the face of innocence

The basic thing that makes vinyl records valuable is how rare they are. I’m not sure it applies to records that are rare because they’re horrible and nobody bought them. But collectors might prize a record that everybody you knew bought in 1970 and played to death, if it is a first pressing. In fact, even a record stamped PROMOTIONAL COPY might be valuable because it means it went to a radio station and got played before anyone else could buy it legit. That early air time hangs around the record with an extra stench of antiquity and you can totally put a price tag on that.

As always, when assessing your record collection, it is important that they not be refinished in any way, still have their original veneer, and carry the patina that comes only with age. Proof of provenance is also important. Wait, that’s furniture. Nobody cares if I sign an affidavit that I bought my first album (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme) in 1966 with babysitting money. I would have thought that would make it rare because there is hardly anything else I could have bought with babysitting money. Babysitting paid crap. But your average old-record buyer does not care.

And, frankly, patina does not thrill vinyl enthusiasts, either. Virtually all my records have patina right up the wazoo. My fingerprints are all over them and the collected dust of dozens of scuzzy apartments has been ground into the grooves, and when you tape the quarter on the needle and drop it down, you can hear that gritty, chunky ambience of over-appreciation. Buyers do like to see all the original paraphernalia that came with the albums, too—the plastic wrap, the sleeve, the liner notes, the fold-out pictures, what-have-you. Mine don’t have any of that. The double albums might have a little material left over from seeding the pot, but it’s unlikely to produce anything of value. That heritage weed wasn’t very good to begin with.

What ought to be worth something is the story that goes with the album. Fleetwood Mac’s album Fleetwood Mac, for instance. I bought that one at the Harvard Coop on Huntington Avenue on my lunch break, and then on my way home I stopped off at the other Harvard Coop in Cambridge, carrying my new album under my arm. I did notice some man seemed to be tailing me through the store. He was creepy. I ducked into the restroom to shake him, but when I came back out he was still there. I acted nervous, because I was. He followed me right out of the store and then nabbed me by the shoulder and hauled me back in as a shoplifter. There was a little dark room and a hanging light bulb and three store detectives.

“I bought it at the other store,” I said. Fine. Receipt?

“Sure. It’s…no, wait, I must’ve dropped it in the wastebasket in my lab.”

She’s lying, said one of the dicks.

How did you pay for it? said another.

“Oh. I used my Master Card?” I hadn’t had one long. In fact, no female had had one long, at that point.

Great, they said. We’ll just call up the other store and check on that.

Everyone was relaxed and smiley while the call went through. Until he got off the phone and said they had no record of my card that day.

“Oh shit,” I might have said. “I usually use my card, but today I did pay cash.” I am now sweating, and smoothly incriminating myself at every turn.

She’s lying, someone felt it necessary to repeat. Who walks into a store with an album stamped with the store sticker and carries it around with her while perusing the albums? I’ll tell you who. Someone who couldn’t even imagine shoplifting, that’s who.

“Well, if you can retrieve that receipt, and bring it to us on Monday, we will not press charges.”

It was Friday evening. I called work and managed to get someone to find the janitor. I told him where my lab was.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I already emptied all the baskets in that hall,” he said. “If you like, I can look through the dumpster for it. What does it look like?”

Um. Flimsy white paper, about two by three inches. Harvard Coop. And I would like, thank you.

He found it. In a dumpster. Saturday I went back into the building with a case of beer for the gentleman and picked up my receipt and went back to Cambridge with it. They were satisfied. The record cost three dollars.

It’s a good album, even though it has Stevie Nicks on it. And this particular copy has the patina of fear all over it, from the three days in 1975 in which famous writer Murr Brewster faced possible jail time for shoplifting.

Now I can cash in. All I need to do is become famous.