Saturday, February 27, 2010

Smash! Records for President

As promised earlier, this will be a breathless endorsement of Smash! Records in D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood. It's just a small place above a hair salon and next door to another record shop, Crooked Beats, which I have yet to visit, but it has plenty to offer. Best shop I've visited in D.C. so far.

Perhaps the best place to start is what I passed on. Led Zeppelin I, II, III, IV all in good shape and each reasonably priced. But, I couldn't get all four (too pricey with everything else) and couldn't decide on just one or two. So I had to move on. They also had the Beastie Boys' License to Ill for $13 or so. Almost got that, but decided against it once I found the $20 Exile on Main Street. I did buy two Doors albums (one of my favorite bands), but they had at least one more I would've otherwise bought. Painful to pass these up.

Anyway, this place is stocked, and given my somewhat narrow focus today, don't get the impression it's all classic-ish rock. It bills itself as a punk/alt/indie-type shop, and it has some great buttons, shirts, posters and other stuff hanging around the shop that are also worth a look. I'm not sure if my particular music interests jived with the shop's main raison d'ĂȘtre, as it were, but I think that makes it all that much more impressive that I found what I did.

I went in not knowing what to expect, so I went straight for the recent arrivals. There were probably a row or two of these, and by the time I was done (not even at 'A' of the alphabetical used section) I had two or three records. Realizing that there was much potential for an expensive outing, I gazed down the rest of the row and saw thick sections for Beach Boys, Beatles, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and on and on.

What really struck me is I've never seen a shop with so many classic artists so fully stocked in the used section. Perhaps it's a product of its popularity, but I remember going to Minneapolis' Cheapo, and finding just one used Dylan record was a reason to celebrate. This place had 10-15+. And that's the handle here. I've been to a number of stores that have great records from artists I don't know much about, and pick up one and discover something new. Or a record I haven't heard by an artist, so I buy it. But today, I literally walked into Smash, looked around, and walked out with some of my favorite records, from that era, of all time. You can't beat that.That's a whole other kind of crate digging experience; not necessarily discovering, but rediscovering a favorite album and hearing it that very first time on vinyl. That's been the hook for me since I first got my record player and put "Blonde on Blonde" as the first album ever played on it.

Since I got home from Smash, it's been like that all over again. And that's priceless. And that's why I'll be back at Smash very, very soon.

Again, what I found at Smash after the jump.

Insert breathless endorsement of D.C.'s Smash! Records here

Coming soon to this blog will be my breathless endorsement of D.C.'s Smash! Records. Just got back from my very first trip (first look at their collection was at D.C.'s recent record fair.)

More great vinyl than I knew what to do with. Here's what I picked up.

The Beatles -- Revolver
The Doors -- Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman
Bob Dylan -- Planet Waves
Jefferson Airplane -- Surrealistic Pillow
Moby Grape -- Self-titled
Rolling Stones -- Exile on Main St.
Talking Heads -- More Songs About Buildings and Food

And those are the ones I just couldn't pass up. If I were a rich man, easily could've dropped $200+ today.

Anyway, longer post to come. But if you're in the area, head to Smash! RIGHT. NOW.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Salvage Shops

I wanted to follow up on something I referenced earlier: how worthwhile salvage shops can be. In this case? Pictured above is something obviously and simply called "VARIETY STORE" located in South Indianapolis. (I spent last summer there working for the Indianapolis Star newspaper.)

It doesn't look like much, what with its junk-yard/yard-sale look outside (you should see the back) and the "Playboys, $5 sign" that -- trust me -- is sitting in one of those front windows. Granted, it wasn't much on the inside either, and the casual crate digger might have just up and left. Frankly, it was dirty, dusty, about 90 degrees (in the front, toward the back was more of a warehouse) and a little creepy in a Dueling Banjos kind of way. But, to the persistent goes the spoils, or something like that.

In this particular case, I walked in the door and was immediately greeted by a few very South Indianapolis-looking men heckling over a moped or something. All around me were Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games, cheap bikes, hubcaps, car parts and whatever else that existed in that "we-sell-everything shop." Shortly after entering, I was (seriously) offered 10,000 records for $300. The catch? The guy running the shop had no idea what kinds of records comprised said collection that took up a warehouse wall's worth of space, and I had no idea either. I also, as an intern, had no place to store 10,000 records, let alone transport them, so I passed.

After that ridiculous, but strangely tempting offer, I took to working my way through shelf after shelf and palette after palette of records. Some were completely destroyed -- the kind of records you know wouldn't even play, and just might ruin your needle. I saw Jefferson Airplanes, The Beatles' Revolver, a White Album, the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers and a couple Led Zeppelin albums that were in terrible shape. As tempted as I was to buy them anyway (at $5 a pop) I passed and kept digging. To wildly understate it, that was difficult.

On Gifts... or how music was (and still should be) a communal experience

If you're like me and broke (these days, WHO ISN'T?) a hobby of any kind can be expensive.

Running a good vinyl collection isn't any different, especially if you deal in some of the more popular and newer releases like myself. For example, I bought The Clash's London Calling for about $30 at the Uptown Minneapolis Cheapo. Pricey for your average record, but to me? Worth every penny for a great album. But this, my friends, is exactly where gifts come in.

I don't mean to sound crass, but getting vinyl as a gift is a GREAT way to boost your collection. I mean, sometimes records get expensive, especially if you're going to buy five or 10 in a single outing. And in a kind of oblogatory gift-giving situation such as Christmas or a birthday, where friends and family are going to get you gifts anyway (despite your insistence to the contrary), you might as well make sure they get something worth while, right?

For example, Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde (pictured above) is one of my all-time favorite records and, for my money, one of the greatest albums of all time. I've got it on vinyl. Where did it come from? A birthday present from the girlfriend. Velvet Undergroud? From said girlfriend. I also got an additional Bob Dylan record and The Doors' first album from my parents this past Christmas.

Long story short: Not only did I enjoy it, Emma (said girlfriend) and I both enjoy listening to these and other records together. A gift that keeps on giving!

On Basements

For the start of the blog, I thought the start of my collecting would be the logical place to begin.

It may not be some movie-worthy, religious epiphany experience, but this whole record-collecting thing started in my parents' basement in Cottage Grove, Minn. (Now I'm blogging about it, although I'd like to note, not from my parents' basement.)

One day, I found myself digging through some old boxes, and lo and behold, I find some absolute gems that have become to exist among my favorite records. The top of that list? Carole King's Tapestry, which, of course, holds classics such as "I Feel the Earth Move" and "Smackwater Jack." Another good find was The Lovin' Spoonful's greatest hits which includes "Daydream" and other great tracks.

Of course, as any crate digger knows, you take the good with the bad when you look in unlikely places (watch for future post about hole-in-the-wall variety store I found in Indiana). Sometimes you find treasure, sometimes trash. I don't recall exactly what kind of non-gem records my parents had, but I know I took just about a quarter of their collection, and among the ones I took were some very early Billy Joel, the Rocky III soundtrack and a Kenny Rogers record. Terrible? Certainly not. But that selection won't win you any crate-digging cred.

The point is, it was an early lesson to me about the joys of the vinyl hunt. Never refuse to go looking at a place with records, no matter how unimpressive it may be. And it may seem like a huge waste of time. But that's exactly what's great about this. What's better than looking through various Pat Benatar or Barbara Streisand records and finding a mint-condition Carole King? To me, that's a big part of the joy of record collecting and makes the worth both the time and money invested.

Contradictions.. or welcome to the blog.

Welcome to this experiment I've taken to calling Wax Fanatical.

Basically, this blog will comprise stories of crate digging, ecstatic posts when I find *the perfect* record, my take on the record stores in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area, thoughts on the records I already own and just general musings on the idea of collecting records in the time of the iPods, MP3s, illegal downloading and that sort of thing.

To the last point, the inherent contradiction in running a blog on a subject some see as utterly arcane and out of date is not lost on me. But since I've started collecting records about a year ago, I've seen each purchase as one step along some kind of journey toward some ideal record collection. Now, thanks to these things we call the Internets, there will be a record of my attempts to get there.

Finally, a caveat: While I love collecting records, to me it's more about the music than the endless search for some obscure, super-rare record. So, yes, some of my collection might be cliche, or ordinary or whatever. But I consider myself a regular person's record collector. I routinely look for some of my favorite records, and if I buy any new albums, it tends to be on vinyl. That means I've got quite the array, from Vampire Weekend, Brother Ali and Wu-Tang Clan to Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan and The Ramones. I hope that keeps it interesting, and I hope you'll agree.

Photo: Unfortunately, not my collection or my photo. It's the BBC's.