See You In Brooklyn? Not Anymore

So, yesterday I had either an extraordinary epiphany or an utter psychotic episode, depending upon your point of view. Let me set the stage by going back about 30 years to the time when I borrowed $10,000 from family to acquire my first record collection, 1,000 records that seemed like a poor investment at the time, paying $10 apiece. At the time I probably had about 1,000 records of my own and I wound up with many duplicates. There was no e-Bay at the time, of course, and the best way for a collector like myself to get rid of duplicates was to work the record shows that took place on the weekends. Between Long Island and Manhattan, at the time, there was probably a show every month or so, but I would be selective and do one or two a year. Sometimes I’d take my daughter and she would hang out and, when she got older, sometimes follow in her father’s footsteps and go out and seek some scores of her own. In between these record shows the duplicate records would sit in boxes somewhere in my house. Over the

years, I would do the record shows less frequently, and I would accumulate more duplicates, and the boxes of records would expand and expand, until there were many boxes and I ended up at times either renting storage space to house them or building extra cabinets so I could peruse them, even though they were records I already owned and had sitting on a shelf at another part of my house. The bottom line is that I’ve been hauling boxes of records to and from record shows for about 30 years. And, remaining in the same general geographic area, I’ve been seeing the same guys, wearing the same clothes, hauling the same records, for the same 30 years. The exceptions are the guys that got too old to haul records any more, or died, or the one transgendered dealer who is still hauling the same records, but is now wearing dresses instead of jeans.

Anyway, a year and a half ago I worked the WFMU Record Fair in Manhattan and the night before the fair I had driven down to Baltimore and hauled home 30 boxes of records, and I pulled out some duplicates and sold them at the show and nearly paid for the entire collection in one day. But I had many, many more boxes of duplicate records and I worked the next WFMU Record Fair last year and sold off more of them, but still I had boxes and boxes of records and no time or interest in selling on eBay and I was getting really tired of hauling records and my back was also getting really tired of hauling records and I decided that I just wanted to get rid of some of these records. So I took all of the records that would not be sellable on eBay and I put them into boxes and loaded them into the car and vowed not to bring them back into the apartment in Manahattan. Instead, I drove out to Infinity Records on Long Island and basically told my friend Joe he could have the records and the boxes for whatever he wanted to pay me, which wasn’t much, but it was quite a relief just getting rid of all of the boxes and not having to worry about them again.

Still, there were maybe 500 remaining records plus Downbeats and other stuff and they were stuffed into boxes and put on shelves waiting to be released once again at the next WFMU Record Fair, which was this weekend. And on Friday I loaded these records and Downbeats and other stuff into the car once again and drove out to Brooklyn and unloaded them and did all of the stuff you do at one of these shows. And I walked around and looked at other tables and saw the same guys, in the same clothes, with many the same records I’ve been seeing at various times during the past 30 years. And, of course, I still got the same old adrenaline rush and bought a few records, even a few more duplicates, just because they were there and the price was right. And I spent the day at my table, chatting with the occasional customer, and at the end of the day I had barely sold enough records to cover the cost of the table and I went home and knew I had another day at the record fair and then I would have to haul the records one more time, loading them into the car, bringing them back upstairs to the apartment, sticking some of the boxes into the closet, putting other records on shelves, and the whole thing started to feel old and tired.

Or maybe it was just me feeling old and tired.

And it was 11 p.m. and my back was aching and I was thinking of this 30-year pattern I’d been in and I turned to The Lovely Mrs. JC and said something to the effect that there was a piece of me that wouldn’t mind just selling all of the records in one shot, never loading them back into the car again, and not worrying about what to do with all of my duplicate records. And The Lovely Mrs. JC looked at me and smiled and said: “You should do it.”

And I went to bed and I thought about the records and the years of hauling them and the money I had paid to store them and how they kept accumulating year after year after year and how good I felt the year before selling eight boxes of records to Joey. And I got up in the morning, walked Marty the dog, had a bite to eat and headed over to Brooklyn not knowing what the upcoming day would have in store for me. And I went to my table and saw the same guys in the same clothes with the same records and I realized that I didn’t even really know any of these guys even though I’m one of them and have been for 30 years. But I’m a jazz guy, and there’s always been just a few of us, and we tend to be among the outsiders within this broader community of outsiders still obsessing over vinyl records. And I started thinking about the conversation with The Lovely Mrs. JC the night before and hauling records and storing records and cleaning records and these were records I already owned and were just doubles that I had accumulated over the years.

And then it happened. Call it what you will: Epiphany, psychotic episode, revelation, nervous breakdown. I looked across the aisle and saw a dealer from Japan who had been to my house many times and who I liked very much and I thought to myself: “Would he? Would he just buy it all? If he wanted them, how much would I take? How much would he offer?” And I impulsively walked over to him and I could see he was busy and I told him to stop by my table once he had a chance; I had something I wanted to discuss with him. Then I went back to my table. A few people came by and bought a few records and I counted the records I had on my table and looked over some of the nicer items, including a few original Blue Notes and Prestiges and I came up with a number in my head and this number in my head was a pretty low number for the records involved because by this point I wanted to do it, I wanted to sell the records, be rid of duplicates, not worry about hauling them or storing them, and I just wanted to go back to Manhattan and join my family for lunch and the theater. And maybe 15 minutes later he came by and asked what I wanted to talk about. And I said I wanted to sell him everything, all of the records on my table. And he thought I was kidding and smiled and chuckled and said, “no, no.” And then he thought for a second and said, “unless it was a low price.” And he still had a big smile on his face because he still thought I was joking. And I had the price in my head and it was a low price and I didn’t even make an effort to negotiate and I just said the price out loud. And he did a double take and the smile disappeared from his face and he looked me in the eye and he realized I was serious. Then I pointed to a box with several original Blue Notes and Prestiges and I said that the price was what it was and it included everything, including the records in that box. And he went over to that box immediately and started looking pulling each record out of the sleeve to look at the condition and the address on the label and the deep grooves and all the things any of us would do confronted with the opportunity to buy a bunch of nice jazz records at a very fair price. And then he pulled out a few more records and looked at them and then he started counting the records on the table and I could almost see the calculation taking place in his head: “If I buy these records, how much am I paying per record.” And when he calculated the number in his head and then said it out loud and realized I was serious, he looked me in the eye again and simply said, “Yes.”

Fifteen minutes later I was in my car. I texted the Lovely Mrs. JC and told her I had done it. She was with my son and daughter and they were having lunch for an early Mother’s Day celebration and they were going to see the play Fun Home on Broadway. I told her to order me some pizza and get me a ticket for the play. I was leaving Brooklyn and my records behind.

 

13 comments

  • What a beautiful piece of writing! It was exhausting just reading it,knowing exactly what lugging”boxes and boxes” of lps FEELS like,not just physically but emotionally. I must admit that it’s why sitting at home(in my underwear) and bidding on an LP that is “exactly what I was looking for” is so appealing.
    Or maybe I’m just “old and tired”,too… (NAH!!!)

  • about six years ago i stopped going to the shows and ebay and stores and … because life got in the way. i didn’t buy much except for tubes for my amp because i couldn’t. i missed a few of the people at the shows, a few who had become friends, at least casual ones, and i missed the thrill of the hunt. i didn’t miss much else. what i did get out of that episode was that i had the time to (re)discover some great music on my shelf. always chasing what i didn’t have and selling off the odd bits to fund the hunt obscured what i do have. it was kind of a forrest-for-the-trees thing. since i spent so much of my off time just listening i was able to get rid of the things i didn’t care much for either because my opinion changed or because i never really liked them (e.g., just bought it for collectability). i do regret selling one or two particular items, but that’s another post. when my episode was over i went nuts again, replacing my hi-fi (as an aside, i can never understand how someone can spend over $300 on !any! record and play it on a $300 table/arm/cart combo ‘cuz those things is far below the quality of the vinyl from the era most jazz collectors pursue) almost completely (the only thing remaining is to replace the power management/surge protector) and finding new levels of lunacy with respect to spending on records. i never missed selling on eBay or at the shows, but seeing some of the same ol’ folks has the comfort of familiarity. a few of the old faces are gone; some passed, some left for reasons obscured by who’s telling the story, and a few more will be leaving shortly. only a few of those personal relationships held lasting meaning for me, which i still remember with a smile. i still really enjoy finding great music, and there is never a shortage of that for those who can get past the blue note and prestige catalogs.i missed last month’s show, although i made it to the current show, and i’m sure i’ll miss the next one. i’ve noticed i’m starting to go to shows or shops or … when i get the urge and not out of habit, which i think is good for my health, both physical and mental, as well as being good for the relationship with my wife. maybe with the monkey off your back you’ll return to the show in time, or maybe not, so long as if feels right for you. i would have loved to have seen what was in those boxes – at my local shows we never have enough good jazz records – but that really doesn’t matter in the long run, and probably in the short run. if and when i makes sense for you i’d like to hear about any remaining duplicates and share a few stories about music. until then, enjoy what else moves you. /d

  • Maybe I wrote this before and maybe I didn’t.
    I woke up one Saturday maybe a few months ago and realized in a way I didn’t care about records anymore. The music yes, but the physical item.. plus living in Jupiter Florida the access to records is miniscule.
    And somewhat akin to Al’s tale, I emailed a few collectors and asked them what would they really pay for certain items I had that they’d been lusting over. And I realized that I could buy another saxophone( there’s another tale) with the money they would pay me and I realized that the music is in my head anyway and so I am selling off my records. Still occasionally buying something, but mostly packing up boxes and shipping them to a store in Chicago and getting a check in the mail.
    And it’s all good and I am in a way out of a rut, for I too saw the same people at shows and owning a record store in Chicago I would see the same people and her the same tales and have everyone looking for the right cut, the right beat, the right markings.
    It’s somewhat liberating. No longer do I feel the need to buy a record again that I once owned and got rid of. And now I’m off this cycle, rode it before, and as the song goes, “getting some fun out of life.”

  • I sometimes feel the urge to purge 90% of it and sometimes can’t wait until the next opportunity to buy some obscure gem. Then again I’ve never crossed the four-figure price point and hope I don’t get to that point (though I do have some very valuable records), but living in a smallish Brooklyn apartment with rising rents doesn’t leave much room some months. There are about three or four records, all quite inexpensive but somehow hard to find, that I regret selling (my biggest purge was a few years ago, in which I dumped half or two-thirds of my rock collection), but they aren’t a big deal. Time will tell.

  • I suppose like any hobby, when the excitement departs and is replaced by feelings of burden, it is time to move on and find another joyous pursuit. I had the same experience with collecting vintage movie posters years ago, and seeing them packed away in boxes and tubes finally game me my own “epiphany moment” … how ludicrous, as it became more about collecting than enjoying.

  • Good tales,all. “Buy less and enjoy more” has been my motto for some time,now. I wonder if Al would consider “Collectors Anonymous” as a more appropriate name for this site? (Lol)

  • For those of you that want to sell and not deal with ebay feel free to contact me haha

  • I heard WFMU had much less overseas customers as the pound is at a 6 year low and the Japanese economy stinks. You’d have to buy a table to get in real early in years past or wait at 8 A.M. that morning for each vehicle to pull up and battle the usual suspects. eBay has destroyed a lot of great records showing up at shows. A lot of dealers and overseas buyers are blowing off the big Texas show this month.

  • Well, I don’t know what to tell you. When records cost more than a fabulous turntable, then something is wrong. Again, I’d rather pay $5 to $10 for a $100 record (when I find them in obscure record stores, and I do find them) and trust me, the thrill is real when these gems float to the surface. However, it is difficult to find Blue Notes and Prestiges at those low prices because everyone is in on the act. The day I pay a grand for a record is the day I stop collecting and move on. (And truth be told, my high is $60 and will remain $60).

  • Honestly, Al, I read your story three times to get the full ‘feel’ and picture of what you were telling us. I have many duplicates from my nearly two decades of collecting seventies funk before I started with jazz and about a year ago I just decided to put my duplicates on Discogs, where I don’t have to deal with eBay hassle. I sell my duplicates slowly (but surely) and this way, I’m able to part with what I had laying around in boxes without having to deal with asking myself “did I make a mistake selling them all off in one go?” – consider it my way of more or less doing what you did, but then like a ‘death of a thousand cuts’, probably looking at a long, long time before my duplicates have left the building. But hey, I’m in my early forties, so maybe I’ll have my epiphany in about 20 years as well 😉

  • Gregorythefish

    i like this story. i have about 100 records from back when i was more into funky jazz from the 70’s and 80’s that i have thought about selling. perhaps i will sell some of them. it is always nice to sell some unwanted records to fund the buying of records you really do want. i have purchased about 30-40 records in the past year by selling off duplicates or unwanted items or in some cases, records that i get for a song to deliberately resell. the collecting is really funding itself.

    i like to collect for the music, but as i’ve said before, i am not an audiophile. i am quite happy with my middle-of-the-road audio setup. what i like the most is having a shelf full of beautiful original documents of the glorious past of the music i love. i think i am different from many of you in that regard.

  • I can’t deal with the hassle of selling records. I’m more than happy to let a store do it for me and have them take their commission of the final sale. I figure they’d get more money than I would anyway.

  • Let them take their commission. Don’t ever sell to a store, you might get 20% of their worth. Doing a show dropping prices each 2 hours works. Popsike, eBay completed ended shows for old jazz at great prices. Give me Rockages Convention at the Diplomat Hotel NYC in 1979 all over again. I bought so many Blue Notes etc. I had to hire guys to wheel the load to the parking garage.

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