Justin Jacoby Smith is an organizer, web geek, Buddhist, and poet.

on lost classics & losing lost classics, part 1

In a new Resonant Frequency, the always-awesome Mark Richardson writes about cult hits and the strangely egoistic ways we appreciate the lost-and-rediscovered. Writing about Music and Dreams, an obscure folk record by Robert Lester Folsom (?) from the late 70s recently reissued by the lost-classic curators at Mexican Summer, Mark pointedly asks--

Is Folsom's record actually better than the hundreds of similar-sounding records from the time that might have actually had a hit or two and been listened to then by a couple of hundred thousand people? You could say that its appeal has something to do with the record never being overplayed, and there could be some truth to that. But the lost-ness is the real source of the value. Most of the paleontologist's work is done on existing specimens, well after the fossilized skeletons are excavated. But everyone wants to be the person who discovers a new bone.

This set my wheels of reminisce to spinning, of course.

About four years ago I was sitting on the concrete floor of Antone's Record Shop in Austin. It was a long summer of part time work and short summer class days, and it left me with a lot of time to pass, so I would come in to Antone's on hot golden afternoons and settle in on the floor for my excavation. By this time of the year I'd already worked over all the racks of records that were sorted by genre and alphabetized. I'd had months to get to know the soft swish and light gust of musty air as I flicked past a record sleeve in the bin.

Already got this Monk record. How did this Steel Pulse get in here?

Instead of thumbing through those plebian rows any further, I developed a new strategy. I would wade through the overflowing cardboard boxes & milk crates underneath the racks, the thousands upon thousands of beaten up and impossible-to-sell LPs who were deeply scratched, or whose sleeves had been badly water damaged or spine split or were otherwise candidates for health care reform. This was the stuff that hadn't been sold to Antone's so much as donated because the owners needed the garage space. I knew that amid the 243 copies of Paul Simon's Graceland and unplayable copies of Red-Headed Stranger I would find some sustenance, but with that much chaff I had to work with efficiency. After searching through each bin for hours, I'd get up for the day with my stack of records, drop a bookmark at my stopping point, pay for what I'd found, and head out. The next day I'd waltz in, giving the righteously bearded Jeff a greeting, and make a beeline for my bookmark.

Over the course of those months my collection grew by leaps and bounds as I filled in gaps, picked up warped necessaries, and learned that Bob James' Touchdown is actually a pretty good record.

But there was one record that was different from the rest. I still remember the way I found it. I'd come in for the day with a giant sweet tea in my hand, given Jeff the nod, and made my way past the overpriced Funkadelic reissues to my marker in the back. I'd made it all the way to the boxes under the Y section of Rock/Pop, so it was with some pride that I grinned at the Yes record in the big bin and then sat down to make congress with the cobwebs underneath. I flipped past this record, that record, stopped to pull out 14 More of Hank Williams Greatest Hits, with its weird watercolor of Hank leering out at me--and then there it was.

[to be continued]