All Things to All People Vol. 12 February 09, 2016 15:13

In my last blog post I wrote about record collecting, in particular how my attitude and approach to collecting was shaped by a couple of key events. I had planned to continue that discussion by talking about some of the collections I've completed, but when I started flipping through my records I realized that I have more complete collections than not... I guess it's just the type of person I am. When I hear something that grabs my ear I want to hear all of the important contexts and understand it as deeply as I can, and the most obvious context is the rest of that artist's work. So, when I find a new artist or band that I like, one of the first things I generally do is acquire as much of their discography as I can and/or seems relevant to my interests. Once I realized that writing about my complete collections was kind of futile, I thought about writing about my collections that remain frustratingly incomplete (and there are a few). However, at some point I realized that I don't need some grand conceptual framework for these posts... I can just write about whatever I want for as long as it remains interesting to me. So today I'm going to write about my Screeching Weasel collection.

My Screeching Weasel 7" collection

Once I started thinking about writing about my Screeching Weasel collection (I call this pre-writing in my classes, by the way!) I came to the realization that Screeching Weasel might be the band that I've liked for the longest consecutive amount of time. I can't remember exactly when I heard them for the first time, but I must have been 14 or 15 at the oldest. I can't remember whether I first heard them buy buying Boogadaboogadaboogada blindly (most likely because Mike from Green Day always wore their t-shirts) or either from a dubbed tape from this nerdy kid at school. I definitely had a dubbed tape with My Brain Hurts on one side and How to Make Enemies and Irritate People on the other, but I don't remember which came first. At any rate, of all of the favorite bands I've had in my life Screeching Weasel have perhaps endured the longest... all of the other bands I've called my favorite at some point have become incredibly distasteful to me at some later point. Def Leppard was my first favorite band when I was a little kid, but once I discovered punk I had to kick pop/metal to the curb (I've since figured out that was stupid). I loved Bad Religion in high school, but at some point the pretension got to me and now How Could Hell Be Any Worse? and No Control are the only ones that get any play, and it's mostly the former at that.

I guess that, as one-dimensional as their music seems on the surface, Screeching Weasel have never really become unlistenable to me because they retain elements of just about every style I've liked. When I was in high school I liked a lot of pop-punk and melodic hardcore, and obviously they were hugely influential in those scenes. Throughout most of my 20s all I wanted to hear was early 80s-style US hardcore, and for all of their poppiness that was a palpable influence on the band, even on their much later records. Frequently, when I'd discover older bands--Adrenalin OD, the Canadian Subhumans, the Freeze, and many of the bands on Killed by Death just to name a few--I was shocked at how much they sounded like Screeching Weasel in places. Or, I guess, the other way around.

Anyway, you'll notice that the collection above only contains 7"s. I never made a conscious decision to collect Screeching Weasel 7"s rather than LPs, but in retrospect it makes sense. First of all, I had all of the full-lengths on CD and/or cassette. Second, when I bought the bulk of these Lookout! Records was still in business and all of the full-lengths that came out on that label were easily available, and hence they didn't have the exotic appeal of the 7"s. The exceptions were/are their first LP and Boogadaboogadaboogada. I didn't really know that their first LP existed until it was reissued on CD in 1997, and when I finally heard it I thought it pretty much sucked. To this day I've probably only listened to it 2 or 3 times. Boogadaboogadaboogada was also pretty hard to get... the Roadkill Records version has always been valuable, and as a record store owner I can tell you that the Lookout! version doesn't pop up all that often either, probably because it was a reissue and, hence, pressed in smaller quantities than the records that were originally released on Lookout!. As far as I can remember, we've only had one copy come through the shop in the two and a half years we've been open and I snagged it for myself. So, I never really actively tried to "collect" Screeching Weasel's LPs, near and dear to my heart as they are, though looking at my shelf right now it looks like--barring the first album that I don't really like--I have everything up to the underrated Bark Like a Dog on vinyl, with the exception of How to Make Enemies and Irritate People, which I just ordered from Discogs since there was a copy on there for $14.

Anyway, I remember distinctly when I bought three of these singles. When I got to college and had regular access to the internet for the first time in my life, of course one of the first things that I did was go to the computer lab and look up all of my favorite bands. Very few bands had web sites in 1997, but Screeching Weasel had a very impressive, elaborate, and well-done fan site called Weasel Manor. Unless I'm remembering wrong, it definitely started out as a fan site, but eventually Ben Weasel became involved and it seems that he still retains the name "Weasel Manor" for at least part of Screeching Weasel's official web site. By this point Ben Weasel was involved with the web site, and he was actually auctioning off a bunch of dead stock SW merchandise. Now, if ebay existed at this point I'd never heard of it, and to me auctions were things that were headed by guys who talked really fast, but I sent an email to Ben Weasel's AOL address indicating how much I would pay for dead stock copies of Punkhouse, Radio Blast, and You Broke My Fucking Heart. I can't really remember if it was a nailbiter or not, but I won all three. Not only did this mean that my Screeching Weasel 7" collection got off to a roaring start, but it also meant that I had directly corresponded with Ben Weasel himself, which was no small thrill at the time.

The rest of these, I'd imagine, were acquired by pretty conventional means. I can't help but keep both of the cover variations for Suzanne Is Getting Married even though I'm not generally one to hold on to more than one version of a record. Formula 27 and Jesus Hates You were bought new when they came out. I remember being particularly excited about Formula 27 because not only did it mark something of a return to the slightly rawer, more anthemic, and less self-consciously Ramones-y sound of records like My Brain Hurts, but also because Ben Weasel mentioned the Tick, one of my teenage obsessions, in one of the songs. Incidentally, the Riverdales also have a song, "Dyna-Mole" from Storm the Streets, named after one of the Tick's villains, and Ben is wearing a membership button from the Tick fan club (an organization to which I also belong) on his leather jacket on the poster insert to Storm the Streets. It's the little things, people!

Anyway, this collection does remain incomplete. As far as I can tell there are three main items I'm missing. The first is something of a red herring: the split 7" with the Ozzfish Experience. This record doesn't actually exist (except as two test pressing copies), but sleeves for the un-pressed vinyl do occasionally change hands. The second is the split 7" with Moving Targets. This was, apparently, a promo-only release from What Goes On Records, the UK label that re-released the first self-titled album and Boogadaboogadaboogada in that country. Discogs says that only 100 copies were pressed, but judging by the fact that you can still nab one of these for the princely sum of $13 I doubt that is actually the case. I'm not really sure why I've never grabbed one of these before... I probably didn't know it existed until the Discogs era, by which point I wasn't really actively trying to by Screeching Weasel vinyl. The lack of a picture sleeve also significantly decreases the appeal for me.

The third thing I'm missing is the one that has frustrated me the most: the Happy, Horny, Gay, and Sassy 7". Even if I didn't own the two 7"s above I'd still feel like my Screeching Weasel 7" collection was complete with the addition of this double EP, but this particular recording also holds some weird sentimental value to me. The kid I mentioned above who may or may not have introduced me to the band (but who definitely introduced me to two of their best albums) also gave me a tape that had a live recording of Screeching Weasel. He wrote on the j-card that it was a recording of the band playing at the King's Head Inn in Norfolk, VA, which is a club that I used to pass on my bus route to school every single day, though it closed shortly before I got my driver's license and I never got to go. I used to listen to that tape all of the time and fantasize about what it must have been like to be at that show. Well, fast forward a couple of years and I finally hear Happy, Horny, Gay, and Sassy (perhaps I downloaded mp3s, or was it perhaps re-released on Kill the Musicians or Thank You Very Little?) and immediately recognize the same live recording I'd obsessed over during my teenage years. Turns out the kid was a liar, but I still really like the recording.

So, I can't believe that it took me that many words to tell it, but that's the story of my Screeching Weasel 7" collection. Unless the price drops significantly on Happy, Horny, Gay, and Sassy or one walks in to the store, it's likely to be the full story of my collection for some time to come.

This past week I found out that In the Groove Records in Raleigh closed (though the space is already home to a new record store under new ownership). I don't really have much to say about it... the record business is a tough one, and while it's rare to see stores closing rather than opening these days I think that had more to do with the demands on the owner, Greg's, personal life than actual business stuff. Anyway, one bin of consignment records in In the Groove's tiny storefront (which was about the size of a walk-in closet) was one of Sorry State's first ventures into retail in a physical space, and if it weren't for the opportunity that Greg gave me it's likely that Sorry State wouldn't be a physical shop today.

Like a lot of people, I recently watched the Making a Murderer series on Netflix. After finishing the series I still have no idea whether or not the guy did it, but it occurred to me as I was finishing the series that what this really is is a story about stories. Maybe I'm sensitive to this because of my training as an English professor, but what is so frustrating about the story is the fact that the narratives offered by the various people and groups in the series are both (generally, at least) plausible and wildly inconsistent with one another. Human brains are, essentially, story-making machines... we constantly tell ourselves stories in order to make sense of the world, even though much of the time these stories aren't really true in the strictest sense of the term. And when you get down to it what lawyers and police do is create stories... things happen, but real-life events are messy with countless contingencies, confounding variables, and other things that get in the way. Both lawyers and police take some messy, sometimes illogical cluster of events (in the case of criminal law, those surrounding a crime) and come up with a story that makes those events make sense in terms of one another. All of these stories are, more or less, fictions, but sometimes they have so much of the ring of truth in them that we are willing to send people to prison or even kill them based on these stories.

I just got finished reading the above book, The Black Count, by Tom Reiss. I liked it, though it was, in places, a bit "History Channel" for my tastes... in other words, there was a lot of detail about battle scenes and things that I don't really care about. Basically, the book tells the life story of Alexander Dumas's father, who was born Haiti, then known as the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue. Dumas's father was a white nobleman and his mother was a slave. Despite his interracial background, Dumas was accepted as a member of the French nobility when he returned to France, even becoming something of a celebrity. Eventually he would come to a very high position of command in the French Revolutionary army, though an apparent personal incompatibility with Napoleon quickly destroyed his career once Napoleon seized power.

Anyway, what I found interesting about the book is that it described a time before racism was institutionalized. I mean, it's not as if racism didn't exist in pre-Napoleonic France, but it was a totally different beast, and it was really only with the establishment of French bureaucracy under Napoleon that racism (against people of African ancestry, at least) was codified and legitimized. Over the course of the story of Dumas's life you literally see racism being born in France. While that is certainly depressing, in another way it's quite hopeful, because in there is the unstated (and more or less unsupported by the author) assumption that racism doesn't have to exist. There was a time before it and, presumably, there can be a time after it. That's all a gross over-simplification but as someone who grew up in the American south, the end of racism is something I find it really difficult to be hopeful about at all.