Friday, September 26, 2014

Stevie Nicks: Goddess Edition

Long before the popularity of selfies, Stevie Nicks was making Polaroid self-portraits. Her talents are beyond comprehension. When my admiration for Stevie Nicks seems to have no room to grow, she does this.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rocky's Kindred Spirit

Contrary to my past inclinations, I've been listening to a lot of contemporary music, like Vampire Weekend, Sharon Van Etten, and Kurt Vile, and liking it. When I listen to MGMT I think if I were their age, I could really connect with their music. As it is, I enjoy and appreciate their music but without the immediacy of music that has really mattered to me.

My favorite album of the year so far (I've yet to listen to J Mascis' new solo album) is Strand of Oaks' Heal. Strand of Oaks is essentially Timothy Showalter, a small-town Midwestern boy just like me. In this hirsute stoner of a man, I've found a kindred spirit. He's got a gig in San Francisco this weekend. Rocky will be there supporting the triumph of Midwestern slackerdom.

Here's a brief introduction to Mr. Showalter:

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Can you spot the differences between the two covers of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma?

The one on the left is a US pressing and the other is a UK pressing. The US pressing has the annoying text in the upper left corner and the photo is slightly under-exposed. But what really bothers me is the blank white square above the "PINK FLOYD" text at the bottom of the cover. The UK cover shows the blank square as the soundtrack album of Gigi. For me this omission ruins the great cover designed by Hipnosis. Only very early US pressings of Ummagumma show the Gigi album. It was quickly removed from later pressings because of copyright reasons. Pressings in other countries retained the Gigi album on the cover. I had never seen the complete cover until I came across a UK pressing in a record store in Soho a few years ago. The copy wasn't in good shape. So I passed it up. I've been on the look-out ever since. 

When you've been collecting records as long as I have, it's no longer surprising that you'd be luckless finding a specific album for years and then within a short span you'd come across multiple copies. So it was last Sunday at a record swap that I came across a near mint copy of an original German pressing of Ummagumma with the Gigi album on the cover. I didn't hesitate to buy it. At the same record swap, I found a late 70s UK copy of Ummagumma, shown above. I bought that one, too. Why? Because I found it to be doubly satisfying after all these years of having gone without.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Listening to Television Live at the Old Waldorf, a Record Store Day exclusive bought a couple of years ago, sent me into a reverie of sorts. First, there was the metronomic music. Then the play of direct and reflected light on my fire place. And the memories associated with Television....

Listening to the Violent Femmes in my college dorm room on my roommate's stereo, a guy from down the hall sticks his curly-topped head in the door, followed by his unnaturally long neck, and then the rest of his lanky frame. He's completely inside the room now. After listening for a minute, he says, "If you like this, you should check out Television. I think you'd really them." That was the first time I had heard of the group, which surprised my self-invited guest. Then again I hadn't grown up in NYC and acquired a certain knowingness like he had.

Much later, like years later, I did check out Television and discovered they were nothing like the Violent Femmes, except perhaps a similar yelping vocal delivery of the lead singers. Television were cool and sophisticated with two superbly gifted guitarists. The Violent Femmes basically played bastardized hillbilly music with amateurish gusto. There's something to be said for both. But if I had to choose Marquee Moon or the Violent Femmes' eponymous album to keep in my record collection, it would be Marquee Moon, hands down.

Several years later while living in Ann Arbor, I had a chance to see Television live at the Michigan Theater, a large old-fashioned movie house. They were supposed to play at the Michigan Theater, but a few days before the concert, the venue was changed to the Blind Pig, a small hole-in-the-wall club. Apparently there just weren't that many Television fans in Ann Arbor. I felt bad for the group. They deserved better. Then again, they never did gain the fame of their fellow CBGB cohorts like the Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Blondie.

I felt bad for the band, but I felt great for my friend and myself. We got to see and hear a great band in a small club. We were so close that I could have reached out and touched Tom Verlaine. The guitar solos were out of this world, like jazz in their inventiveness but kick-you-in-the-guts powerful like rock. It was one of the best concerts I'd seen.

Listening to Television Live at the Old Waldorf, I realized how music is a continuum for one's life--it ties moments together and also serves as a marker for how those moments differ and how one's self is the same and changed through time.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fever Pitch

This week I was faced with the choice of buying new underwear or more records. Guess which I picked? The holes in my underwear aren't that bad yet. And if I didn't pick up the limited edition black-on-black pressing of Queens of the Stone Age's Like Clockwork or the first pressing of Deafheaven's Sunbather, I'd likely be paying a lot more for them later. That's how my mind was working, or not working. Of course, it was really a false choice. I could've bought new underwear and more records. It was just a matter of going beyond my self-imposed spending budget. It was also revealing that I chose records before underwear. If it ever turned out to be a real choice, say, when I'm living off a measly Social Security check, I'd be darning the holes in my underwear. That's what I've learned about myself this week.

The idea that I had to choose between underwear and records was, I think, my subconscious mind pointing out to me the absurd point my record collecting has reached. I blew a lot money on records this month. There could be several explanations or rationalizations, one of which might have to do with the cataloging I've been doing. I've realized that many of the records I've bought have appreciated in value, some considerably. This seemed to justify buying more records. One's underwear never appreciates in value, unless you happen to convince President Obama or Derek Jeter to wear and then return your underwear and you could somehow authenticate that. No, this is the wrong way of thinking. It's better not to think of records as a commodity. That's a fool's game. I need to take out my numbered, pink vinyl copy of Madonna's Confession's on the Dance Floor and place it in a prominent spot in my listening room. It's been a great source of shame, because I bought it, not because I had any interest in the music, but purely as a speculative play. It hasn't appreciated in value at all. I need Madonna's pink leotarded ass to mock the schmuck that I was to buy the album. That should break this fever.

Tomorrow is a work holiday. I plan on making a trip to Kohl's.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swedish Pop Music Break: Jens Lekman

Jens, the wedding singer:

and singing in someone's living room:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bloody Expensive Black Sabbath

Who would've thought there were so many well-heeled Black Sabbath fans. As I've tried to procure an original UK pressing of Paranoid, I'm learning one needs to have a lot of cash on hand to get a clean copy. Recently I bid on one on eBay and lost out by $7. The winning bid was $198, not including postage from Britain. Why would I be willing to pay nearly $200 for a UK original pressing when I have a clean US original pressing? Because the UK pressings sound so much better than the US pressings. It's the country-of-origin rule. The UK records were made from the original master tapes. The US records were made from inferior copy tapes. The difference is huge for Black Sabbath records. I want to hear that chunka-chunka, heavy metal sludge in high fidelity.

I picked up an original UK pressing of Volume IV in a record shop in Soho on my last visit to London a couple of years ago. That's when I discovered the truth. In addition to the sound quality, the Vertigo record label is as cool as it gets. Even more so when it's spinning on the platter. One of my collecting goals is to get the first four Black Sabbath albums on the original UK Vertigo label.

Shortly after I returned from London, I came across an original UK pressing of Black Sabbath's first album at Amoeba. I didn't blink at paying $100 for it, which is the most I've paid for a single record. It turned out to be an even better decision than I thought, because this copy turned out to be a rare early pressing with "A Philips Record Product" on the label. This signifies the very earliest pressing, as the label was switched shortly after the record was released. I had no idea at the time. It doesn't really matter to me, but it matters to well-heeled Black Sabbath record collectors. And I mean really well-heeled. I've been tracking UK Vertigo Paranoid sales on eBay for the past few weeks. A near mint copy sold for over $1,000. That's crazy money for a rock record. As far as Paranoid, the most desirable copies have inside the gatefold a credit to "Jim Simpson, Big Bear Management", which signifies the very earliest pressing, just like the "A Philips Record Product" on the label does for the first album.

I've resorted to eBay, because in all the time I've spent at record stores and swaps, the only original UK Vertigo pressing of a Black Sabbath album I've come across is the one I bought at Amoeba. Well, I think I've procured a UK Vertigo pressing of Paranoid on eBay. It was newly listed as a "Buy It Now" item. The counter on the page indicated I was the 8th person to view the page. The posted photo of the album cover showed quite a bit of ring wear. The photo of the label showed it was clearly an original pressing. The item description was sparse, describing the vinyl as in very good condition with slight surface marks. That could mean anything. There was no mention of the "Jim Simpson" credit. The seller didn't seem too knowledgeable, as he was mainly a bookseller. For $69 shipped from the UK, I took a gamble and bought it. We'll see how it turns out in a couple weeks when the UK Vertigo Paranoid arrives on these shores.

Monday, February 10, 2014

rocky's e-commerce business

I've started cataloging my record collection on the Discogs website. It's saved me a whole a lot of time, because the website has data on most albums ever released. It's just a matter clicking on the pressing I have and then entering the condition of the record and any personal notes. It's still a lot of work. I've completed my jazz collection (around 800 LPs) and just started my pop/rock collection, which may be three times the size of the jazz collection.

Discogs is also a platform for buying and selling records online. Using historic data on past sales, the website calculates the low end, median, and high end value of one's record collection. I know already that, aside from my house, my record collection is my most valuable possession.

As I've been cataloging my records, I've been culling records that I want to get rid of. I've been dividing them into three piles by their value. There's the less than $10 pile, the $10-30 pile, and the probably-more-than-$30 pile. I took the first pile to a friend who owns a record store, a really nice guy who always gives me a discount when I buy his already reasonably priced records. I just gave him the box of records. When he asked me how much I wanted for the records, I told him, "it's gratis." He looked at me quizzically, either confused by the word or the concept.

I've started listing records from the over-$30 pile on the Discogs website for sale. Five have been listed. So far, two have sold. My first sale was a German pressing of Pearl Jam's Ten that was rendered redundant when I found an original US pressing. It was returned to its country of origin, bought by a guy in Germany. I basically recouped what I paid for it. My second sale was an original pressing of Smashing Pumpkins' Gish. I had two copies. It was priced below its market value. Someone got a deal on it and rocky made a 5-fold profit. Everyone wins! We'll see how this e-commerce business turns out, whether it's worth the hassle and potential headaches.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sticker Shock

At the last record swap I attended, I was shocked that a dealer was selling the Replacements' Let It Be album for $75. Usually dealers at record swaps price their records realistically, sometimes at a bargain, sometimes a little optimistically. But $75 for Let It Be seemed completely out of the ball park. I figured $15-20 was the fair value of this album. After all, it's not a rare record. Although it wasn't a popular album on the level of Joshua Tree, I'm sure it sold a lot back in the days when one's only choices of media were vinyl or cassette. So, I went on to eBay to check how much Let It Be was selling for. Sure enough, $75 is in line with the typical selling price. In fact, there were copies that sold for $175 and $200. Wow! I think we've entered bubble territory for vinyl records. (BTW rocky has a minty original pressing of Let It Be, as well as every other Replacements album, that he won't be parting with.)

On Listening to U2 Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is acclaimed as one of the greatest rock albums. It's ranked #27 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I have to admit that a part of me likes U2, but my affinity for U2 has a limit. I blame Bono. The aspect I like about U2 is their rock romantic grandeur. In this respect, U2 is a lot like Bruce Springsteen, who I love, at least the Springsteen before Born in the USA. However, unlike Springsteen, U2's grandeur has a profoundly impersonal stamp to it. As I listen to Joshua Tree, I'm impressed by how abstract it is. Even when Bono uses "I", it comes across as an abstract "I". Bono keeps his distance from the listener. He's the observer sharing his observations. Even when he's singing passionately, he's not emoting from within; it's about external circumstances. You can compare this perspective with Springsteen post Born in the USA. As superstardom distances the singer from the experiences of the common man, he latches on to external causes to stir his passions. Springsteen isn't able to sing about feeling love riding the Tilt-a-Whirl any more; he has to sing about Tom Joad now. It's apparent Bono was like this from the start. It seems only logical that he's become the ever-sunglass-wearing rock star championing humanitarian cause.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Recent Acquisitions: January 26, 2014

It's been a while since I've posted recent acquisitions. The report from the field is the continuing change of the record-buying demographic. The kids have us middle-aged guys out-numbered, at least in the Bay Area record shops. What is most encouraging among the kids there are an equal number of gals as guys buying records. Among my own age group, it's probably 98 percent guys. So, what are the kids buying? Of course, current bands, who are releasing albums on vinyl as a matter of course. But the kids are also raiding the classic rock bins. On my last trip to Amoeba, the Pink Floyd bin was empty! I had never seen it empty before. The Led Zeppelin section was almost empty as well. Common albums by classic rock bands that sold for $5 five or ten years ago are now fetching $15-20. Fortunately, rocky is stocked up on his classic rock LPs, and in search of more exotic fare.

Here's rocky's haul from the past couple weeks:

Mark Murphy, Stolen Moments (Muse, $2). Mark Murphy is the coolest jazz singer most non-jazz listeners have never heard of. That's because he's a true bop jazz singer, with all the characteristics of jazz artists that turn off the general public. He's no Frank Sinatra or Diana Krall. That's a shame, because more people should listen to Mark Murphy. He really lifts me up. This album recorded in the 1978 is among his best, as good as his classic albums from the 60s. For the title track, Murphy wrote lyrics to the jazz standard composed by Oliver Nelson.

Beck, Odelay (ORG, 4-LP deluxe limited edition, $10). This was released by an audiophile label a few years ago. I almost bought it last year when it was on sale for $50, but decided not to since I had two copies of the original pressing. I wasn't sure getting the bonus tracks was worth half a Benjamin. Well, I was kicking myself when it went out of print and the set was selling for $150 on ebay. Finding this near mint copy for $10 was a true act of divine intervention on the part of the vinyl gods. Had I know how good the bonus tracks sounded, I wouldn't have hesitated buying it for $50.

Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors (RCA original pressing, $5). This is about the hardest hitting album I've listened to in a while. Dolly sings about growing up poor, a mother cheating on her daughter, a woman in a twisted, abusive relationship, and other tales from the white ghetto. What a great album from a deceptively tough singer!

The Slits, Cut (Antilles original US pressing, $28). An album by an all-female band called the Slits with a cover featuring the band members topless with torsos covered in mud. It's got to be great, right? Yup.

The Feelies, Crazy Rhythms (Stiff Records original pressing, $28). I missed the boat on this classic album when it came out. One of the pop-rock best albums ever!

The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle (Date Records original US pressing, $29). I've always wanted to own an original pressing of this classic psychedelic album, but never came across a decent copy for less than $100. Can you say score? Score. Again. Score. I feel whole now.

Arcade Fire, Reflektor (Merge Records, $21). This album sounded promising--brainiac band releases dance-oriented album. I was thinking classic Talking Heads. It might be great album. But I can't fucking tell. The production and sound quality suck so much it makes me want to hurl.

Drake, Take Care (Cash Money Records, $17). The first LP is great with Drake mixing the usual rap braggadocio with actual tenderness that makes the whole more real. The second LP of this 2-LP album is rather pedestrian. Arcade Fire needs to take a lesson from Drake on how to put out good-sounding vinyl.

The Swans, The Seer (Young God Records, $25). I can't remember the last album that bore deep beneath me and stirred all sorts of primal emotions. It makes me want to strip off my clothes, cover my torso in mud and howl at the moon. It's music for the end of the world.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Dionne Warwick Experience

I can't seem to get enough of the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David these days. The most prolific and one of the best interpreters of Bacharach-David songs is Dionne Warwick. I had a 2-lp record of Dionne Warwick singing Bacharach-David songs called Go With Love. It's a compilation album released by Columbia House for members of its record club. My copy played like, as vinyl listeners call it, Rice Krispies (i.e., "snap, crackle, and pop!"). I also had a lot of Warwick's proper albums released by the Scepter label in the 60s, each of which contained a handful of Bacharach-David songs. But the Scepter albums were poorly pressed on noisy vinyl and the sound quality was equally poor. So I was on the hunt for another compilation album of Warwick singing Bacharach. I thought I found it in the 2-LP The Dionne Warwick Story, her smiling face on the cover looking up at me from the dollar bin got me all excited. It had a great song list. But when I took it home and played it, it turned out to be a live album. Yuck. I wanted the studio versions.

Well, when you look hard enough, sometimes you find what you're looking for. Today I hit pay dirt when I came across another copy of Go With Love. That's not so unusual. What was amazing was the copy I found was still sealed. It was an album from probably the 70s that was, for all intents and purposes, brand new. It plays beautifully on quiet vinyl and with better sound quality than the Scepter albums. It's the best three dollars I've spent this year. That's my Dionne Warwick Experience. (Side note: I think The Dionne Warwick Experience would be a great name for a punk band. Okay, maybe not.)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Golden Eagle Sunrise

Any hobby that gets you up at the crack of dawn is a good hobby. Because you see things around dawn that you don't see at any other time of day. The reason I woke so early on a Sunday morning was to get to the Newark record swap. To get there I take a scenic drive through the Niles Canyon, an other worldly spit of nature connecting the Amador-Livermore Valley with the San Francisco Bay. As I made my through the winding road, I spotted what appeared to be a large animal standing in the middle of the road, literally standing in between the two yellow lines dividing the travel lanes. When I got closer, I could see it wasn't a single animal, but a large bird standing atop an animal carcass. I slowed down and passed the dark honey-colored bird. I recognized it as a Golden Eagle. I knew because of the hours I spent as a young boy studying the pictures of eagles in the World Book Encyclopedia. In real life, the eagle was much larger that I ever imagined as a young boy. The eagle never took flight even as I got within five feet of it. It just calmly watched me pass by. That's how animals at the top of the food chain react.

That's what I remember from my trip to the record swap last month. I don't remember the records I picked up. I just have that picture of the majestic, grand eagle. Oh, I also remember thinking at the record swap that only short, old Asian men seem to collect classical albums. None over 5'-3" in height, which is about how tall the Golden Eagle stood atop the carcass.