Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Annals of Excess

Rocky got flamed recently on an audio forum for calling $100,000+ turntables obscene. Take a look at one (the Clearaudio Statement pictured on the left) and decide for yourself.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thrift Store Stories (cont'd)

When I walk into a thrift store, I’m hit by a sense of self-consciousness and social anxiety. I usually drop by during my lunch hour. So I tend to be better dressed in my work clothes than the other patrons. Most people who shop at thrift stores do so out of economic necessity. Then there are folks who are interested in picking up vintage pieces for thrifty prices. I count myself in this group. Who else would be buying $8 Dylan records?

I’ve never felt more self-conscious than the time I visited the Beunas Vidas Thrift Store on a Friday. Every Friday, Buenas Vidas distributes free loaves of bread in the back room, where furniture and other large items are kept. I was back there one day checking out a manual typewriter. There was a steady stream of people, mostly ragged-looking men, picking up bread while I fiddled with the typewriter, checking out its keys and stuff. Here I was thinking of buying a totally useless thing because it was kind of cool, surrounded by people who lacked the most essential thing in life. The contraposition made me feel a little guilty of being on the fortunate side. I attribute this to a nagging liberalism. I ended up buying the typewriter. There are many good reasons for shopping at thrifts, chief among them is the money goes to a charity and the purchased item doesn’t go to a landfill. Sometimes, though, reason can’t overcome self-consciousness and an in-grained sense of guilt.

Thrift Store Stories (Recent Acquisitions 3-22-10)

In my recent round of visiting local thrift stores, I’ve picked up amateur paintings, prints, hand-made pottery, vintage postcards, clocks and the like. I’ve pretty much avoided looking at records, because it’s usually a dreary affair having to flip through a dusty pile of records only to encounter countless albums by Streisand, Jim Nabors, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Mitch Miller. The time it takes to go through all the trashy records to find a decent one usually isn’t worth it. There are stories of thrift stores allowing record dealers to go through donated records before putting them on the floor. I believe it. Goodwill operates an online auction site for selling merchandise of any value, including records. I’ve found exactly one record worth buying at a Goodwill store (Jacqueline Du Pre’s recording of the Dvorak cello concerto).

Now, the local St. Vincent de Paul store has started putiing its valuable records behind the counter, just like a commercial record store. These records are priced $3 and up, compared to 50 cents for the records found on the floor. They’re wising up. Still I didn’t mind coughing up un-thrift-store like prices for a couple of albums at St. Vincent de Paul last week. One was an original mono pressing of Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’ in pristine condition for $8. It’s less than what a record dealer would charge, but not a whole lot less, that is, if you come across a mint copy. The other record I bought was an original pressing of Sarah Vaughan’s After Hours at the London House for $3. This a live jazz date with a relatively small combo and not one of the pop albums with strings she made later in her career. Those can be found in the dusty dollar bins.

Thrift Store Stories

I’m back after taking a break from record collecting to do some nesting, that is, making some improvements around the house to make it more livable and wonderful. My house has become like my record collection in the mixture of high and low objects. By high, I’m referring to the Eames- and Nelson-designed furniture produced by Herman Miller or Vitra. By low, I’m referring to amateur, hand-made vases and vintage postcards and such. For the latter, I’ve been making the rounds at local thrift stores.

One of my recent finds was a portable cassette tape recorder/player from the 70s. The familiar squarish design—from bottom to top: a single speaker covered by a perforated metal plate, the tape transport with flip top, the row of mechanical control buttons that engage with a solid click, and a vinyl strap handle—caught my eye as it sat next to a pile of bread-loaf-shaped boom-boxes. I saw there was a tape in the machine and batteries in the compartment. So I pressed play to hear the tinny sound of Winona Judd. My reaction surprised me, considering I’m not particularly fond of Winona Judd or lo-fi audio equipment. I was transfixed by what I heard. I bought the tape player and listened to it in the car on the way home, not really minding the audible wow-and-flutter of this lowly piece of audio gear. It sounded so right. The nostalgic value of it certainly has something to do with its allure. But one thing I won’t be doing is listening to my favorite radio station with the tape player in hand, ready to press “record” when I hear the opening notes of a favorite song. At least in how we record songs, we’ve progressed quite a lot.