The real reason I come to work every day is the education I pick up while I’m here (To be perfectly truthful, of course, other heroes pick it up and deliver it to the library, but it’s election season: no need to be perfectly truthful.)
Just last week, someone dropped off a collection of 45 RPM records, those doughnut discs which once ruled the singles market. These date to the early 60s, and feature a lot of pop/rock artists of the pre-Woodstock variety. They have fresh faces, nice teeth, and names I have never encountered in all my years of pricing rock singles.
This is because I have someone’s collection of records by Italian pop stars of the 60s. I suppose somebody slighted when last year I was saluting all those polka records of the 50s and 60s. Anyway, I like them better than the Greek pop records from two years ago: at least I can read the letters on these, even if I don’t understand the words.
I was also given a fascinating collection of LPs, a mix of the common (EVERYBODY in Chicago bought that same Bing Crosby Christmas album) to the modestly rare (I don’t believe anyone’s given me this soundtrack album for the movie Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell before) to the downright unusual (I’ve had documentary albums on World War II before, but never one in Japanese.) It was a fascinating collection, and I looked at every single album before I took a third of them to the garbage.
I have no real objection to a slight smell of basement on a record album, and I can deal with a modest sign that the basement has been exceptionally damp. But when seventeen or eighteen albums are stuck together, and what is sticking them together has grown a third of the way up the record jacket, there’s not much hope left. I can’t even salvage one by throwing away the jacket: mold that energetic is eating into the vinyl by now.
Some of my associates would throw their hands in the air and cry “Ewwww!” at this point, but others would pause long enough to ask, “So why did you risk your lungs by going through every single album before you headed for the trash?”
It has to do with a bit of education I picked up along the way. There were all those soundtrack albums, see, and that World War II documentary as well. This brought up the memory of a price guide somebody donated listing the 100 most valuable record albums produced in the United States. There’s a soundtrack album among the rest, and when I mentioned this in passing to someone as a joke, the joke fell flat. This is not as uncommon an experience as I’d like, but her response was highly unusual. She offered me $6,000 cash on the barrelhead if ever I turned up a copy.
This was several years ago, and I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence that a copy of the album did sell on eBay recently for $6,000. But even if she already has a copy, there’s bound to be somebody else who’d buy one from me.
The movie was all set to go, and the studio ready to release a soundtrack to go with The Caine Mutiny, with the background music by Max Steiner on one side and Humphrey Bogart’s big court-martial scene on the other. But the author of the book, Herman Wouk, had another version running on Broadway. Selling the big ending on vinyl would wound ticket sales. He and the studio swapped threats, but finally the head of Columbia said it was a lousy record anyhow, so why fight about it? (This could have been sour grapes, of course.) He ordered all the records destroyed.
How many escaped? Some people say eight and some say an even dozen. In any case, it is sought after by soundtrack collectors, Humphrey Bogart collectors, and maybe even Herman Wouk collectors. And I maybe under the mold somewhere….
It wasn’t there, of course. But you never know unless you wouk.
(No, I did not learn to tell jokes at the Newberry. But that’s where I learned not to bogart them.)