Alan Perrott: Just for the record

By Alan Perrott

Alan Perrott owns too many records to count. A room of his house is dedicated to them and every bit of spare cash goes on a new treasured find. In celebration of NZ Music Month, he talks about his devotion to vinyl and dealing with his fears his children will one day sell off the lot.

Vinyl is on the rise for Record Store Day. Photo / Thinkstock
Vinyl is on the rise for Record Store Day. Photo / Thinkstock

A lot of tosh gets written about records. Mostly that they've risen from the dead as analogue angels to reconquer the world.

If that's true, then why then does Auckland, with a population of relatively lots for our part of the world, have barely enough record stores to bother the fingers of one hand?

Even if vinyl has been adopted by some as the badge of a serious - or even ironic - music fan, sales remain tiny. The truth is, that regardless of claims over the warmth of the sound, the novelty of playing one and the growing queues on Record Store Day, the vast majority of people buying records are the same people who have always bought records. They just went away for a while.

I know I did. By the late-80s your standard album was a dead ringer for one of Rolf Harris' wobble boards - they were horrible and appeared to be in terminal decline.

Then, of all things, we turned to the cassette, a change that was more about the Walkman than joy in a format that hated heat, magnets and vague changes in wind direction.

Any track that wasn't first took forever to find and just turning the damn thing over could prove terminal, so no wonder we were primed for the arrival of the CD, with its skip function, whizz-bang digital display and apparent indestructibility. They looked a jetpack short of the future and I became one of those who started buying them before I even owned a player.

Yet it proved a brief flirtation. I found myself drifting back to the record bins as my tastes broadened into the past. I found I simply couldn't care less if other formats sounded better, stored better, were more easily moved about, more easily searched, or more easily played in social settings. If you do, great, but to me finding something like Fair & Warner isn't simply about accumulation.

Because this record, like many I now own, used to belong to a chap named Everett E. Jensen. I know this because he penned "E.E. Jensen" on the back in big bubble letters, which he then filled in with scribble or green highlighter.

If you don't know, Sandy Warner was the glamour girl who wore very little on an awful lot of 50s exotica albums. On this album she is actually singing, which strikes me as very cool indeed. But is it any good?

Well, Everett also left me a review: "Extra good. She sings, midrange. Good dance orchestrations and strings. Plesent (sic) music - pop, E-Z, latin, mellow jazz."

Of course there are people who denounce such graffiti as sacrilege - if the sleeve isn't a holy testament to its sacred contents, it's at least a factor in its resale value - yet his doodlings are what makes this album worth far more to me than what I paid ($8, as I recall).

Buying this record has connected me to a guy that Google tells me is, or was, an 84-year-old man living with his wife in Kansas City, Missouri, who had a legal fight over a property deal gone wrong. I've even seen their home online - yes, that's a little stalky but I quite fancied the idea of calling him out of the blue to say, "Gidday Mr Jensen, I've got your records," before getting to my real question: how did it feel to give them up?

After 35 years of record collecting, it's something I'll have to deal with myself one day and I was nervous to know what he'd say. Unfortunately, none of the numbers I'd found for him worked.

I guess I could ask the three collector-DJs who lost thousands of albums, EPs and singles in a Wellington storage unit fire last month. Theirs is a loss that can never be equated by someone losing the same tracks from their hard drive. "Why didn't you back them up you silly sod?" you'd say, and they'd shrug and set about replacing everything. These blokes' collections will never be replaced. To get even close would take years, regardless of how much cash they might have.

You certainly can't write your name in highlighted bubble letters on hard drive tracks, and charity shops of the future will never flog off whatever bits of an iPhone you store Roger Whittaker's Greatest Hits on. I admit pressing delete will eventually be a lot easier on my kids than having to hump boxes loaded with the same records I assume Everett's family have already humped once.

But too bad, I still get a kick out the notion that Everett and I went out and discovered the same records in different decades. It's the same with finds bearing expressions of love, regret, best wishes or an "I thought you might like this". These records have had lives, they've been the soundtracks to all sorts of events and relationships, then, for whatever reason, they were flicked on for me to reappreciate.

It's why I hang on to the 45s like Rindercella and Leapy Lee's Little Arrows that I grew up hearing on ZB's Morning Stories; why I keep records I may never play again that relate to break-ups, deaths, and stink times; and why I buy a record everywhere I travel rather than taking photographs. Admittedly I get more joy from holding the tatty Cultural Revolution-era opera I picked up in the Xian market than playing it, but the woman I haggled it off said (I think) that it was played over loudspeakers to the poor sods working the local farms during the 60s. That means ... something, anyway. Then there are the records I scored from the old Centrepoint collection. They mean something else altogether.

But they all carry a story, and there is joy and meaning in pulling out different combinations of them to play to others. I know certain songs will always transport old friends to a different time just as my old 7-inch of Nancy Wilson's (You Don't Know) How Glad I Am always takes me and the missus back to our wedding dance.

And, sure, maybe I'm overly sentimental and it's all only ever rock and roll, country and western, rhythm and blues, easy and listening, but I'd still love Everett E. Jensen to know that a fair number of his records will be safe, sound and, more importantly, enjoyed, until I eventually get an answer to my question.

I've already made a start on indoctrinating my kids for that moment ... if they even think of selling them I'll haunt them forever.

- NZ Herald

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