By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I’d cherry-pick that collection,” Chad Hemus says of the singles brought in by the collector in the cardigan with the walruslike face. “By the late ’70s, early ’80s, the record companies were pressing way more singles than they could sell. For example, I already have a shitload of his Queen. He did have good Dylan, good Presley, though. A Presley EP that books for $40, I’d put out for $40, and he’d get half of that.
“But then he had stuff like Manhattan Transfer.” Hemus gently winces. “I wouldn’t pay on that. A customer coming in here looking for Manhattan Transfer is going to want a CD of greatest hits.”
In a room upstairs, Hemus sits alone and prices records, between 1,000 and 1,500 a day. He’s been doing this for years, and his appreciation for vinyl goes beyond the music, extending to the objects themselves.
“This is an overpressing,” he says, pulling an obscure jazz LP from its sleeve. “I believe it happens when the presses get too hot. I’m not exactly sure what causes it, and I can’t describe what it sounds like, but I can tell it when I see it. There’s an oily rainbow look like you’d see on the sidewalk on a hot day. It’s halfway between a pigeon’s feather and the fog . . .
“The most rewarding part of this job is finding little pockets of other people’s reality,” Hemus says. These can be found both in an individual record — Hemus plays a 7-inch by The Ron, a vanity single of a helium-voiced man singing over karaoke-quality rock & roll — or in the entirety of a collection.
“The strangest collection I ever bought happened while I was still a buyer for a store in San Diego,” Hemus recalls. “Half of it was old Korla Pandit records on Fantasy. Pandit was that turbaned organ player who had a television show during the ’50s that aired in Southern California. It was exotica, like Esquivel, Martin Denny, that kind of stuff. Anyway, this guy brought in one stack of that — lots of colored vinyl — and one stack of Nazi records. Hitler’s speeches. Recordings of World War II rallies. Mostly private pressings. The guy who brought them in said they were his mother’s! It was one of those collections where I could not figure out who this person was.”
DJ Surge, 29, urban buyer at Amoeba. Has more than 2,000 records. “I just sold 3,000 of them to friends. Vinyl comes and vinyl goes.”
For the past month, Hemus has been largely occupied with sorting through one 30,000-record collection, an obsessive aggregation of vinyl unlike any the buyers at Amoeba have ever seen. It contains multiple editions of the collector’s favorite bands. For example, several boxes of Genesis might be followed by solo albums and side projects: Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Mike & the Mechanics. A host of Beatles records would be followed by McCartney solos. Hemus pulls a random sampling from one of the boxes. Ram in American, British and Israeli editions; a 12-inch promo-only sample of McCartney’s “Tug of War” on white vinyl; a “No More Lonely Nights” extended-version 12-inch picture disc; then a 12-inch of McCartney’s pop theme to the film Spies Like Us. All of the records are pristine. Many are unopened. The collection is mostly Top 40 British rock — lots of David ä Bowie, Rolling Stones and Spandau Ballet — along with music that scratched the mainstream — early punk, some progressive rock, a bit of heavy metal. Together, the records are an aggressive display of skewed normality. It’s as though the collector was trying to prove that his tastes were just like everyone else’s, only more perfect, more fully realized and — given the European bias — a bit exotic.
“There’s a ton of Canadian bands,” Hemus says. “So he must have had a shop he went to up there. Frequently.”
Then something happened.
“I just priced out some Marc Almond stuff from ’88, but around ’86 he was definitely slowing down,” says Hemus. “By 1990 the collection basically stops.”
Molly Lambert, 18, freshman at Brown University. “Why do I collect records? Because it’s totally bitchen. It’s also cheap.”
Returning to Plato, Marc Weinstein is the Platonic form of Record Store Man. Co-owner of Amoeba, he wears a goatee and his head is an explosion of black curls shot through with gray. He looks like Santa Claus, or Jerry Garcia’s third cousin. You can read his moods by his eyes, which are paranoid (“Hey, are you stealing that?”) and joyful (“You gotta listen to this!”), excited (“I love this place”) and tired (“No sleeeeep”) all at once. His clothes are disheveled in a stylized way, unironed but not unconsidered. The first time I meet him he wears a purple paisley shirt, the second time a rumpled black suit and a button-down on which several buttons either are missing or go unused. Weinstein looks like he’s been through the wash, faded but fresh. Best of all, none of these impressions betrays his musical bias. He could be a hep jazz fan who still haunts small dives, drinking stiff martinis and snapping his fingers in time. Or he could be an aging punk grown into a middle-aged slick. Or perhaps he’s a Jewish R&B connoisseur trying to look like a spiffed-up black man wearing an old favorite suit. Anyway, you can’t quite figure out what Weinstein is into. So I ask him.