Mission of Burma’s bassist finally gets rid of his record collection
What does it take to get an aging rocker to part with his beloved vinyl records?
I just did the unthinkable: I asked a friend to haul off all my records. I am stunned, and it hurts. But I did it out of love.
First, some context. I came of age with the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Kinks. I was always the kid playing dances in the gym with his crappy band. Hendrix was my godhead. At my high school, I became an ardent if unsuccessful evangelist for musical outsiders like Captain Beefheart and the New York Dolls.
When I heard the new music coming out of downtown New York City in the mid-’70s, I knew the course of my life was changed forever: I had to be part of this electrifying new scene. My band, Mission of Burma, formed in Boston in 1979 and over the next four years managed to plant a flag on a small patch of musical territory that we could call our own.
All along, I was buying records. I craved new music the way an addict needs his pipe. As a songwriter, I considered records fuel for the furnace, kept hot 24 hours a day. Coarse musical ideas circled around in my brain, in my dreams — like a kid’s clattering rock polisher, tumbling and tumbling, slowly transforming a rough mass into something that might be worth bringing into the world.
The record-buying binge slowed with the advent of the digital revolution. I changed careers from music to TV production. When my wife and I moved from an apartment to our first home in the early ’90s, the big, bulky stereo system with heavy speakers never made it out of storage. The records — so crucial, so cherished, so much a part of my identity — were consigned to a closet “temporarily,” and those of secondary importance were relegated to racks in the garage.
And there they stayed. Decade after decade, in silent judgment of their unfaithful owner.
I am loath to admit it, but the last time I played one of my LPs was over a quarter century ago. Today I do almost all of my listening on Route 128, through streaming services in the car. A total and abject cave to convenience.
Now, in my mid-60s, a panicky thought begins to intrude: What will happen to my records? Flamin’ Groovies, Trout Mask Replica, White Light/White Heat. My wife’s tastes run toward the classic but more conventional — Stevie Wonder, Neil Young. And if something isn’t Auto-Tuned, my girls can’t recognize it as music. The last thing I would want to do is leave them with the burden of dealing with their dad’s precious collection of weirdo albums, the hassle of selling them, and the heartbreak of throwing them away.
Enter the unthinkable thought.
My former bandmate and musical brother-in-arms, Peter, happens to be a deeply informed collector and trader of LPs. Not that my records are collector’s items. With a few unintentional exceptions, they aren’t rarities, and they’re many thousands of spins away from “mint condition.” Wheels of Fire, Soft Machine, Public Image. No, these things were workhorses, ridden hard and put up scratched, scarred by bad habits, their covers marked by beer rings, cigarette burns, and, now, garage rot.
Peter agrees to look at my records and enters the cool dark of our garage, occasionally asking if I really want to do this. I bite my lip and tell him he is doing me a favor. He mentions compensation. I shake my head. Roxy Music, Kinks-Size, Bitches Brew. These records have already given me more than I could ever ask.
It’s possible that Peter will keep some in his own collection, but he probably already has most of them, and I assume they will be up on eBay within the week. Either way is fine with me. He can use the money. And more importantly, they’ll find their way to someone who will love them. The way I do.