Geoff from Music History

I had a conversation with my neighbor Peter the other day in which he mentioned how much he likes vinyl records. “People are into them now,” he told me, and I said I wanted to get rid of all mine, and would he like to take some? He would.

But he didn’t want to take advantage of my naïveté. He said he’d take a quick look and give me a rough idea what they’re worth so I wouldn’t get taken to the cleaners. Well, it’s an amazing thing. Every one of those LPs cost me about three bucks and it was my one non-pizza indulgence for quite a few of my low-earning years. And now they’re all textured with evidence of my former devotion; they have that patina of love; in other words, they’re thrashed.

It’s not like the Antiques Road Show. Crapping out your records does not make them more valuable. Still, my neighbor took far more than a quick look. He liked my taste. He found lots of stuff he wanted. “This one,” he said, holding up my Velvet Underground with Nico album, “is probably worth hundreds. Twice that, if you still had the peel-off yellow banana skin on the cover.”

“I had no idea!” I warbled.

Peter made arrangements for our local used-record merchant Geoff to drop by and get serious, or as serious as the young man could get when Peter and I were bellowing Captain Beefheart songs in the background.

I was aware that vinyl was popular again but I’m still unclear why. I thought CDs solved everything, all that music in a tidy little package, no having to get up every twenty minutes to flip the record. But I have been assured that there are more joys for the trained ear with vinyl than with anything else. Depth. Texture. Sonic perspicacity. The sound of someone dropping his guitar pick in the background, the bass player’s cigarette wheeze. I don’t know. I did buy nice speakers and a good turntable but as loud as I played some of this stuff I’m not sure I could have made any of those distinctions. And now I have tinnitus, so.

“You have no interest in these at all? How do you listen to your music?” Peter wanted to know.

Um. I had to think about it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I mostly tell Alexa to funnel my Pandora stations through an Echo Dot. He would have staged an intervention and bundled me off to Acoustics Rehab.

But the truth is, I don’t listen to music much anymore, except what I play myself on the piano. It’s odd. When I was young, every time I moved into a new apartment the stereo would be the last thing to go from the old place and the first thing hooked up in the new. Somewhere along the line it evolved that I prefer coming into a quiet house. I need that after a hectic morning chasing kids off my lawn.

My friend Walter would have been appalled at the condition of my collection. As I recall, he used to buy a new album, play it once and record it to tape, direct a team of butterflies to ease it into a new sleeve and back in the cover, place it in a Plexiglass cube in a dark ISO-1 cleanroom and put it back in circulation only after the initial infatuation with the tape had worn off. My friend Walter keeps dermal gloves in his glovebox to wear when pumping gas. My friend Walter is tidy. You could eat off him. People have.

If my friend Walter had had custody of my record collection, I could be trekking in Patagonia by now. As it is, I have five hundred dollars and a priceless amount of space in my cabinet. The Velvet Underground was indeed worth $200. The second-most valuable record was by Betty Davis, at $75. Betty Davis was worth it. Although from the cover it looks like she might have been giving it away for free.