From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
Last Fish Piss, I contributed a list of ironclad reasons why the general quality of life took an irreversible nosedive when the evil music industry forcibly replaced vinyl with CDs. Well, as is the way with the making of lists (and because frankly I was getting pretty emotional) I left a very important reason out. Namely, it’s impossible to make creative wall displays out of CD covers.
I could list at length the stunning visual uses to which album covers could be put, especially in a retail context where access to multiple copies of the same LP was possible. But for reasons of space I’ll confine myself to just one. Dark Side Of The Moon, you may recall, was a gatefold with a line representing the squiggly electronic measuring of a human heartbeat running along the front and back. What many didn’t realize was that the designers had incorporated the idea of placing covers side by side; when you did (and the store where I worked in 1978 did it with 100 covers, all the way around the store) you got a seamless, theoretically infinite repeating pattern.
(Note: I’d like to make it clear that I never particularly liked Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s just an example.)
Actually I’ve gone slightly off topic here, since the little story I have to tell involves not album covers but 45 sleeves. (The clever link being that the 45, too, was dealt a near-death blow by the CD.)
From the age of roughly six through 10, I bought my 45s, about two per month on average, at Scotty’s Records and Tapes, Northgate Mall, Edmonton. Person or persons unnamed, probably some bright spark frustrated-interior-designer type at head office, decreed that the Top 40 singles at Scotty’s were to be displayed on numbered mounted wooden spindles arranged on the wall next to the cash desk in five rows of eight. (I bet the staff really loved that, getting up on a big-ass ladder every week to rearrange the records.)
Keen readers will already have spotted a problem here: how do you put a picture-sleeved single (about a third of the singles released in those days, usually those by the more popular artists, had at least a limited-edition picture sleeve) on a spindle? Pooling their vast intellectual resources, the Scotty’s brain trust came up with a solution– take the record out of its picture sleeve and put it in a generic sleeve with a label-sized hole. Voila!
And what of the picture sleeves? Surely they were put aside, and the records placed back in them when purchased? Well, no, actually. Here’s where things get sticky. What Scotty’s did, and this is God’s own truth, was THROW THE PICTURE SLEEVES OUT. (The blood pressure of all true record lovers should be rising to near-fatal levels at this point.)
So, what was a discerning eight-year-old pop aficionado to do? You couldn’t ask the lady behind the counter (at least she looked like a “lady” to me; she was probably no more than 16) to save the sleeves for you. She would instantly roll her eyes and put out that “Get away kid, you bother me” vibe. What you could do was figure out what day, and into what receptacle, the sleeves were discarded. This mission accomplished, me and my friend Keith Puzniak (I’ve changed his name, but you know who you are if you’re out there, bud) embarked on regular Friday after-school raids of the dumpster behind Scotty’s. Was any more daring exploit ever done by ones so young?
Scotty’s, as it happened, shared their dumpster with the neighbouring shop, The Nut House. An integral aspect of the dumpster experience, therefore, was rooting for sleeves among peanut brittle hardened to concrete, rancid cashews and– this is the exciting part– jujubes, jelly beans and liquorice babies (still, in those pre-politically correct days, called liquorice sambos) that had presumably outlived their sell-by date but still seemed perfectly edible to us. The candy came into play most prominently when Keith would spot a particularly desirable sleeve– let’s say, the one for Hotlegs’ Neanderthal Man –before I did. It causes me some shame, even all these years later, to report that in such cases I was not above resorting to a form of extortion. Keith, you see, had something of a sweet tooth. I don’t think I’d be stretching things, in fact, to say that his love of a good nice batch of hardened jujubes exceeded his love for picture sleeves. On more than one occasion, then, I exploited Keith’s weakness and obtained the desired sleeve by threatened to withhold an especially tempting clump of some sweet or other. (Remember, all this negotiation was going on inside a smelly dumpster, which may have invested things with an added urgency.)
The end result? I can never look at my set of Creedence 45s (and I look at them often) without thinking of my friend, his cheeks stuffed, rivulets of black sugar streaming out either end of his mouth, while ankle, deep in various forms of refuse, I clutched my stained prize. It’s tempting to say that life has been all down hill since then.
Funny, isn’t it, the changing perspective that comes with the passing of years? Now, with the distance of time, with the wry wisdom that comes with age, secure in the knowledge that all Scotty’s staff circa 1968-69 have dispersed into different walks of life, in some cases even died, I can say it: YOU PEOPLE WERE A BUNCH OF FUCKING IDIOTS.
(By the way, conscience dictates an admission. What I said about CD covers being completely useless for walls isn’t literally true. A good friend of mine in Denmark (props to you, Mr. Lorenzen) has lined his swinging Copenhagen pad with customized transparent shower curtains into which he slots the booklets from his CDs. The effect, it must be said, is quite striking. But hey, good luck finding one of those curtains.)