I like to browse. I like to rummage through things at most stores. You can put me in a supermarket or Home Depot and I’ll keep myself occupied for as long as necessary. But even moreso, I enjoy going through second hand stores, taking a look to see if I can find anything of interest.
For most of my life I’ve managed to collect a considerable collection of books, films and music. I’ve take an especial interest in discovering show music, and before I got my first CD player it was mostly in the form of records. Growing up in my house, my parents were a little behind the times on the music technology – it took them to 1995 to get their first CD player. Yeah, seriously. In fact, my father only got a CD player in his car for the first time in 2005. But anyway, for lack of the CD player, we did have a very nice unit that played records, cassette tapes and, get this, 8-tracks (I’ve never owned one of those). In fact, my first cast album was the original London cast recording of My Fair Lady, in all its lavish Columbia gatefold beauty, which I found in a used book store run by the local public library. I think it cost a quarter, along with several other LPs I picked up.
When I made the switch to CDs, I kept my LPs but didn’t give them as much play. It wasn’t until college that I started to get back into collecting cast recordings on LP. Looking to see what I could find in terms of releases and sleeves. It’s been a rather fun project, because going through a $.25 bin in a college town music store you’ll never what sort of surprises you’ll be in for. Add to that when I was living in New Paltz, NY (where I attended college), the two music stores would recognize when I came in and would advise me as to where I would find the most recent musical theatre records. (I think they were just grateful that someone was buying as much as I was).
Anyway, I managed to find a lot of treasures, many times 10 for a $1.00, inclusive of many recordings, some of which aren’t available on CD, such as Inner City, Illya Darling, Carousel studio cast with Robert Merrill, Patrice Munsel & Florence Henderson, and from the commonplace into the rare, a private label recording made of The Yearling, a disastrous 3 performance flop from 1965. So plain was it, there was no date, authors, labeling – nothing that would point it out that it was a show album.
I write this today because this morning I got up and left the house at 7:00 to drive to Stormville, NY with some friends of mine. Every major summer holiday they have a weekend vendor market in which you walk through an airstrip filled with booths from antiques dealers, retailers, or people just trying to unload their junk. The first time I went to this was in 2003, when elderly neighbors of mine gave me $150 to unload their truck for them and then reload it. I had the rest of the day to wander throughout. In browsing I found the original cast albums of The Unsinkable Molly Brown and High Spirits (both featuring the sublime Tammy Grimes). I immediately picked them up and much to my delight, discovered that they each contained the show’s original souvenir program as well.
I’ve been back several times since, voraciously poring through milk crate and box after milk crate and box just to see if there’s anything of use. The downside to this is that there are a lot of terrible things such as Rex Smith, The Bee Gees, countless “never heard of them” artists and such interesting things as “Do the Strip Tease” novelties. But it’s usually worth it. Last time I got a few show albums, Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall, It’s Better with a Band, The Anna Russell Album? and The Bob Newhart Button Down Album, to name a few. While today wasn’t as successful as usual, I happened upon a mint condition LP of the original Broadway cast of 1776 for a $1. It may have been the only thing I bought (my hopes to discover LPs of On the Twentieth Century, A Time for Singing, Donnybrook! and Darling of the Day weren’t assuaged, but on the other hand they haven’t dashed either. (I know I can always check ebay, but part of the fun is finding them at such incredibly low prices).
While I know I’m going to sound a lot older than my 25 years, I can’t help but think about how much is lost in the music experience with downloadable mp3s. Sure, it’s the easiest thing to go to i-tunes and enter a search query and have it on your computer right then and there, but there’s none of the gratified satisfaction that comes from the effort put in looking for something. It’s for that reason I hope that while music stores may become about as hip as the Automat, they will never fully disappear. If you’re willing to look, you never know what surprises you may find.