This is my contribution to the commemoration of Vinyl Record Day.
Make sure to check out the other posts (some coming this weekend) at the following locations:
I come to you today as part of a blogswarm (“Quick Ma! To the root cellar!!”) spurred on by the observation of Vinyl Record Day.
There are those – astute individuals one and all – who would have you believe that every day around here is in fact “vinyl record day” (hundreds of posts to date and every single one ripped from vinyl), but it would be dishonorable to quibble with so noble an undertaking, and to do so would prevent me from relating yet another chapter in the ever fascinating Larry Grogan Story (coming to screens worldwide in 2009).
As I’ve recounted in varying degrees of thoroughness, my record/music collecting days started when I was about 11 years old when I dropped a couple of bucks – and these were hard to come by, 1973 I don’t work and barely get an allowance dollars, so allow for a considerable amount of inflation – for my very first record, that being a copy of the VeeJay LP ‘Introducing the Beatles’.
This is not that story.
However, that little sliver of an anecdote is necessary as an opening parentheses of sorts on the story that follows (not to mention my entire musical life…). It is notable as the beginning of my record obsession, which by the time I was in high school had thundered into my life like a buffalo stampede and was – believe it or not – running a very close second to my other mid-teens obsession, that of course being naked women.
The love of music, instilled in me from my earliest days by a father who was a both a musician and educator, had become just about all-consuming, with time not spent listening to or collecting music devoted to fantasizing about rock stardom of some sort. I wouldn’t actually get my hands on a set of drums until age 16, but when I did, an obvious lack of skill didn’t stand in the way of my joining a “band” as soon as humanly possible.
Now the mid-teen years are also the time – at least in my day – when the wolf cubs are initially booted from the den to at least try to fend for themselves. In my house, this ritual was observed by a command to go forth into the world and seek some form of employment.
Naturally I was thrilled….
However, seek I did (however feebly) and almost in spite of myself I was able to find work at the local dirt-hole/flea market (known as ‘The Auction’) where I was signed over into indentured servitude to a couple of cantankerous senior citizen “electronics dealers” names Stu and Rose who would awake in the middle of the night, pack their van to the ceiling with CB radios, under-the-dash tape decks, whip antennas and boom boxes(1), and travel from Brooklyn to Englishtown NJ. This is where they would lay in wait for me to come trudging out of the dawn (roughly a mile and a half walk from my house) in my jeans and flannel, where upon my arrival I would unload this 20th century gypsy caravan and set up the “store” (as it were). It was there, in front of two already unstable wooden tables, now loaded with hundreds of pounds of electronics, that I would spend the next eight hours standing in either blazing heat, or freezing wind (the weather never took any other form at the Auction) and make sure that no one was stealing.
This was of course a thrill. The kind of job that only comes to teenage slackjaws, maybe eight, nine times in any given year, and it was mine…ALL MINE!!!
There was no lunch break.
This was taken care of by the bag of cold chicken and catsup sandwiches (and a tuna and egg salad combo that I developed quite a liking for, but my wife will not allow in the house) that my employers fed me all day long.
As hard as it is to believe, I used to get paid for all of this.
At the end of the day, Stu – much to the chagrin of his angry wife, who gave him the stink eye as he pulled a huge wad of cash from his pocket – would peel off three of the dustiest, wrinkliest, tattered five dollar bills and place them reluctantly into my quivering hand.
As I said, there was no lunch break, but I was usually able to squeeze in a fifteen minute break, during which I would run to the other end of the flea market, through the clouds of dust, fried onions and coffee smell, and seek out my dealer, Willy.
Willy appeared – as much from 100 yards away as close up – to have leapt from the cover of Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ and into a pile made up of equal parts dogshit, marijuana and one-dollar bills (3). He was the very embodiment of the pejorative “dirty hippie”(4).
Every weekend Willy would step into the Philadelphia night (he had one of the thickest Philly accents I’d ever heard), pile his wife, children and his dog, a black german shepherd named Satan (yes, Satan, who was actually a pretty nice dog) into his busted old van, along with approximately 400,000 LPs, and head off to Englishtown.
It was in the fifty or so boxes of LPs that Willy would lay out every weekend that my record collection was born. In the few minutes I had to dig, I would manage to squeeze as many one and two dollar albums out of my fifteen bucks as possible, enough so that when I got home, and scraped the accumulated filth from my aching body, I would have lots of new music to make me forget how I had just slaved for eight hours and had no cash in my pocket to show for it.
This scenario should of course come as no surprise to any record fiend that came of age when vinyl was still the coin of the realm. If records are your fix, and you’re jonesing, you must dig, even if it means that’s all you get for your sweat.
I worked for the electronics people for over a year, when an acquaintance of mine from school – an affluent pot head, even more feckless than myself (if you can believe that) with whom I had jammed once or twice (5) – who also happened to work for Willy now and again, said that the man himself was looking for another helper.
Imagine my excitement.
It was like being handed the keys to the kingdom. Getting up at the crack of dawn on Saturday would no longer be a chore. I would spring from bed and skip through the woods to the flea market with a smile on my face. I’d get to spend the whole day running my greedy fingers over mountains of vinyl, hand-picking the finest, ripest LPs which would then find a home in my collection, all at what I was sure would be a generous discount.
It was Willy who sold me my first Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix and Cream LPs (among many others).
This was going to be great!!!
I managed to get myself terminated from my executive position in the electronics trade by “accidentally” sleeping in one Saturday. My keepers cut my chain and cast me out into the flea market, where I was immediately assured by the nearby vendors that I had been regularly beaten like a rented mule, the old folks were out of their mind to let me go, and I would be better off wherever I landed.
Naturally I allowed this smoke to be blown directly up my ass, blissfully unaware of what awaited me a few aisles over.
When I arrived at Willy’s stand, he pulled me in the back and began to reveal to me, like an onion peeled away one layer at a time, the fresh hell I was stepping into.
First, every single record I sold – no exceptions – had to be written (artist, title, label and price) in his busted up spiral notebook, so that he could keep a close eye on his “inventory”, refreshing it when necessary with new stock. This of course at a stand where no one walked away with less than 10 records.
Second, while Willy was off jawing with his fellow dirtballs, I was left under the jaundiced (literally and figuratively) eye of his lovely wife, who’s name lo these many years later is hidden behind a huge, unmovable mental block. While she watched me like a hawk, her children made themselves scarce. They never really had the opportunity to annoy me because they ran free like a couple of hyenas, all day long.
Third, I was informed that grazing through the stock was frowned upon, an edict that I (naturally) had to be reminded of all day long.
All of this, and for the exact same fifteen dollars that I had been getting at my old job.
Needless to say, I didn’t last long working for WillyCo.
After about a month of this tomfoolery – too much for even an unambitious, slackadaisical want-wit like myself – I tendered my resignation, and worked for the very last time in my life as a seller of records.
As I wandered away from the stand, with Satan barking at me and the very essence of the flea market caking in my nostrils, I wondered why and where it had all gone so very wrong.
Despite what you hear about teenagers having convinced themselves of their own indestructibility, I was sure that this was the end of the line for me. What would I do for a job (nothing for a while as it turns out) and more importantly, what would I do for records (also nothing, as I had no source of income)?
Fortunately, by that time I had accumulated quite a heap of albums, enough to keep me busy until the summer, when – my lack of ambition still not remedied – I would move on to a series of even crappier jobs (6).
My vinyl obsession, as ought to be obvious to anyone that reads this blog on the reg, survived this brush with greatness, and went on to heights I never could have imagined during all of those dusty fifteen dollar days.
I have no idea what became of my flea market employers.
The electronics people have in all likelihood gone on to the great haggle-fest in the sky.
Is he still slinging records in the great out-of-doors, or at some point did he find himself a storefront somewhere (where he was surely crushed under the corporate boot heel of a Wal-Mart or somesuch), or, like so many of his brethren did he find himself a lucrative home on the interwebs?
In the words of the great Tootsie Pop commercial of old, ‘The world may never know’.
NOTE: All names have been changed, except my own, and that of Satan the dog.
1 Boom boxes were at the time a brand new, and highly coveted product, running for the most part well over 100USD. In my entire tenure at the electronics stand, the only item I can ever remember being stolen was a JVC boom box.
2 These were after all the mid-70’s where fifteen dollars could feed a family of 12 for a month, and/or be used to purchase a brand new Cadillac…
3 Though, in retrospect, a closer match would be Ron Moody’s Fagin, from the movie ‘Oliver!’
4 His way with a buck would later convince me that Willy only looked like a hippy, being possessed of the cold, flinty heart of a much hairier Ebenezer Scrooge
5 Who introduced me to the music of the Good Rats. Imagine – if you will – a garage full of untalented suburban teenagers attempting to replicate ‘Taking It to Detroit’. I realize that this means next to nothing to anyone not from the New York area, but it’s worth mentioning for the few who might know what I’m talking about.
6 Anyone out there ever picked corn for a living?…heh…I thought not.