Speaker by Various Artists


Music: The Vinyl Frontier

by Grant McDougall

My name is Grant and I am a music geek. If you want me to bang on about Robert Wyatt solo albums, Velvet Underground bootlegs, which is the best album by The Fall or what Straitjacket Fits were like live, feel free to buy me a beer or a coffee, push the start button and wave a white flag when you want me to stop.

Apart from the actual music, a big part, rightly or wrongly, of being a music geek is having a music collection: umpteen hundred vinyl LPs and singles, boxes and piles of CDs, a few boxes of back copies of MOJO, Uncut, The Wire and Real Groove going to seed, a bookcase with Lester Bangs anthologies, John Coltrane biographies, a few of those “1000 Great Albums...” type books and Simon Reynolds’ majestic Rip It Up And Start Again in it. Not to mention the limitless amount of music available on the internet.

Apart from the never-ending thrill of the actual music, part of the appeal is just knowing it’s there, looking at it and being able to say to yourself “Fuck that’s a great collection”.

Having frequented record shops for decades, I gotta say that High Fidelity, both the novel and the rom-com pretty much rings true: my standard line whenever it’s mentioned is “Yes, great documentary…” And while music obviously appeals to both sexes, record-collecting and geekery is pretty much a male domain, more fool us.

I assume it’s genetic: guys go for music crap, women go for shoes / dresses / handbags and the like. To illustrate this, I was in excellent Sydney record shop Red Eye four years go almost to the day when I bumped into a Dunedin musician and his wife. “We go around the shoe shops in the morning and the record shops in the afternoon” he said. We all laughed, knowingly. Also, next time you’re at a school or church fair, you’ll note it’s mostly guys buying books, and women buying clothes.

Which is why last week I did something that would horrify any other music geek. Completely unexpectedly and unnecessarily I coldly, ruthlessly and dispassionately put up for sale over 350 of my records, about 1/3rd of my collection. I’ve been buying music since 1980, when as a 12-year-old I treated myself to a copy of Kiss’ Unmasked. The last time I had a clear-out was in 1995 when I sold a mere 20 or so.

The funny thing is, I don’t actual need the money – but I just wanted a few things. These things, unsurprisingly, are to do with music as well. Let me explain…

In short, I took up guitar a year ago and I want to get a few effects pedals and an electric guitar. Also, I want to go up to Wellington to a mate’s 50th, so given that I’m not working full-time at present I couldn’t just rely on a weekly salary and budget for them. So, I figured, why not sell a few records ?

I enquired at Radio One about having a stall at the OUSA market day. I mentioned I’d be selling records and breakfast host and programme director Aaron Hawkins’ ears pricked up like a police dog’s sensing a prowler. “Really ?  - how many ? what sort of stuff? ” he asked, clearly curious. “Not sure, maybe about 50. I’ll know when I get home. I’ll get in touch tomorrow”.

I got home and started the cull – and that was when things got really interesting. I was like the great West Indies’ batsman Brian Lara at the crease: once I got going, I couldn’t stop. I started flicking through the large wooden record case and found myself going “Nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh…” and chucking record after record on to the floor.

That was something I never thought I’d do. Never, ever. Not in a million years. Uh-uh, never, never, ever. But I did and it simply didn’t bother me at all. Even more interestingly for myself, it simply didn’t bother me. I felt no loss, sadness or pity. It was just an exercise, a cull.

Before I knew it, there was over 360 on the floor. About a third were albums I’ve since got on CD as well, another third albums and bands I’d simply stopped listening to and being excited by, another third albums I’d bought once and never listened to again. 25 years ago I thought Buzzcocks’ debut Another Music In A Different Kitchen was the greatest album ever made. 25 years later, it was in the sale pile.

I didn’t cull any of the NZ stuff and next to nothing from the krautrock and jazz sections. Anything else had been fair game.

I messaged Aaron on Facebook: “I’ve got 360 albums for sale. I noticed you were wearing a t-shirt of Television’s live album The Blow-Up yesterday. I can do you that for $40.” He replied “Bloody hell, this is going to be expensive”.

I  couldn’t be stuffed with the hassle of putting listing after listing on Trade Me or lugging them up to Too Tone. The only rule I made for myself was that I had to sell them at a competitive price, but cheaper than what they’d be in Too Tone, Penny Lane, Slow Boat or Real Groovy. I wasn’t going to be emotional about what anyone did or didn’t buy. This was a purely utilitarian exercise. Prices ranged from $10 for “bread and butter” albums, $20, $25, $30 for notable indie / cult albums, $40 for fairly rare or doubles.

Aaron came around the next Sunday and left with 26 albums. That alone had exceeded my target figure financially, anything from now on was just going to be gravy. But almost as important as the sale was that they were going to a good home. This was something crucial – they had to now belong to someone who’d appreciate the music, not simply see them as commercial items and flog them on Trade Me a week later. Anyone who listens to Radio One’s breakfast show knows he appreciates music; I chucked him in a copy of Slint’s debut, Tweez, for free.

The next day I bumped into the poet David Howard, who has just been selected as the 2013 Burns Fellow at Otago. He bought eight albums of me and in doing so made a salient point: “If you haven’t listened to it in the past five or 10 years, you’re not going to listen to it in the next five or 10 years”. I know he’ll give them a good home, too – hell, he might even write a poem about it.

I took three boxes of about 60 records each down to the market day on Thursday last week. One box of punk, indie, etc, one of classic rock, singer-songwriters and such, one of bits ‘n’ pieces – soundtracks, country, etc, all $10 each. I’d contemplated taking some of the pricier stuff, but I couldn’t be stuffed haggling.

I sold about 40, mostly from the punk / indie box. Chris Heazlewood (King Loser, etc) had a nosey through them. He didn’t buy any himself, but he very kindly tipped off some young chap about which Buzzcocks and Echo & the Bunnymen albums to buy. Cheers, Chris.

Every now and again I’d get asked for discount, but the one time I gave any was when it wasn’t even asked for. A young woman had spotted four mid-‘80s British indie pop albums, one each by hopelessly obscure even then bands like The Jasmine Minks, the June Brides and the less-obscure Orange Juice. She just about exploded with joy when she saw them. Her name was Sylvie and she was a part-timer at Radio One. Clearly, they were going to go to a very, very, good home, so I gave them to her for $30.

Last Friday morning I bumped into my friend Jeff Ruston, who’s been a scenester since the ‘70s and told him about how I’d put my records up for sale. He was impressed and said he’s been selling some of his on Trade Me, too. “Your mother will probably say you’re finally growing up” he laughed. Two days later my Mum rang from her home in Queensland as I was walking along George St and I told her I’d sold some records. “Good god, that must’ve been like selling your babies” she remarked. “Mmm, I suppose so” I replied before changing the subject and asking her what’d been happening on the Sunshine Coast lately.

That evening two friends came around and bought about 10 albums each. One of them, Bill, has worked in Scribes, Dunedin’s leading second-hand bookshop, for several years and completely understands the nuances of collecting and selling. He’d recently been as dispassionate about selling some books as I had been with records.

“Sometimes, if you want to buy this (holding up left hand), you’ve got to sell that (holds up right hand)”.

The other friend, Tim, was as pleased as Sylvie was at seeing the British indie stuff when he saw Galaxie 500’s On Fire album, which again reiterated to me the importance of them going to a good home.

On Sunday a student that’d bought a few of the $10 albums at the market day popped around and splashed out $50 on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland double LP – the rare, nude girls cover issue to be exact. It’s going to a good home.

As of today I’ve sold just over 100 of the 360 that were for sale and I have no regrets whatsoever. There’s a nice Fender Strat copy electric guitar now in my name and if any of you Aucklanders see Paul Crowther around, do tell him that Hot Cake 1208/30 really does work a bloody treat, please. Plus, more importantly, I’ll get to go to a mate’s 50th in Wellington, which’ll be heaps of fun.

The friends I’ve already sold stuff to already might buy one or two more things, but otherwise I’ve shut up shop. Whether I’d sold 10, 50, 100 or 200 records is unimportant, it’s served its purpose and I don’t need to sell the remaining 200. I’m just not interested in being greedy about it.

As I’ve said to a lot of people recently, I’ll love music until I fall into the ground, but these days there are certain aspects of it that I can hold at arm’s length. I suppose one’s music collection is one of those aspects.

Incidentally, apart from music my other main interest is long-distance running. I’ve run several marathons over the years, so if you want anyone to prattle on about running over the Sydney harbour bridge or around Lake Rotorua, you know who to ask…

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