House of Vinyl Albums ~ Creative Non Fiction
I remember when I was 19yrs old and playing music in a broken down house in Squirrel Hill, PA. The house was owned or rented by a Jewish kid not much older than myself at that time. He must have been a trust-fund baby to have the ability to live in grandeur and filth all at the same time.
The house was an old victorian home built over 100 years ago. The rooms were large and ceilings high. Dark wood trim covered every doorway, the walls were lined with built-in bookshelves that held nothing more than dust. No furniture, no lamps, no food in the kitchen...just records. Vinyl albums, rows and rows of vinyl albums lined the hardwood floors. There must have been thousands of them. They filled up all the floor space in three rooms, all lined up with records. It was as if an actual record store at that time had forgotten about this space. The only thing missing was the convenient rack so you could browse through the collections with ease.
A Macintosh stereo and two large Klipsch speakers sat in the far right corner of what should have been the living room on the floor playing weird music. This stereo was the only piece of furniture in the whole house. This stereo was worth more than most cars at the time. Serious high-end gear.
Wine bottles with candlesticks shoved where the cork went lit the room. There were probably about 15 of these candle-wine-bottles placed throughout the house. Fire hazard for sure. Never quite knew why he lit the room with candlelight. There was electric to play music on the stereo.
A drummer friend of mine named Max took me over one day to listen to music at his place. Max knew him from the record store that he worked in. I never really new this kid who's house we played music at. He opened his home to us because he enjoyed supporting local musicians.
We sat on the floor and were introduced to music that you could never hear on the radio. This was magical to me. That there was music out there that was not played on the radio.
The kid who owned the house never really talked to me or any of us for that matter. He would say things like “this group is from Seattle” or “this music is from San Fran” but never did he say “hi” or ask my name. He took no interest in what was going on around him in daily life either. He was like the boy who lived in the bubble with the largest and strangest record collection ever. A savant of music who wore a kippah, brown t-shirt and green pants at all times; never did I see him in another change of clothes. He was an extremely skinny kid with red curly-wired hair who smelled of body odor and a musty old house. The only food I ever saw him eat was Hostess Twinkies and HO HOs. He would wash them down with diet cherry cola. The plastic wrappers and empty bottles were the only proof that this kid ever went outside for anything other than to buy vinyl albums.
Never did I discover how he collected all those records. You couldn't buy them at your local record store. This was pre-internet and there was no researching online. I am sure that there must have been catalogs that listed these artists but where a 19-year old kid would find them will remain a mystery to me.
Max would tell me how this kid would come into the record store and comb through the racks of albums but never buy anything. At first they thought he must be a shoplifter but that was not to be. Simply a shopper who could not find what he was looking for.
Max would eventually move into the upper attic room of this house. He would also furnish it with only a single mattress placed in the center of the floor with no sheet, just an old afghan from his parent's place. A large suitcase sat opened in the corner with all of his clean clothes. A larger pile of dirty clothes sat next to the suitcase. Two wine bottles with candles burning for light and a stereo on the floor playing P-Funk and Bob Marley (finally some music that I actually knew). And a couple of hundred albums that he stole form the recored store that he worked in lined all four walls.
As for me, I would sit on the floor with my back against the wall and listen. That's what you did when music was played on vinyl records: you listened. You took in the musicianship and dreamed of what you could do.
This was back in 1989 when independent music was nothing more than a zygote of an idea. Few artists dreamed of independence from a record label. We dreamed of being signed. Five friends: Max on drums, me on bass, Erik on guitar, Matt on guitar and Ross laying down the voice. We would meet at the “house of vinyl albums” and play music in the basement.
The odd smelly Jewish kid would sit on the steps and listen. Never giving us his opinion, never showing emotion, no idea if he likeed the sound or not. There he sat and listened. That's what you do with music: listen.
Never knew why we quit playing music at the house of vinyl...it just slipped away. Never knew why I quit playing music with that bunch of guys...it just slipped away.
Years later I found out that Max moved to California and became a professional party crasher. A hollywood star-filled party crasher. Once he ended up on Entertainment Tonight in the background of a Tom Cruise interview.
Matt became a banker somewhere in the midwest. Erik married his college sweetheart. I gave Ross a job in photography and then had to fire him. He has never spoken to me since. As for me...I just started buying music again on vinyl… I love it.
Lost to me is what happened to that kid with the unbelievable vinyl collection. At times when I find myself in Squirrel Hill I drive around looking for that old house. I can’t even remember the street that it is on.