Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Soundgarden: Sub-Pop Singles Club Bonus

Back in 1990 Sub-Pop released a "bonus" Singles Club 7" by Soundgarden in advance of the group's second A&M album, Badmotorfinger. It was a nice gesture considering that some of the recent club offerings had been either hideously late arriving and/or not worth listening to once they finally arrived.

I was a singles club subscriber and for some reason I got double shipped the Soundgarden single (one on colored vinyl and one on black vinyl). I figured someone at Sub-Pop really liked me, but a friend who worked there later informed me that shipping room [ahem] anomalies were not exactly unheard of at Sub-Pop. (And here I had assumed Sub-Pop had a bunch of MBAs working their way up from the mail room).

Listening to this brings back a lot of memories; some good, some bad, one amusing. I'll just focus on the amusing one:

At the time this came out I was a college student in Carlisle, PA, and a frequent customer at It's Only Rock And Roll, an independent record store in Lemoyne, PA. When I mentioned I had gotten two copies of the single to store owner and Stump Wizards' guitarist Jack Chiara, he told me he had a customer who had recently let his singles club subscription lapse because he was out-of-work, but was desperate to get a copy of the Soundgarden single. He gave me the guy's contact info and suggested I call him.

I was a little surprised Jack didn't want to act as a middleman in the transaction because after all, selling records was what he did. He was sort of vague about why he didn't want to just buy the single from me and sell it to the guy at a reasonable mark up. Jack was a super-nice guy, but I didn't know if his motivations were 100% altruistic or not. Up to that point, I had only sold my used records to record stores and had no experience selling directly to other collectors (this was way before eBay obviously). This was new territory for me, and it felt kind of weird--like I was crossing some sort of forbidden threshold.

Anyway, I gave the guy a call and agreed to sell him my black vinyl copy for $50. He asked that I bring it out to his house because he was on disability from his job as a security guard at the local prison. No problem; $50 was a lot of money to me then (still is, truth be told). I thought it was a little weird that someone who was out-of-work was willing to spend $50 on a single, but $50 would buy me a nice haul at It's Only Rock And Roll, so I didn't ask any questions.

I drove up to a small ranch in Carlisle where the guy lived with his mother. As soon as I met him, I got a bit of an uneasy feeling. I'm not one to rush to snap judgments about people, but when you meet a man in his late 30s who still lives with his Mom, works in a prison, and is wearing a t-shirt with a picture of an electric chair and a caption that reads "Regular or Extra-Crispy?" it's difficult not to jump to certain conclusions. It didn't help that the guy had a nervous, jittery, overly-talkative disposition.

He asked me inside, and I was tempted to tell him I was in a big hurry, had no time, and could we just get the deal done here and now. But my curiosity outweighed my slight concern that he might be looking to prepare me for dinner, so I said okay. What I witnessed inside that house was a complete freak scene. The guy had thousands and thousands of records stacked in boxes in a tiny bedroom. There was a modest stereo system, a single bed, and a narrow path through the room. Other than that it was records: LPs, and singles stored in meticulously labeled box after box, after box. "My Mom won't let me store my records anywhere else in the house," he explained sheepishly.

For what felt like an eternity he proceeded to show off his record collection to me. He had every record by every 70s rock act I had ever heard of, and many I hadn't. And if he had one record by a band, he had to have them all. He pointed to a box of about 100 sealed records, "those are the ones I haven't gotten a chance to listen to yet." Then he said, "I sure am glad this isn't a split single, 'cuz then I'd need two copies." He showed me how he had two copies of the Mudhoney/Sonic Youth split 7" so he could file one copy under each artist.

At that moment I had a horrifying epiphany: This was me in 20 years. No social life. No wife. No kids. I was going to end up exiled to my parent's basement with nothing more than a bunch of records for company. I shook off a chill and my own obsessive record collecting snapped into perspective: I wasn't this bad off. I was a totally normal person with a relatively healthy hobby. Sure, maybe I occasionally spent more money than I should on records, but I wasn't going to let it ruin my life. Someday I was going to get married, have kids and all that good stuff. I wasn't going to end up like this guy, spending eternity listening to records on a crappy stereo in a tiny bedroom in my Mom's house because I had a hobby that had spun out-of-control.

I genuinely felt sorry for the guy because he clearly had a serious problem no different from drug or alcohol dependency. Here he was out-of-work and willing to spend $50 on a single. I think he even told me point blank something along the lines of "records are my heroin." Unexpectedly, one of those metaphorical little devils appeared over my shoulder: "This is like taking candy from a baby. This guy doesn't want this single, he needs it. Tell him you want $75 for it." I'd like to tell you that a little angel quickly appeared over my other shoulder to talk me out of it, but that's not what happened. Instead I let him have it for $45, not out of altruism, but because I was tired of hearing him talk, and wanted to get to the record store before it closed.

I took my $45 and drove straight to It's Only Rock And Roll (only half an hour away). I picked up a near mint copy of an original MGM pressing of the third Velvet Underground album that I had been lusting after along with a few singles. Having gotten my own fix, I drove home, temporarily satiated.

Anyway, that is just one of the memories that the positively evil riff from "Room A Thousand Years Wide" brings back for me. The version on this single is different than the one that showed up on Badmotorfinger. The b-side, "H.I.V. Baby," never showed up on a Soundgarden album, possibly because it's not very good.

1 comment:

dan said...

That was brave of you tell the story, Pete, and I'm glad you no longer live with your mother.