More than you need to know about my LPs

This shouldn’t take three months, but it probably will.

I’m reorganizing my stereo LPs. I hesitate to use the word “collection” to describe what I have. Over the years, I’ve accumulated more than 1,000 albums, but none of them should be considered collectible.

One was, briefly. During a vacation 12 years ago in Las Vegas, I found a sealed copy of Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica.” It’s a relatively obscure album that received glowing reviews among the avant-garde.

The price tag said $19.98, which was $15 more than I expected. Still, we were dropping $90 apiece later for a show on the Strip, so this little record purchase seemed like a pittance.

The cashier gave me an odd look and said, “I wondered who was going to end up with this.”

We brought it back to South Bend, and I looked at it for several days. For vintage albums of that sort, you pay a premium if they’ve never been played. With the recent boom in LP prices, you’ll see sealed Trout Mask Replicas offered on eBay these days for $400 or more.

But I was curious and needed to hear this ultra-cool album. I used a pen knife to slice the shrink-wrap plastic so I could slide out one of the two vinyl discs. I placed it gently on my stereo turntable and carefully let the needle on the tone arm glide into the first track. 

I was confused by what I heard. The cashier had been right to be skeptical. I probably didn’t deserve it, and by playing it once had cut its value at least by two-thirds.

That’s part of the reason I stay away from high-end stuff. I have records because I want to listen, not just look. Most of mine cost me $1 or less from record shop bargain bins. Most have a skip or a pop and a crackle. My ears aren’t perfect, so I wouldn’t expect my records to be.

A small handful – maybe 20 or so – have been with me 40 years or longer. They endured the journey from my childhood farmhouse to a college dorm to four apartments and two homes before their current spot in my basement.

Those old-timers have been beaten up and could easily be replaced with upgrades. I won’t do it. I deserve to have these scuffed and scratched records. If they sound worn and neglected, it reminds me of that person I was when I wasn’t careful.

A pop or a click triggers the thrill of hearing Del Shannon’s “Runaway” on the radio for the first time, or maybe James Darren’s “Goodbye Cruel World.”

Play it now and I am transported back to moments when I was lying on an apartment floor, staring upwards, pondering the lyrics of Jethro Tull’s “Thick As a Brick.”

Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” has me contemplating whether to steal a roommate’s girlfriend. The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music” and Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla” bring back to the dorm party when Gina Haffey was there and then she wasn’t.

A Johnny Duncan song places me with Jim, Mike and Chuck in Amarillo in 1980. I ache anew when I hear the saddest of songs, Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time.” But somehow sadder still only to me, I hear Hoyt Axton’s “Lion in the Winter.”

Knowing all this, I feel some obligation toward this ragtag group of albums. That’s why I’m doing my reorganization.

I bought 1,000 protective plastic sleeves. If an album’s scuffed, it’ll stay that way but not get worse. I bought 500 paper sleeves to replace the liner notes that were torn or left behind somewhere in a hurry. 

With supplies in hand, it should take just a solid day or so to re-outfit and re-alphabetize. One LP per minute, 1,000 minutes, about 17 hours. But that’s not how music works. 

When I’m working with ABBA, AC/DC and Adam & the Ants, I have ZZ Top and Warren Zevon on the turntable. I look for an old Charlie Barnet LP from the Big Band pile that is headed to Goodwill, and somehow end up instead with Helen O’Connell’s version of “Till There Was You.” 

I need to check her name online because I believe Helen, who died in 1993, was from Lima, Ohio, the same city as my parents. Quite a decade there in  Lima schools with Helen O’Connell, Hugh Downs and Phyllis Diller, all who became big names in show business.

Then I find a copy of the Best of Herman’s Hermits, misfiled oddly under the B’s instead the H’s. I don’t remember buying it, but I see the name of a previous owner, Sue Wolschlager, printed in large letters. 

I recall that that’s how we would do things in the Sixties. If you were going to a party at a friend’s house, you would take a favorite album or two, but you would print your name on it so no one else would take it home by mistake. Some of our Beatles albums have MB on the covers, the initials of my brother, Mark.

This Herman’s Hermits album was new in 1965. It’s possible the party was in a ranch-style basement similar to mine. There’s a way I could narrow it down. Sue’s last name is unique enough that I can try to find her on the internet. And I do.

On, I find her obituary from Nov. 8, 1984, in Edwardsburg. She was 32 years old, a past president of the Elkhart Married Women’s Club, when she died. Her birthdate in 1952 is 21 days before my brother Tom’s. Sue had no children, but her husband, parents and two brothers survived her. Memorials were requested for diabetes research.

I never knew Sue, nor do I remember how I acquired her album.

There are other newspaper articles. Her husband Bob a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, died in 2020. Her father, Walter, died in 2003 on her mother’s birthday. Her mom, active in a half-dozen Elkhart social groups, died in 2010 at age 93. As far as I can tell, the two brothers are still alive. 

I’m sad. My best guess is, this Herman’s Hermits record that Sue proudly took to a party when she was 13 was among the possessions her family took to a resale shop after her death. I have another thought. It seems likely now that half the albums I own once belonged to people who have died.

With all these memories – most of which aren’t even mine – it’s a wonder I get anything done.