For many years, I have had a fascination with the obscure. Little-known facts, rare animals, seldom-visited destinations. Basically, information that very few find interesting. At this point, I reckon if most people are leaving it alone, it must be something I need to investigate.
The world of music is a perfect environment for the pursuit of the arcane. Since I was 17, I have been drawn to rare records. I wanted to know every fact surrounding their scarcity. From the initial pressing amount to where all the copies ended up. Often, the facts around the record were as riveting as the music itself.
You know the single by Eddie Kidd, “Black Leather Silver Chrome”/“Hold Me Closer” on Decca, released in 1978, right? Of course you do. The record is interesting to some punk-rock collectors because it features members of The Ruts as Kidd’s backing band. Apparently, it’s the first time The Ruts were on a record.
I have seen two copies of “Black Leather Silver Chrome” and both of them are A-label promos. I have looked all over the internet and concur with other collectors who have reported never having seen a copy without the “A” on the label, which graces the “Black Leather Silver Chrome” side. How come there isn’t a regular issue of this record? The answer is very likely something mundane, such as radio didn’t pick up on the single and Decca decided to drop it. But I would like to know what happened.
Information such as this isn’t interesting to me merely because hardly anyone else seems to care. It’s not as if I check first to get a head count. I just have the strange luck to be pulled toward stuff like this. Often when I bid on something on eBay that I think is a big deal, I’m the only bidder. This doesn’t make the item rare necessarily; it just hurls me to the front of the line reserved for the “no one else cares but you” gang.
Every now and then, a record comes up for bid that is truly one-of-a-kind. That’s the case with acetates, which are made one at a time. You can spin them a few times and then they fall apart. In the major-label industry, several years ago, they were quite common. When it comes to punk rock, acetates are as rare as the proverbial hen’s tooth.
Recently on eBay, a two-song acetate of a band from Philadelphia called Pure Hell came up for bid. Their one and only single, “These Boots Were Made for Walking”/“No Rules” on the Golden Sphinx label, is somewhat rare. The solid-center version not so much, but the push-out center version will run you about 100 bucks. I am guessing that the latter pressing was a low-number second run. A solid center white label test press exists, but I have only seen a picture of it online. This acetate might precede the single and would be even rarer.
Pure Hell’s record was one of the first 7-inches I ever had. I have been a fan of the band since I bought it at Yesterday & Today Records in Rockville, Maryland, in 1979. They were known by some as “the other black punk-rock band,” besides Washington, D.C.’s Bad Brains. I always just thought they were one of the many blink-and-you-missed-them bands that the genre seemed to have so many of. An album called Noise Addiction, not released until 2006, proved that the band had much more happening than what was on the single. The existence of the recordings was one of the great urban legends of my youth. It was amazing to find out that it was actually true.
Then there is the anger that I am obviously not the biggest fan.
The bid for this acetate ended 70 minutes ago. Brutal! There were 14 bidders and 32 bids. Things got interesting around the $550 mark, about half an hour before the end. The last of the lightweights fell away when the leading bid of $666.66 leapt to $3,866.66 as two grimly determined fanboys attempted to choke each other out for a few more seconds until, mercifully, the mini-drama was over with a winning bid of $4,067.
Let’s break it down. Fourteen people in the entire world were interested. Four of them bid more than $500. That would make four people who really wanted that record. Not an elite group by any means, but the fact that you could fit them all in a small car is kind of cool.
I have been on both sides of these momentous bids, mostly as the one who didn’t seem to want it enough. It’s always the same feelings, probably stages of grief. First, there is an actual ache in my chest and then I notice that I have not taken a breath for several seconds. Then there is the anger that I am obviously not the biggest fan. Years later, there is no coming to terms, just a twist in my stomach whenever I think about it.
“Go big or go home” applies here. Somewhere out there, another male, beads of sweat rolling off his upper lip and condensation fogging his glasses, is taking every grain of sand kicked in his face and throwing it back at the world with his bid.
If he wins, he stands alone at the top of fanboy mountain. Hardly anyone cares! I wrote the seller and asked how he came upon this rarity. The mystery was soon revealed: “Haha I just found it at a store. There’s no other story.” Oh.
It’s good to win because losing is hell. What kind of hell, you ask? Pure Hell.
Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.