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

Losing Lost Classics, Part 3

This is the overdue 3rd & final part in a set of posts about the best record you've never heard of, and the story of how I lost it. Here are Part 1 and Part 2, which you totally don't need to read. I should have made a tape. I should have set it in the pile with Nat King Cole Sings, George Shearing Plays and made sure I digitized it for posterity. I should have done something.

That summer three years ago the internet knew nothing of Bill, Mary & Dave and their weird folk trio. Even now, Google+ and the creeping singularity notwithstanding, I can't find a single record collector or white label geek or weird Christian folk obsessive who can tell me who they were and if they recorded anything more.

Back then I tried all my resources. I talked to Steve at my favorite shop on the south side Austin. He said it sounded familiar, so the following Sunday I took the record with me to work so I could take it down to the store after my shift. I brought it in from the car so it wouldn't warp in the Texas summer sun and I set it on a table in the breakroom. One after the other, as co-workers had to walk past the weird watercolor on the sleeve to get to the front, they came to ask me what it was--"that cover is...something special," they would say.

They didn't mean it in the way I did.

I got it down to Steve at the record shop, and I still remember the stunned look on his face when he put it on and bright primary colors seemed to come charging out of the speakers with the a capella opening.

He'd never heard it either, but he told me to definitely get in touch if I found out more.

I e-mailed Yoder, who ran a blog dedicated to sharing private press recordings by Christian folk artists.

"Oh yes I know this," he replied, "It is three little black girls, yes?"

"No," I said, "It's a Bill, Mary & Dave."

"Oh no," he said. "I do not know this."

Yoder, my ace in the hole, had  claimed this was beyond even his superhuman record nerd knowledge. Summer had given way to a humid Texas fall, and I decided it was time to give up on finding out more. I decided it didn't matter if I ever knew anything about Bill, Mary & Dave. I had this incredible record they had created, and all I had to do was enjoy it. I closed the reply from Yoder, got up from my computer, and went to my record bins digging for Transition.

Tallahassee|Tchaikovsky|Temptations|Tumble 4 Ya

Wait...what?

Temptations|Tumble 4 Ya

First of all, why did I have a 12" single of "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" by Culture Club, secondly why was it filed under T instead of I, and where the hell was Transition?

I went back to A and started flipping through records slowly. My girlfriend looked over at me.

"Are you OK?"

I didn't usually start at A and work my way through my entire collection.

"I can't find that weird Christian folk album. You haven't seen it, have you?"

"The one with the creepy watercolor cover?"

"Yeah"

"No, I don't know where it is."

I flipped through the records a little faster. A little more frantically. I inhaled that delicious dust that comes to settle between records twenty years older than I am. I inhaled it a little faster as my breath started to speed up. Fs. Ls. Qs. Vs. I went backwards: Ys. Ts again. Ks. Ds. No Transition. It was gone. I had finally allowed it to be defined by its absence of context, and in response the record had become absence itself.

In the years that would ensue a lot of things would change. I would move from that apartment to another, and another still. I would lose that girl and another, and another still. I would even sell a good many of my precious records, giving over most of the trove to a good friend who I knew would care for those Hank Williams records like they were her own children, so that I could afford a move to Washington, DC.

But I would still miss Bill, Mary & Dave.

There's a sense in which there wasn't even anything all that special about it. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, the songs were catchy and well written, and the whole thing was a wonderful kitsch artifact of the weird era of evangelistic Christian folk-pop. There were a hundred other records that weren't that substantively different from Transition. Every single one of these things is true. It wasn't the first record I ever bought, it didn't dig into my life in a deeply personal way, it didn't hit me at the right place and the right time. In so many ways Transition was deeply unexceptional.

But I still wish you'd had a chance to hear it.

The trouble with losing a record no one's ever heard is that it becomes nearly impossible to tell people how much it meant to you, and why it meant anything at all. You can't find another person in the world who has fallen victim to its charms, so you're forced to fall back on tired reference points and the purplest descriptors. Your friends, the people who care for you, they'll tell you they understand. They might even think they do understand, but you know that no matter how well you write the story, no matter how good you make it sound, your words will never make anyone else hear what you heard. No one else will ever know what it was like to hold that bright shining piece of heaven, even if you only held it for a moment.

I should have made a tape.