Misfortune is not a word I would ordinarily use to describe being matrimonially linked to the deliciously saucy actress Beverly D’Angelo. But, as you can see from this (unfortunately) deleted scene from the 2000 film adaption of author Nick Hornby’s 1995 book, “Hi Fidelity” (the scene, in somewhat different form, is included in Hornby’s masterwork), here the delightful Ms. D’Angelo becomes every record collector’s worst nightmare, save outright theft or fire.
Because I’m a lot closer to the main character, independent record shop owner Rob Gordon, than I would like to admit — oh, what the hell, of course I admit it! — I had to freeze-frame the opening of this clip to linger over those amazing albums framed up there above the wall of records: Good God. The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” The 13th Floor Elevators’ debut LP. The Chocolate Watch Band’s “No Way Out.” Moby Grape – yeah, the rare one with one of Grape guys extending his middle finger on the front cover, which was quickly airbrushed out by the record company on subsequent pressings. And those framed masterpieces, while possibly the cherries on top, may have only hinted at the glorious history those quiet shelves contained. I’m more of an LP guy than a singles guy, so I was hungry and dying to see what Rob, a.k.a actor John Cusack, pulled from this stunning wall of wax. Which, sadly, he didn’t.
But we do see him pluck from those vast drawers filled with rare 45-rpm singles, with ever greater astonishment and with a kind of moaning, sighing sound emanating from his throat (or is that from down deep in his soul, or even lower regions?) that resembles engaging in a sexual act of some kind (and maybe perusing vinyl porn like this is a sexual act). I didn’t mike myself or have a camera on me, but I wondered if watching this elicited a similar unconscious response from me as I gazed at the drool-worthy original pressings of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen”; Roy Orbison’s “Only The Lonely”; James Cotton’s “My Baby.” As much as I longed for Rob to keep flipping, fanning, and caressing these beautiful creatures — for god’s sake, don’t stop! — he does stop to complete the scene and engage in (his) post-coital dialogue with the peeved and impatient Ms. D’Angelo. Oh, right. We have a movie to do here.
Viewing this scene (hitting rewind so I could re-experience the scene and again feel the flush, giddy sensation of poring over those 45s) got me thinking about ethics. Namely, what would I do in this situation? Rob undoubtedly takes the high road, and rebuffs D’Angelo’s bitterly dripping desire for revenge — and the potential vinyl windfall of Rob’s life. Although I commend — and agree with — Rob’s golden rule not to opportunistically exploit or profit at the hands of a fellow record collector, I’m not sure I would be as strong.
But having camped out in record stores as a second home for most of my life and even having worked the other side of the counter briefly as quite possibly the world’s oldest first-time record clerk, I started thinking that Rob and the guys like him — they’re always guys — who run record stores run a business that is incredibly tough to maintain. They need to turn a profit to survive. They need to buy low and sell high. They need to respond to the finicky tastes and capricious trends of supply and demand. And they simply cannot afford to pay somebody selling their collection, no matter how exemplary, what that collection is worth. After all, they’re not ambassadors of good will or the fairy godmother or a non-profit up for the Nobel Peace Prize. And they’re not purchasing those records for their own collections (well, most of the time anyway). They’re buying them to flip, to sell, at a mark-up and at a reasonable profit. That’s business.
I’m not saying that record stores rip off or hoodwink folks selling their collections. Quite the contrary. As someone who has, reluctantly, been occasionally been forced to sell specimens here and there from my own collection as a way of subsidizing another stack of records I want (or need) to have as a way of growing it, improving and enhancing that collection as a living, breathing organism, I can tell you that most of the guys who run record stores are very fair. They are, after all, very much like me. They love records and music. They’ve probably been there on the other side of the counter. They know you probably know what you have (because you’ve taken the trouble to obtain it), and know what those records are worth. The rule of thumb, in my experience at least, is that record store owners will give you roughly half of what they think they can sell a record for (or what they claim they can sell your records for). And they will always give you more if you take the exchange in trade, for credit.
But of course, the case with Rob at Beverly’s is obviously a different story. She wants to screw her husband over as revenge, and is counting on Rob to be a willing and ready accomplice. She’s counting on his greed, in a sense. The question becomes: Does he play along? We all know what he gets if he does. But do we — or he — know what he gives up if he does? And what taking this guy’s collection may cost him cosmically as a person and fellow traveler in the wax wilderness?
Then there’s yet another dimension in this moral and ethical dilemma: The husband, whom we never see or meet. The fact (if true) that he’s asked/directed the wife he’s cheating on to sell all of his singles and send him whatever she gets for them so he can keep partying with his barely legal girlfriend in Jamaica tells me something disturbing. Bottom line, he doesn’t love his singles and records as much as he should. Certainly not as much as he likes, ahem, (pardon my French, readers) 19-year-old pussy. I mean, check out the house Beverly and hubby live in. You just know there’s a Jaguar or Beemer parked in the two-car garage. Couldn’t he sell something else?
So maybe on some level he doesn’t deserve those records anymore. He’s made his choice. He’s engaged in some tacky behavior that — as intimidating and brusquely business-like as she seems — has badly betrayed and very probably hurt his wife very deeply. Not to get on a different moral tangent about marital fidelity or lack thereof, and I’m honestly not judging that because we have no idea what brought this scenario about. But since this scene is set as a kind of moral test and ethical quandary, I feel we can factor in, as one element of the discussion, the husband’s actions, priorities, and choices that make it an ethical quandary. He’s got a lot of nerve asking the wife he’s cheating on to do his bidding for him. Then again, also bottom line, is that it’s his record collection. It belongs to him, to do with as he wishes. Maybe he conceived of it as money for a rainy day someday. And maybe this is his rainy day (or a whole lot of cocoa-butter slathered sunny days). Even if it is, this is an impressive collection that he’s obviously built with love, care, dedication, passion, and a focused obsessiveness over time. Decades, probably. Maybe he — and his collection — deserve better. And, well, shit happens.
So there we have it. And now, for me at least, comes the interesting part. For all of you who love and collect records or music or, hell, anything you love — and I know you’re out there because you’re here reading this thing called “RPM” — what would you do if you were Rob? Have you ever been in a similar or comparable situation? If so, I (and probably all of us here) would love to hear about it. If you prefer, you can also/either/or tackle this little exercise from another angle that I’d also love to hear about if you have a tale to tell. The overwhelming rush and sensory overload Rob feels when he hits upon this veritable gold mine of wax is a giddy and euphoric feeling I’ve had the great good fortune to have many times in my life. I know, I know. But as dauntingly sophisticated, dangerously debonair, and casually cultured as you no doubt all think I am, I am at heart a man of simple tastes and pleasures. (A lot of them, including chatting with you, are outlined right here on this blog). So I ask you: What is the best, or most incredible and surprising, day of your record-hunting life? Feel free to leave a comment or reply below, or at my “RPM: Life In Analog” Facebook site if you wish. Thanks in advance for sharing your perspectives and war stories of battles waged, won or lost. I very much look forward to, um, collecting your answers. And I promise not to sell them to finance a trip to Jamaica, even with my wife (well, OK, maybe I would do that).
Couldn’t resist a few more scenes (this poor sap doesn’t own “Blonde On Blonde”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eBh6xipKYk&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk&index=19
Filing records autobiographically: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQvOnDlql5g&index=37&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk
The wrath of Barry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ECyX8A3iP0&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk&index=9
Sad bastard music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc3TYIIpOZM&list=RDz5ziBCarxEk&index=10