26 March 2007

Rare mint 12" promo blue vinyl ltd. g/fold sticker p/s

What is it that makes a record collectible? What compels us to seek out these objects, obsess about them, pay exorbitant prices for them, hoard them, display them, hide them, worship them, flaunt them and eventually resell them? I believe that there are a couple of things that make a record collectible. Rarity. Controversy. Beauty. Exclusivity. Novelty. But if you have to ask me what the one thing is that I believe inspires the desire to collect, then it must surely be this: provenance. Nothing beats owning that rare record with a great story. Here are four collectibles with great stories.

1. The Beatles. Yesterday and Today with butchers sleeve.

LP. Capitol Records ST2553 [1966]
Essentially an LP of songs previously only released on the UK versions of the Help! and Rubber Soul albums of 1965 and some tracks from their upcoming Revolver album of 1966, this American release initially featured sleeve art by photographer Robert Whitaker. The macabre photograph featured the Fab Four dressed in butcher's overcoats, draped with cuts of meat and dismembered plastic dolls. Capitol Records in the United States printed 750 000 copies of Yesterday and Today. Due to immediate public reaction, the record was recalled almost as soon as advance copies reached disc jockeys and store managers. In some areas, the record did indeed go on sale... for a whole day. Printing plant managers were requested by Capitol to destroy the record sleeves, and several were landfilled. However, to recoup costs, tens of thousands of recalled sleeves were cropped and had a compliant new cover pasted over the old one. First state records, without the new cover pasted onto them, are obviously the most valuable. Second state records, with an intact pasteover on the butcher image are also increasingly rare and valuable. Least valuable are third state records, where previous owners, curious to see the original condemned cover, have defaced their records by steaming or pealing off the pasteover. Twenty pristine, sealed, first state records were recently sold from the personal collection of Alan Livingston, ex-president of Capitol Records. These constitute some of the most valuable records on the planet, the purest crystallization of Beatlemania. Affluent collectors easily fork out $ 40 000 in order to get their hands on a Livingston Butcher.

2. Madonna. Sex.

Book. Warner Books 0-446-51732-1 [1992]
Obviously not a record, but rather a visual acompaniment to Madonna's album Erotica. This is one of the most sought-after items spawned by the music industry. Lavishly designed by
Baron & Baron, it featured the work of many photographers, most notably Steven Meisel. Inside its mylar wrapper and metal covers nestled an opulent collection of collages, full colour photographs, monochrome prints and stylized snippets of text (ostensibly written by Madonna's persona Mistress Dita) and depicting the erotic adventures of Madonna and such friends as Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini and Vanilla Ice. Although the volume seems quite tame today, it was hugely controversial upon release, with several stores refusing to carry it. The hype worked, though: the first print run of 1.5 million copies completely sold out worldwide in just three days. This makes Madonna the author of the single most successful coffee table book ever published. Included with the book was a CD in packaging styled to look like a condom wrapper, containing an alternate version of the song Erotica, called Erotic. Bound into the back of the book was a photonovella comic book, Dita in "The Chelsea Girl" consisting of photographs taken by Steven Meisel at the Hotel Chelsea in New York. Sealed first editions of Sex easily reach $ 200 with online resellers today.

3. U2. Achtung Baby 'Users Kit'.

Promo. Island Records U28 [1991]
A lot of the collectibles from today's musicians take the form of advance items sent out to radio stations and music magazines to promote records before their release. These can range from a simple CD-R containing a radio edit of a new single, to extravagant goodie bags produced in the hope of enticing airplay or a favourable review. The marketing machine behind Irish rockers U2 is quite adept at pimping the band in this way. Some of the most deliciously desirable promos were made for the 1991 album Achtung Baby. One of these took the form of a khaki coloured kit bag, curiously labeled as the U2 Achtung Baby (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) 'Users Kit'. This PVC lined nylon bag rolled out to reveal the Achtung Baby album on CD and cassette, a U2-branded poster showing a Trabant on one side and a map of Berlin on the other, an Achtung Baby/Trabant keyring, a dayglo pink and green pocket torch, a screwdriver and a spanner. How you're supposed to use all these items to further your Achtung Baby experience is unclear, and probably best left to the imagination. Apparently only 200 copies of it were made for lucky-lucky record industry people, and a copy in mint condition will fetch well over £ 500.

4. Tori Amos. Y Kant Tori Read.

CD. Atlantic Records 81845-2 [1988]
Very possibly one of the most-often bootlegged recordings out there, the title of this eponymous album by Ms. Amos and her ephemeral band Y Kant Tori Read was inspired by her being expelled from
Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland for refusing to read sheet music. Atlantic Records fully abandoned promoting the album only two months after its release. The record, released three years before her 'official' debut Little Earthquakes, sold so poorly that most vinyl versions out there take the form of clipped promotional copies that sold for 99 cents. Apparently it truly is atrocious and doesn't remotely sound like anything Tori has recorded since (i.e. think 80's rock chick - the cover says it all). Tori Amos has distanced herself from it, requesting that no material from it ever be re-released, although some of the songs creep into her live performances now and then. The CD version of this bomb is one of the most sought-after of Tori collectibles: unopened CDs in the original American longbox have sold in excess of $ 1000 at the height of her career.

Note: the author does not own any of the items mentioned in this post, nor does the author have any intention to purchase any of the items in this post. The author thanks all the online second-hand record retailers for the pilfering of images without consent, especially Esprit International Ltd.

7 March 2007

Calves of steel

I have a fear of lifts. Not of elevators per sé, of course, but of the kind that tends to get stuck. The lifts in the building where my lab is situated are very scary. A couple of years ago, some springbokkies and chickens in the walk-in freezer upstairs at Animal Science defrosted over the Easter weekend. The resulting fetid soup leaked out of the freezer, across the hallway, and down the service elevator shaft, contaminating each floor on the way down. Apparently, the bacteria-basted chickens had swollen to the size of turkeys by the time somebody noticed something was awry. The mess has since long been cleaned up by a crew in space suits with sanitizing spray that smelled oddly pink, and yet the memory of the stench still prevents me from using the service elevator in the east wing.

The only other lifts in the building are situated in the west wing, and are very old. I suspect that they might well be the first ones Otis ever installed in South Africa. They must have worked superbly in the 1970's, but have become... erm, interesting with age. Often, when you're bent over your centrifuge tubes at your bench, faint cries of help from someone trapped in the lift will break your concentration. Sometimes the LED's indicate that you are on floor 3 when you are on floor 6, sometimes that you are on floor 15. The building has 11 floors. Sometimes the lift doesn't respond to any buttons you press. Sometimes the elevator doors open, and there is no lift. That's right: just a gaping black chasm to welcome you to sudden death, with cables and ratchets moving in the dark. Or the doors will open and the lift won't be level with the floor and you have to step down into it, like a little mobile crawlspace. I once called the lift to go down to ground level: when the doors opened it was there all right, but it just kept moving up, past my floor. Suddenly the doors slammed shut with enough force to sever any limb that would have been in their path. That's dodgy. So much for a safety precaution. So now I climb the eight flights of stairs to my floor several times a day. Not because I believe it to be a great workout. Because I have claustrophobia.

4 March 2007

How to experience Cape Town in ten days

I have terrific friends. Somehow, inbetween being a doctor and an archaeologist, they managed to take me on a ten day itinerary crammed to the brim with beauty and excitement. In just over a week, I managed to: have margaritas and chilli poppers at Fat Cactus; eat breakfast at Arnold's on Kloof Street, jive to Coda and Goldfish performing at the Gay Pride street party; get sunburned and sloshed on Pimm's on the roof of SoHo's; take thousands of touristy photographs at the V & A Waterfront; enjoy a Climax at Quay Four (it's a boozed-up milkshake, silly); see Wendy get unconsentingly fondled at Café Caprice in Camps Bay; drive to Darling through swathes of coastal fynbos; discover a pink thresher and a Victorian tie made of feathers at the Darling Museum; feel overwhelmed by the amount of Boere kitsch on display at Evita se Perron; make Wendy stop in the middle of the highway so that I can take photographs of the pylons at Koeberg and feel like a spy; have a picnic on the beach at Clifton while the sun sets over the Atlantic; experience campus life at UCT; make the mistake of hiking up to Rhodes Memorial with the morning sun beating down; experience horticultural delirium at Kirstenbosch; make the mistake of taking Wendy on a hike halfway up Skeleton Gorge without proper footgear or, for that matter, any water; enter the Vaulted Chapel of Commerce that is Canal Walk for a post-workout smoothie and to catch the overly sentimental and annoyingly titled The Pursuit of Happyness; have gourmet pizza in the gorgeous Diva Caffe in Observatory; fall in love with the creepy displays in the S.A. Museum; be disappointed by the temporary exhibitions at the National Gallery; not finish a footlong in Mr. Pickwick's Deli in Long Street; go up on Table Mountain during perfect conditions for sightseeing; find more wild orchids than I've ever seen in my life; go down the cable car after dark with a bunch of tourists singing Lean on Me all the way; visit funky antique shops and relax at the Brass Bell in Kalk Bay; feel sorry for the penguins harassed by bathers at Boulders; get my feet wet in the tidal pools at Water's Edge, the cleanest beach in Africa; hike up to the old lighthouse at Cape Point, only to discover a new lighthouse even further out to sea to hike to; spend ages trying to find the Camel Rock at Scarborough to keep the family tradition of photographs in front of it alive; fork out R23,00 to drive around Chapman's Peak at sunset (definitely worth it); fall in love with the food and in lust with the serving staff at Chef Pon's Asian Kitchen; walk around the old part of Stellenbosch; buy olives infused with lemon and chilli at The Olive Tree; have the meaning of every stained glass window in the Moederkerk explained to me while walking over the graves of the wealthy; go to African Terroir so that Wendy can buy a wine bottle with a label for her collection; eat grapes off the vine; marvel at the smooth granite of Paarlberg beyond the vineyards of Laborie; meet interesting people during a fondue evening; sleep late; do a tour of each of the five bastions of the Castle of Good Hope (Buuren, Leerdam, Oranje, Nassau, Katzenellenbogen, hah!); be grossed out by chewing gum art, be puzzled by the story of Saartje Baartman told through interpretive dance, get sloshed Bear Expression style and perve over luscious furniture at Design Indaba; retire to Lola's in Long Street with Karen for dinner; be pestered by a street urchin; have a great Rob Roy at OrchardBank; go to Franschhoek for more wine at Glen Carlou; Boschendal and Allée Bleue; catch the Sunday concert at Kirstenbosch featuring Allou April; watch The Last King of Scotland from too close too the screen at the Labia Theatre; do a nostalgic, lazy tour of False Bay, taking in Strand, Melkbaai, Gordon's Bay, Bikini Beach, Kogel Bay, The Steenbras River Mouth, Rooiels, Pringle Bay and Cape Hangklip; have an awesome Oscar night with Twanji; go to the Lookout in Hout Bay; do a final ocean drive through Bantry Bay, Sea Point and Three Anchor Bay, where Ingrid Jonker drowned herself all those years ago; wave goodbye at the airport. Thanks guys, that was so much fun. I loved every second.

There is no knowledge that is not power

Driving to work this morning, I passed a sign by the road announcing a new security complex, called Dombeya Village. At first this seems refreshing, a break from the tradition of naming these complexes after Italian or Spanish towns, or Cape wine farms. Dombeya is a genus of indigenous trees, and quite lovely they are, with rounded furry leaves and masses of pink or yellow flowers in spring. However, their common name is drolpeer (Afrikaans for turd pear). So now I have to drive past Turd Pear Village everyday when I go to work. Pity the ignorants who will soon live there...

On another note, a woman we helped in the shop today made some nasty comments about the people who work in the coffee shop. She seems to have mistaken a bookshop for a
library,in that absolute peace and quiet has to reign. Apparently, the shouts of "Two tall decaf lattes!" from the baristas are distracting and "actually quite pathetic", whatever that means. It's a busy mall; how can you come here to relax? Surely you should spend your Sunday morning at church/in the park/at an antiques fair/at home in bed/baking things? Personally I like the shouting: it makes the shop sound vibrant and alive. If I wanted quiet, I would have gone to work at a library.

3 March 2007

You look gorgeous, dahlinks!

I'm back in the land of the blogging. More substantial posts to follow. I've got a bit of a tan, meelyons of photographs to sort out, and a bank balance which is pretty much negative. Aah, but what fun I had with this and that blogger. Miss them already. Later.