Once upon a time–way back in the eighties–record collecting was, shall we way, not like today.
Back then, especially if you lived in the hinterlands, there was no guarantee you would be able track down music you heard or read about…and no guarantee you would be able to afford it if, by chance, you found it.
When I went to Atlanta on a free-lance ad assignment in the late summer/early fall of 1986, I wasn’t actually looking for records–or even thinking there was any chance I would run into any by accident.
However, since I was with my dad (Braves’ tickets were part of the gig as I remember) we did end up going to an indoor flea market and, sure enough, there was a record bin. Pretty nice one as I remember. Good selection, cheap prices. Me, of course, with no money to speak of. The ad gig paid after the fact.
But I did have about twenty bucks to spend and it happened that I ran across two albums which I had been looking for since 1980 (six long years, oh the agony!) and, being confined to the Florida Panhandle, never even sniffed.
One of those LPs was Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis, which was (if memory serves) about eight bucks. Another was the Persuasions’ Chirpin’ which (if memory again serves) was either $2.99 or $3.99.
I bought them.
In life parlance this is what is known as “a good day.” A good day, the way learning to swim or going four-for-four is a good day. Only this is the sort of good day you can carry with you as something more than a functional skill or a memory. It’s the kind of good day that is going to enhance the rest of your life.
This particular good day, however, ended up doing something more than that.
It warped time.
You see, when I got home (after a five hour drive that same day…a Sunday) to my apartment, my dad decided to go on along…back to my parents’ house…where my mother was waiting.
Not too long after he left, long before he would have arrived at home, I played Dusty In Memphis and it was even greater than everything I had heard about it. And then I played Chirpin’ and–impossibly–it, too, was even greater than everything I had heard about it.
All of that would have made it a special day–maybe even a day that hung in memory.
But it hung longer–forever in fact–because something in the entire weight of the experience (along with a lot of other experiences, most of which can no longer be accesed by mere memory) laid down on me. In the ecstasy of listening, for the first time, to two of the greatest albums ever made, I realized that my mother–who had been sick my entire life–wasn’t going to live much longer.
It turned out that “not much longer” was eight or nine months and, of course, I never told her (or anyone else) of my premonition. No need. Death comes around soon enough. No call to poke it in the ribs.
But the really strange thing, was that, at the same time I was listening to Chirpin’ (on the back of Dusty In Memphis, which I’m convinced was an essential part of the chain that was starting to loop around me and is probably drawn tight around some part of me even yet), I also saw beyond all that.
I saw myself being healed.
I emphasize that I “saw” it–that state of coming to grips with a terrible event that had not yet happened–because, while I was feeling all that, I couldn’t keep myself from staring at the album cover pictured above. It wasn’t just part and parcel with the entire experience, it was the experience–a journey in and of itself. Without what that cover implies–about doo wop, about rock and roll, about singers and artists, about being alone and together in this world at the very same time–I don’t think I would have experienced any of what finally made that “good day” the very best and very worst of my record collecting life.
Which is to say, that, without the finest album cover ever made being constantly in front of my eyes, I would have still loved Chirpin’…but nothing on it would have warped time.
Not even this: