeriest novel to come out of the 21st century thus far) could not do the trick.

Enter: Internet wisdom, which informed me that "looking at photos and souvenirs" from one's trip is a sure-fire recipe for recovery. Luckily for me, one of my favourite past-times happens to be following trite advice whilst grinning like a goose.

Sadly, I was lacking in the souvenir department. Having made the critical error of passing up the chance to visit the gift shop at Old Faithful (choosing instead, like an idiot, to read up on the geological features of the Yellowstone Upper Geyser Basin), I vowed not to make that mistake again—only to blow my souvenir budget on a private segway tour of San Francisco, which included several hefty donations to grown men pretending to be statues.

However... I did come back from North America with a bunch of LPs. Could these be souvenirs? I certainly hope not, because that would make me (gasp!) a souvenir buyer, which is only slightly less shameful than a collector of novelty spoons.

Let's give this a shot. Some stories.

Sandinista! by the Clash features at top right. This (triple!) album is not a big deal. All it does is throw rock, punk, reggae, dub, rap, gospel, calypso, jazz, and folk on one album, thus anticipating a hefty chunk of musical trends from 1980—present. I bought it on a quiet, gray weekday morning, which gave the girl working the (fantastic) record store plenty of time to explain to me why the mayor of Toronto is, indeed, an asshole. I reserve my judgment on this fellow, but remain impressed that he is able to govern a major global city while at the same time starring as an inept, crooked deputy sheriff on HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

At bottom left is David Bowie's Pinups—a cover album! Says D.Bowie on the album sleeve: "these songs are among my favourites from the '64-'67 period of London." It's warmly refreshing to hear an artist simply have fun on an album; it's a treat for the listener that shines through far too rarely. Bowie also tips his hat to live venues and friends that are, sadly, no more.

Across from that is Neil Young's second solo album, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. See that price tag? Zoom in. Enhance. It's $3.50. Now, residents of Melbourne will be aware that local record prices are inflated to proportions that would make a 17th century Dutch tulip trader blush. So you can imagine my excitement when I came across this gem in a thrift store in San Francisco's Mission District.

While I was positively sure I was committing theft of some sort by even looking at that price tag, all I actually stole was nervous glances around the store. Was an employee poised to strike with marker pen and label to increase the price ten-fold? Was the fellow next to me (clad in black-framed glasses, beret, woodsman's shirt and impractical scarf) about to use the oldest trick in the hipster's armory? For the uninformed, this is where the hipster goads the unsuspecting victim into a wrestling match (where the victim goes easy on the four-eyes)—only for the glasses to be removed, revealing that perfect 20/20 vision existed all along! The hipster then uses the resulting surprise and confusion to escape with the vinyl.

Luckily, none of these scenarios eventuated, and I had a companion present to talk me out of hiding the LP in the "modern classical" section for safe-keeping. Instead, she came up with an altogether better solution—marching straight to the ca$h register.

At that same thrift store, I picked up the two on the right (Crowded House's self-titled debut, and Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mining) for the head-smackingly low price of $1.50 each. Good no-nonsense Australiana. But let's rewind to a day earlier.

When most people arrive in a new city, they usually carry a map of some sort. I'm no exception—although I like to indulge in a little "customisation" of my maps. And so it was that I landed in San Francisco with a google maps printout on which I had scrawled five record stores, three mexican restaurants, a bakery, a coffee shop, and not much else.

I lied to promised my friend as we walked to the first of these stores that my record store explorations would in no way slow down our path through the city. As we walked, I talked about the three albums that remain on my used vinyl "must-find" list: the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, the Clash's London Calling, and the Kinks' Arthur.

Now, I could order these online, but half the fun is in the hunt. And I have seen these before whilst hunting, albeit vandalised with price tags of $40+ dollars. As you now know, I will play no part in inflating vinyl bubbles.

So as we entered the first store on my list, I ambled mindlessly over to the "K" section, and... bam. Pulled out Arthur. For $12. And so there it is at top left: the 1969 album that made one reviewer gush that "the Beatles have a lot of catching up to do."

Finally, at centre is the Dandy Warhols' Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia. While I usually shy away from new vinyl, this sits in my (personal) top five albums of all time, and so had to be picked up. This one actually carries memories of an earlier trip—in tune with Bowie lamenting the passing of old, great venues on Pinups, I was lucky to catch the Dandies at one of the last ever gigs at the late, great London Astoria, roughly a month before the venue was torn town to become (sigh) a train station.

God, so that talking-about-souvenirs nonsense actually works...


  1. This post has a typo in it. Most frustrating for the reader.

  2. How confusing. When you say "this post", do you refer to my post, or your post?

    If it is the latter, I can only assume that your comment (see, now I could have used "this" there, but did not) is meant to challenge the reader to find the error within — but of course, as your comment contains no typo, the reader's frustration actually comes from the reader trying to find what is not there. Very deep.

    If, however, you meant the former, you're not to be completely faulted; this instead is a flaw within the English language.

    A speaker of modern English really only has the words "this" or "that" available to indicate what thing they are referring to (and to distinguish that thing from other things), "this" being something close to the speaker, "that" being something far from the speaker.

    However, did you know that Armenian (for example) contains three such indicators? The first refers to something close to the speaker, the second refers to something close to the addressee, and the third refers to something far from both!

    Armenian would have solved the problem of the perilous middle ground upon which you tread, by allowing you to use the second indicator to refer to my post.

    So then! Typo corrected; many thanks.

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