Author: Alvira, Marco

What Price is History?

Perhaps many of you have heard: my LP collection was recently destroyed by water from a leaky pipe. With quiet insidiousness, water had collected in my back closet. where I stored my record albums. This disaster was discovered as I was preparing for a CBA Radio Show that was to feature an eclectic mix of vintage country and assorted Americana. The worse-off album covers were clumps of gray mush. Others stuck together, the covers peeling like a Bandaid ripping off old scabs yet others were warped and coated with film of fetid mildew. My collection had once consisted of over four hundred vinyl discs, but over recent years, at my wife’s insistence, the collection had been simplified to 180 of the essentials: Davy Crockett, Jean Pierre Rampal, Buck Owens, Muleskinner, The Singing Nun, Mercedes Sosa, Turkish Village Music, Bulgarian Choirs, Cantos de Navidad, etc..

Truth be known, whereas those LP’s had once occupied a proud place in my living room, they were now in the back closet for want of use. There was a time that each of those LP’s had been an intimate friend. All the casual acquaintances had long ago seen the door— that is, the garage door at a yard sale. But for those remaining, there was a history, a relationship—from the initial moment of physical attraction when their interesting cover art drew my attention from among the thousands sitting there in the racks at Tower Records; or when I first broke that plastic seal with the tip of my pocket knife, flared the card board and delicately extracted the pristine disc in its crisp jacket to mature intimacy; or when I could pick up the tone arm and lay it softly and accurately on any groove I chose to hear.

The cover art and liner notes were as much a part of the musical experience as the LP itself. While the Sgt. Pepper album set new standards for album art, Rodger Dean had to be the king album art artists. His paintings were two dimensional universes. His most famous work can be seen on many Yes albums. Elegant islands floating in ethereal worlds, vintage rocket ships, or steamy jungle scenes,—his art popped! In fact, I was turned on to great music by African group Osibisa and progressive rocker Greenslade just so I could own a new piece of Dean art. Sitting back in my black bean bag chair with a new record, enormous headphones arcing over my gourd, I poured over insightful liner notes, preparing to duel my friends with arcane musical knowledge. After time and enough albums, the names of obscure studio musicians became as common place to me as the stars they backed.

While thumbing through the water logged collection, I discovered that a German opera had survived the watery onslaught. Once back in 1972 when I was in high school, I copied some lyrics from this album’s liner notes into the margins of a paper I was writing. I was always trying to catch my teacher off guard; he always seemed to be a step ahead of my compulsive shenanigans. To my amazement, in a pre-home computer/Internet era, the paper was later returned with a perfect English translation of the lyrics and a brief commentary on the opera piece itself. My teacher, in his late thirties, was worldly and, as I learned later, spoke fluent Russian as well as German. I always suspected there was more to his story than he admitted to in class.

My record collection has traveled with me since the sixties and has weathered many a storm, but this flood had washed away a lot of memories as sure as the great Flood washed away life on Earth. At least Noah was able to save two of every kind of beast. Although most the records themselves are salvageable, the collection as I had known it for fifty years is lost. There seems to be little prospect of starting over. There is too little joy in those minuscule CD’s with their tiny 9 pt. liner notes. I half heartedly inquired about compensation for the collection from my home owners insurance company. Oddly, I wasn’t angered when they told me the collection was not covered since the damage was not the result of a sudden cataclysmic event, but the consequence of a slow, ongoing, undetected leak. Actually, the thought that there could be a price or compensation for the loss of such a significant piece of personal history seemed…well, just absurd. Listen to the CBA Radio Show, and over the coming months you’ll get a chance to share some of that history as I spin bits of my orphaned, coverless LP’s.

Posted:  2/2/2014

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