When I was a kid my dad would drag me to baseball card conventions, shows, mall tours, etc. to see heroes of yore harkening back to their golden years and make a killing writing their name over and over again. It was fun for a while, but soon I became bored of the scene, a never ending flow of burnouts trying to make a killing off an inundated, dying industry.
Sunday, while visiting with friends in LA, I went to the monthly Buena Park Record Show. I enjoyed an unseemly collection of burnouts, hipsters, misanthropes, and those hell-bent on things of a nefarious nature. I’m pretty sure I fit into each one of those categories. Every month nearly 100 record stores and those with large collections set up to sell their wares to a public hungry for more vinyl than at almost any time in recent history.
I took the time to go through almost every booth just to tell you what to expect when you are attending one of these fairs. First, the admission was cheap at three dollars, which pretty much just pays for the room and minimal advertisement. The room is set up so that each seller is given their own folding table and most put signage up behind to advertise their store, website, or rare records from their personal collection.
My main objective, as it almost always is, was to find records at a price that justified not waiting until I got home to buy them at a local record store in San Francisco. Like The Island of Misfit Toys, I search for the neglected records, the ones that were once considered great, but someone decided to write their name on the back cover or didn’t treat the record as they should. While I like and seek out bootlegs, the Buena Park record fair expressly prohibits the sale of them, so there were less hipsters than one would expect. I was one of the few with untamed facial hair.
What was sold mainly was an amalgam of rock, jazz, and classical. Classical is huge as is an odd easy listening contingent that searches for artists such as: Montovani, Jack Jones, and Rosemary Clooney. In fact, I overheard a conversation between a man and his wife, “Hey honey, look they got a Rosemary Clooney album with ‘Mambo Italiano’.” To which the wife replied, “Wow, they have Rosie?” as if her and Mrs. Clooney attended finishing school together.
Now, I’m as big a fan of ole Jack Jones’ “Impossible Dream” as the next guy, but when I saw it going for three to five dollars I was astounded that something my local record store practically gives away would command such a price. Yet, people bought them and the law of supply and demand reigns supreme in this setting.
What I did escape with was an understanding that if it’s not in one of the bargain bins, every price is negotiable. There was one seller who selling everything for $2.50 and another who had three records for $2. I peered into the latter, but after a few boxes was dismayed that there was nothing but El De Barge and bad Chaka Khan albums. However, the $2.50 bin was filled with some remarkable treasures. Here are some the albums that I made off with like a bandit holding up the Wells Fargo stagecoach in Western times: U2’s War, The Rolling Stones’ Got Live if You Want It, REM’s Reckoning, and Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual.
You’ll notice a propensity to purchase albums from the ’80s and the reason is that was when my musical frame of reference was formed. I am of the MTV generation, the one where they played videos, and so when I see an album such as She’s So Unusual at a great price, in great condition, I pounce. It’s such a severely underrated album, with at least three classic songs and a few others that could have been. I later spent $15 on Led Zeppelin IV, Magical Mystery Tour, and Kink Kronikles.
The albums I really wanted, old Smiths’ albums, early Dylan albums, R.E.M. Green or Murmur, were way overpriced or not available. In fact, that’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine to see the Smiths so overvalued in the secondary market. I love the Smiths, Morrissey, and Johnny Marr’s brand of sad bastard music spoke to me the first time I heard a single note, but why are they so much more valuable than say Echo and the Bunnymen or Depeche Mode? It’s confounding.
I digress…the record fair was a raging success and even though I saw more than one patron getting excited over the prospect of owning a Roy Clark record for a mere ten dollars, I also saw some serious collectors and the excitement people feel over vinyl again is amazing. The people who go out of their way to seek out vinyl—to find that glorious sound of needle on record—are the people I’m simply mad for. Those are the people that get it, that understand the way music should be heard, and those are the people that I encountered on Sunday.