One day at Amoeba: Record buyers photographed January 3, 2002. Interviews by Vanessa Silverton-Peel and Christine Pelisek.RECORDS: the burden, the commitment. Even as props behind dark, gloomy curtains in airless subbasements, theyre essential the way all designated essentials are: the universe would topple without them (but it all depends how strongly you designate).
Richard Meltzer, 1999
Rick Frystak gives the impression of being tan. His sandy, neck-length hair frames a face with several lines in it, but he bounces with a youthful, puppy-tail energy. He has the free and generous appearance of a surfer. Only Frystaks pleasures do not involve chasing waves. He is one of the buyers at the new Amoeba Music Hollywood. If hes learned one thing on the job, it is this: People will lie through their teeth to get you to see their trash.
Sean Johnson (left), 18, high school student,and Jessi McFarland, 21, part-time clerk at Tower Records in Torrance. Sean collects anything by The Who or Pete Townshend. Im a drummer and Keith Moon is my inspiration. I like mad drummers who show off a lot. Jessi, who collects everything from Janis Joplin to Glenn Goulds classical piano recordings, says she loves the sound of vinyl. I like the crackle. Its comforting.
Still, Frystak remains committed to the quest. We will go anywhere in the States for a collection we went to Hawaii but first we have to determine its worth. First Ill ask you how many you have. And people will always exaggerate. Eight thousand records? Okay. Then Ill say, What kind of music? If they say 80s pop-rock, Ill be less excited than if they say 40s blues or 50s jazz. Then you get a feeling for how they feel about their records. Do they organize them? If they say, No, I just have my records in a roofless shack in my back yard it happens then you know its bad. If they have em in order, alphabetized and chronological, then you know they care. How long have they had them? Did they buy them in bulk or one by one over the years? By talking to them you discover how legitimate they are.
At Amoebas front counter, a collector a balding, walruslike man with a handlebar mustache and a gray, thickly cabled cardigan shows off a selection of his 7-inch singles. He has four long cardboard boxes containing an alphabetized selection of artists, letters M through Q, along with one box of D. He wants to sell them off.
My collections been sitting for a while, and I dont want to sink any more money into it, says the collector. Im proud to say I dont have any Huey Lewis, period.
Chad Hemus, a used buyer and vinyl pricer, flips through M the Mamas and the Papas, Manhattan Transfer, John Cougar Mellencamp. With his pencil-thin mustache and slicked hair, Hemus looks both tricky and fastidious, a bit like a villain from a low-budget 50s horror film. He takes the singles out of the box one at a time, slides them halfway out of their sleeves and angles them carefully. The collector looks at Hemus looking at his records, at all of the hairline fractures and imperfections revealed by the light. The collectors eyes shift from affection to concern, paranoia, resignation and affection. I loved that one. Will I get anything for that? What is this joker with the mustache thinking about? One way or the other Im committed to giving these records up.
Amador Calvo, 46, bilingual assistant teacher in the Palmdale School District. Originally from Jaen, Spain. He started collecting at age 12 and later became a DJ. He has more than 2,000 records here, and 1,000 in Spain. I hardly have any space in my house. My family thinks Im crazy, but they like to hear the music. I play records two hours a day.
As with most buys, the transaction is charged with desperation and mutual torment. Sellers are looking for quick cash. Or theyre getting rid of the collection owned by their dead brother. Sometimes the records are stolen. Or else theyre just fussy collectors, and theyre getting rid of a lifetime of their own stuff. At its best, selling part of a collection honing it is a rigorous form of self-analysis and self-improvement. (How many old indie-rock 7-inches will it take to get one copy of Neil Youngs On the Beach LP out of print and as yet unavailable on compact disc?) For the buyers, these transactions demand that they be therapists, pawnbrokers, parents and security guards all at once. And they have to make the transaction work for both sides.