Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Secondhand Daylight

I have an admission to make. Maybe it says something bad about me; perhaps it highlights some inadequacy that I had otherwise kept hidden. It’s possible that I’m about to make a social faux pas equivalent to arriving at a Middle-East peace talk wearing nothing but gaffer tape and electrodes. But, I don’t care any more. It has to said. The time has come to get it off my chest.

I suffer from a near-obsessive need to regularly purchase vinyl that other people have already used for their own nefarious purposes.

Okay, so I may have misled you there. I’m not admitting to a penchant for wearing used PVC clothing. Just that I find it incredibly hard to go longer than a couple of weeks without buying secondhand records. I should maybe point out that when I say records, I don’t just mean records. I mean music in general. I’m not a luddite snob with an aversion to CDs. I just find it easier to class all music as records and I also think that CD is a particularly ugly looking abbreviation.

If you look at it from at the viewpoint of an evolutionary behaviourist, then perhaps it’s my preconscious mind expressing the primeval urge to be a hunter-gatherer, a deep-seated need to return home at the end of the day clutching my prize, the ultimate proof of my manhood – this would also offer a rationale for the surge of aggression & territorial possessiveness which I often want to direct toward any other shopper who should be so bold as to approach the section immediately to my right (assuming that with an alphabetically order shop, you work your way through the section from left to right), and he (and it is usually a he) dares to casually flick through a rack of records that I have not yet perused.

Of course it’s possible that, rather than being the innocent victim of an ancient innate male character trait, learnt during millennia of living in a harsh and hostile environment, I could just be a geek. But let’s not dwell on that for prospect for too long. It would rid me of a useful get-out clause. And anyway, if it weren’t for secondhand record shops, my collection would be sadly lacking in albums by Lou Reed, Blondie, Bowie and the Action Swingers. How could I be expected to survive?

But before we continue, I urge you to stop your internal dialogue. You have judged me without first knowing a vitally important fact. You have classed me as a record collector and, as such, unworthy of your time but I refute this libellous claim. I am not a record collector. Record collectors buy records simply the sake of ownership. I buy records for the sake of having the music to listen to as and when I please. For me, the song is the ultimate goal; for the collector the fact of ownership is more important than the music. I have not, and shall never, walk that long and lonely path.

But...back to my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I suppose it all boils down to the fact that I derive two different forms of pleasure from buying secondhand records. First, there’s the general pleasure from having purchased a good album. You know that you have will have this for years to come, and that the album will be there any time you want to have a listen. But you can get that satisfaction from any record, no matter where it was purchased.

However, with secondhand records, that feeling is intensified. This wasn’t just a record you walked into a shop and picked up from the shelf. This is a prize, a purchase to be cherished. While it may not quite be like finding buried treasure, finding a great album after an hour digging through the racks is at least akin to finding a forgotten twenty pound note in your pocket. Granted, it may be only be a short-lived cheap thrill but, while that feeling lasts, you’re the king of the world - bulletproof and indestructible.

Obviously there are different grades of secondhand record shop. You can’t expect to get the same return for your efforts at an Oxfam as you can from a specialist retailer. It’s not so much the effort that is required for a thorough search, more the fact that your average charity shop is full of battered copies of musicals and Brahms box sets from the Reader’s Digest. But, the occasional dip into their mucky wares can still produce small gems, especially when you find Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World’ for less than £2.

The next level is the standard independent retailer with a small secondhand section, such as David’s Records in Letchworth. This sort of shop is the real teaser, the bait that first gets you into buying secondhand records. You’re looking for the band new album by some random US hardcore band, but then, out of the corner of your eye you spot Hüsker Dü’s ‘Candy Apple Grey’ in the secondhand section. Result. Before you know it, you’re checking the used record section before the new releases, just to make sure that no-one else picks up a bargain while you’re not looking.

Then there are the small, exclusively secondhand, shops such as Alan’s in East Finchley or More Music in Swansea. Shop where you the range of stock, and catchment area of their sellers, mean that you may not be finding the most treasured albums in your collection, but there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll find something that takes your fancy.

Larger shops can be divided into two categories. Firstly, there are those that specialise in certain genres, such as the excellent Replay Records on Haymarket Walk in Bristol, where I spent more time than I’d care to admit when in lived in the city. As they limit the sort of music they hold, it’s always worthwhile to spend a good hour looking through all the shelves, particularly as they’re very good at marking the price down on anything that hasn’t sold quickly. Any visit to my former housemates is usually accompanied by a trip to Replay and, more often than not, rewarded with a couple of bags full of very good, and very cheap, records.

Secondly, there are the evil shops. By which I really mean the various branches of Record & Music Exchange in London, though there must be other similarly despicable outlets around the country. Mainly because they’ll quite happily sell you scratched records and CDs, won’t let you listen to them in the shop to see if the marks are merely surface damage or something more serious and won’t give you a refund when you discover that you’ve been conned.

Then, finally, there’s eBay, the big daddy of secondhand record shopping. eBay scares me. There are too many possibilities. I could live on eBay, spend entire days searching for records and placing bids. If the hunt for secondhand records is indeed derived from the repression of the hunter-gatherer instinct then eBay is its ultimate expression. A place where not only do you get to seek and succeed, you also get to fight for your prize, for the right to call yourself King Monkey. I fear eBay and yet I also bow to its superior power.

That feels better now. A weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I have had my confession and I feel stronger, purer, for it. Just don’t go getting me mixed up with Rob Gordon, the neurotic shop-owner and music obsessive from Nick Hornby’s ‘High Fidelity’. I’m not a geek.