I do not fetishize vinyl records. Running the WFMU Record Fair for eight years landed me in enough confrontations with hygiene-deprived, vinyl-hoarding cellar dwellers to effectively scare me away from that lifestyle forever. Nope, my preference for LPs has nothing to do with that oft-recycled speech about how the look, feel, and smell of vinyl is a component of some shamanistic part of music fandom. I just think CDs are trash, yet I must reconcile this with my interest in physical artifacts, especially those having to do with the cultural flotsam of history.
In addition to the creepy factor, I remain somewhat in awe of people who meticulously care for their record collections as if they were living, breathing organisms. In particular, I love the story that circulated widely after John Peel's death detailing how he maintained a special box of favorite 45s; those which he felt represented something more important or progressive than just a pair of good tunes. I more or less quit buying records years ago when money got scarce, and again, the personal side effects of running the FMU Record Fair for so long certainly tarnished the notion of acquiring more vinyl in my mind for years afterwards. But it was at a Fair sometime in the early aughts that I acquired one of the singles which I would definitely add to my own box of personal favorites, were I ever to compile one. That single was "Romeo", by the Wipers, which I bought from Crowe.
Crowe was one of my first favorite people at WFMU. When I joined the station's staff in 2000, he was already sort of a fringe character there, having not helmed a weekly show for some time. But his caustic wit, intimidating presence, and his willingness to get up in the face of anyone foolish enough to cross him instantly earned my respect. He also seemed to like me—or at least tolerate me, which I took as a major point of pride since I tend to think of myself as a geek, and imagine that everyone else does too.
When I first met Crowe, he was totally unlike the stereotype that many people imagine FMU DJs to uphold. He prioritized his work and family far above the arcane knowledge and music biz hooey that other independent radio types sometimes traffic in, and in that way, he represented exactly what I'd hoped to find at the station. Not music geek heaven, but radio heaven—a place populated by fiercely intelligent and interesting weirdos who were bold enough to speak candidly with a hot microphone in their face. Crowe's acerbic mic breaks were universally crazy, hilarious, and often involved characters who operated several steps outside of society's normal channels. However, he also had a lot of insanely good records crossing his desk in some sort of business capacity, though I never did figure out why or how. Queries for details were usually met with muttered profanity, the lighting of cigarettes, or a story about some guy's house being burned down because he owed a lot of money.
Anyway, I'd been badgering him about doing a table at the Fair, and he finally agreed, though he didn't bother to show up until the last day of the event, when FMU staffers would traditionally catch a price break on the dealer fee. As he began carting his records in, he plopped a filthy box of 45s down on my dealer check-in desk and said: "Watch these. I have to go talk my way out of a goddam parking ticket", and then promptly excused himself back out onto 19th Street. Sunday morning dealer check-in was comparatively slow to the other days, so I began flipping through the box of unpriced 45s, nearly all of which were the sort to give me heart palpitations. Original singles by artists I loved, but which I'd never been able to acquire such early releases by: The Scientists, Johnny Thunders, Sun City Girls, Jah Wobble, Wipers, and so on. I began making a pile of the most desirable 45s, knowing I might have to evacuate my bank account in order to acquire them. (Which even during those better economic times, was not really an option for me.) Vinyl fetishists, as I had learned, often waxed romantic of blundering into some hole-in-the-wall record shop with no expectations, only to discover THE MOTHERLODE: A treasure-trove of all the definitive musical artifacts of one's own personal aesthetic—or however one chose to fancy it, anyway. This was that instance for me, only I hadn't needed to seek it out—Crowe had dropped a complete historical record of everything I was in love with right in front of me on a freezing loading dock in Chelsea at 7 AM. To say that I was pretty floored would be putting it mildly.
The pile was probably twenty or thirty records tall by the time he returned from his dealings with the NYPD meter maid. In the realm of Record Fair price indices, I knew the eventual transaction could end up costing me that month's rent, so I'd been trying to cherrypick only the best stuff. This was no easy task: nearly everything in the box looked amazing and was in what Crowe sometimes called "tits condition".
"You want those?", he asked when he saw me flipping through the pile. "Gimme, I'll work out the damage for you" he said, snatching the records away from me. As he flipped through them, he began adding numbers out loud which quickly climbed into the triple digits, occasionally pausing on a record to either smirk, nod approvingly, or wave it in my face while demanding to know "why the hell [I wanted] this piece of shit". Then, back to the addition, eventually reaching a total that I knew was going to sting badly. In my mind, I'd already begun the mournful re-filing of singles I would have to pass on in order to get the price down, and that's when Crowe said:
"Alright, Lupica... Twenty bucks for the pile—cash and carry. I am hooking you up, do you hear me? Don't ever fucking forget this."
Needless to say, I haven't.