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Playing Third Bass Guitar, Jim Ray Hart

What remains of a once fine (and big) record collection sits upstairs, and even in its current emaciated state will leave dents in the floor when I remove it. Vinyl is heavy. 

I’d like to be done with all those albums but have been thwarted through the years by various challenges, inertia being number one. Also, Daughter Dearest Emily has always voiced a desire to inherit the entire million-record mess, although that voice has been reduced to a whisper as she’s gotten older. 

Hopes of owning her own copy of “I Ain’t a-Marchin’ Anymore” by Phil Ochs eventually dimmed, along with dreams to some day have the biggest collection of Cabbage Patch Dolls in the world. 

Another big reason I’ve held on to my dusty album collection can be explained in two words: 

Baseball cards. 

The logic is clear, the calculations simple, the conclusions obvious. A Mickey Mantle baseball card that sold for a penny in 1952 was worth $75,000 by the 1980s. To me that meant, ex-post ipso facto and ergo, that Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde ($3.99 in ‘65) would be worth as much as a Cadillac convertible by the 1990s. An early Elvis Presley record? More than your portfolio. 

By the 1970s baseball cards had gone the way of the Dodo and Disco, but once most cards vanished their value increased. Diminished supply was coupled with increased demand from Boomers, whose mothers had thrown out their card collections a long time ago. 

Twenty years later the savvy among us were clinging to our Amboy Dukes records the way we wished we’d clung to our Willie Mays cards. We had history on our side and anyone who didn’t learn from history when it came to a 1957 Ted Williams card was doomed to repeat it by throwing out an Iron Butterfly album. 

A vintage Honus Wagner baseball card sold for more than $3 million in the 1980s, and I harbored private dreams that a copy of the Rolling Stones’ “Her Majesty’s Satanic Request” with its refracting, shifting cover image was my ticket to a first class retirement. (You, of course, left that album and a hundred more behind when you moved out of your Ohio apartment in 1973.) 

Top end cards of the best players were worth the most but even at the bottom there was a lot of value. Cards featuring Elmer Valo, Gus Zernial, Earl Battey and George Strickland were displayed under glass counters in sports card shops, a la Tiffany jewelry. Marginal players carried price tags of 50 cents or a dollar apiece. Up the ladder a rung or three were Al Kaline and Eddie Mathews cards, $25 each. Who would say a Sex Pistols record might not fetch $250 some day soon? 

(NOTE: Those who collected neither baseball cards nor record albums are free to abandon the remaining paragraphs and head straight for the crosswords and horoscopes; we’ll be with you in a moment.) 

And why risk making the same mistake twice in half a century, especially since this time we won’t have Mumsy to blame? How would you feel to wake up and discover collectors paying top dollar for Three Dog Night’s fourth album? Answer: you wouldn’t want to wake up, period. 

Spotting a copy of a Johnny Rivers album selling for $900 would be as disturbing as a Bubba Phillips card fetching $175 in 1990. Wasn’t it obvious by around 1980 that record albums would soon become as collectible as baseball cards? Of course it was obvious, it just wasn’t true. 

I couldn’t part with my MC5 collection recalling the pangs at having lost my complete set of 1961 Cleveland Indian cards. Why risk the same hollow feeling when a copy of The Who’s “Live at Leeds” might soon be worth more than my car? 

So my record albums have managed to survive, year after decade, in part because I don’t want to get burned again, this time by collectors seized by a mad desire to own an original 13th Floor Elevators album or the only record Nick Drake released before committing suicide. 

Ahh, but really now. Do any of us think there are morons out there yearning for a copy of Janis Ian’s first release on Vanguard records? Does the fact Bob Dylan plays harmonica on a single track of a Doug Sahm record make it valuable? 

Until recently I couldn’t take the chance. I had to hedge my bets. I knew that if I donated my albums to Goodwill and later learned “Music From Big Pink” was selling for $1200 I’d have to steal them all back. 

In the meantime there they sit, all that inert vinyl weight sagging across my exhausted bookshelves while failing quarterly to outperform the S&P 500, no change in sight. Warren Spahn cards continue to trend steady at $44; Country Joe & the Fish albums, even in mint condition, show indications of further erosion. 

Gift Suggestions: What child wouldn’t be delighted if Santa dropped a few kilos of vintage record albums in the driveway next Christmas? 

Or get some gift paper with cakes and balloons on it, wrap up a bunch of boxes full of record albums, throw in a Harmon-Kardon turntable with Panasonic speakers and make it the happiest birthday ever! Or at least very memorable.

The entire collection, minus a few records Tom Hine cannot part with, is all yours! Negotiate price with Emily, then bring over a truck. TWK says he’d like to keep his bootleg copy of “Annette’s Beach Blanket Bingo Twist Party!” album.

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