All Things to All People Vol. 13

So, last time I wrote about a collection that I worked on quite deliberately--if only intermittently--but today I'm going to write about a "collection" that I've built quite by accident. In fact, I didn't even realize I had all of this stuff until a few days ago. A few friends were hanging out at my house listening to records, and I think that maybe we were talking about our favorite Rattus releases. I mentioned that their Ratcage LP is my favorite, and then I thought to myself "man, I think I have a lot of Ratcage releases... I wonder how many I don't have?" It turns out I actually have most of them. This collection isn't "complete" by any standard, but I think that it's interesting because I really just acquired each of these individual records because they were really good, which is a hallmark of how consistent this label was in terms of quality.

So, I guess now that I'm here I might as well go through these records individually.

Victim in Pain is obviously the real big-boy record here, and it's easily the most desirable release on the Ratcage label. There are a lot of reasons for that: 1. it's an awesome record, 2. Agnostic Front have retained a consistently high profile since its release, and 3. it's never been reissued with the "controversial" original cover artwork. I picked this guy up at a record fair in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, of all places. I generally always try to make it to record fairs that happen within a few hours drive of Raleigh. I rarely leave completely empty-handed, and I've had more than enough major scores at these things that I still very much consider them worth my time. Anyway, this was being sold at a table manned by a guy who must have been at least 70 years old and had, almost exclusively, country records and stuff by old crooners from the 50s. But I flipped through his bins anyway because I'd driven an hour and a half to this stupid thing, and I was kind of shocked to find this copy of Victim in Pain there. The only catch was that it had a price tag of three hundred bucks on it. Now, it's a nice copy, but not $300 nice, so I asked him if he'd go lower. He said he'd do $250. I said I'd do $150 and then left his table to look at other bins. A few hours later I was making a second pass and he said he'd take the $150. Not the best deal ever for this record, but it was a price I was comfortable paying and, like I said, it's a nice copy of one of the all-time hardcore classics.

Incidentally, my copy of the Neos 7" is not the Ratcage version, but actually the rarer original pressing on Alandhiscar. I include it here because for me a collection like this is as much about the music as the artifacts. I'm not so much interested in making sure I have every discographical entry on Ratcage ticked off; rather, I'm interested in hearing everything the label put out and figuring out what made it tick, and if I'm not mistaken this is the same music as the Ratcage pressing. Anyway, I bought this on ebay sometime in the mid-00s, if I remember correctly for around $30. I remember my buddy Matt (who played drums in Cross Laws and Devour and sang in Stripmines) mentioned that he bought one on ebay for $30, so I checked ebay and managed to find one for right around the same amount. I'm not sure if someone related to the band or label was unloading dead stock copies or what, because that's really cheap and both my copy and Matt's are dead mint with all of the inserts. Until Matt sold his copy to the store I had no idea how collectible and expensive the original pressing of this record was. Anyway, along with the Deep Wound EP this is a landmark release in the history of blistering fast hardcore, made all the better because it has a really nasty, snotty punk vibe that connects them to the previous generation of punk bands from the west coast of Canada.

The Rattus LP took me a surprisingly long time to find, probably because I placed some ridiculous restrictions on myself when I decided that I wanted it. Every once in a while I decide that I want a record but I don't want to pay more than a certain amount for it... I'm not sure if that comes from having seen it go for a similar amount at some point in time or if I just pluck a number out of thin air, but I can be quite stubborn about it. It took me years to acquire a copy of the Necros' Conquest for Death LP because I was determined not to pay more than $30 for it. $30 was also the magic number for this Rattus LP, and when one popped up on Discogs with nice vinyl and a water-damaged jacket I jumped right on it. I absolutely love this material, too. Rattus are a band with a long, complex, and beautiful discography and if I had a better collection of their records I would love to devote an entire post to them, but this is the only record of theirs from the 80s that I own. These are essentially re-recordings of classic tracks with the short-lived four-piece lineup. I think that a lot of people prefer the classic 3-piece lineup and I guess that the vocalist on these tracks isn't as strong, but the recordings are so loud, clear, and chaotic, reminding me a bit of Chaos UK's Short Sharp Shock LP, but with much, much better songwriting and a faster, more furious attack. At any rate, this is a real gem. I should also note that, like Victim in Pain, the layout on this one is a simple black and white photo with a single crimson spot color. If there's a better look out there for a punk record then I sure haven't seen it.

As you can see, my copy of the Beastie Boys' Pollywog Stew is the 12" version and not the more desirable 7" version. We've actually had the 7" come through the shop a few times over the years but I've never bothered to upgrade. In fact, I can't even remember the circumstances under which I bought this 12". It must have been part of a larger score that I got cheap or I found it in a shop or something, because I certainly wouldn't have sought it out on my own. It's an OK record... the first track is deceptively ripping, but after that it gets a little bit goofy for my tastes. It's not anything I'm planning on getting rid of, but as someone who is more or less indifferent to the Beastie Boys' later career that is just an OK hardcore punk record.

Next up is Heart Attack's Subliminal Seduction 12". Unfortunately how I acquired this one has also been lost to the sands of time (it may have been a blind buy from Plan 9 back in the day?), but it's no mystery why I keep this around, because it's awesome. Heart Attack are probably best known in record collecting circles for God Is Dead, their first record which some argue is the first NYHC record and everyone knows is a bonzer of the torpedo variety. Anyway, they'd changed a bit by the time they released Subliminal Seduction. In particular, things are a little slicker, a little more melodic, and a little more beholden to UK punk, particularly the UK Subs and stuff like that. I'm a sucker for heavily UK-influenced US bands--Channel 3 and Kraut are two other biggies that spring immediately to mind--and Subliminal Seduction is a particularly excellent representation of the style because it retains lots of the fast-and-hard sensibility of the band's earlier stuff. It's honestly not dissimilar to the peak era of the Freeze either. Great stuff regardless.

The Virus is something I took home from the store. It came in as part of a big collection of 80s punk and hardcore... there were probably 100 or so LPs in the collection and I owned every single one except for this and the Follow Fashion Monkeys LP, so obviously the guy had great taste! Those are the best kinds of collections to buy... I get to keep one or two things myself, but I'm not tempted to keep so much of it that I don't make any money off it. Anyway, I already knew Follow Fashion Monkeys and was stoked to finally have a copy (it's another one of those records I was determined not to pay a lot for), but this Virus was totally new to me. I wouldn't call it a great record, but it's a totally ripping, straightforward USHC record. It's kind of weird that it's from New York because it has a real west coast sensibility. The singer also shouts in a kind of surfer drawl that reminds me of bands like Anti, Wasted Youth, China White, and that ilk. Definitely an interesting record, and I think I cherish it all the more because it came to me in such an unexpected fashion.

The final record here is the Crucial T 7", which was the last record I acquired but the first one released on the label. A regular customer sold this to the store and encouraged me to check it out if I hadn't. He described it as "Jim Morrison fronting a NYHC band," and I have to say that's pretty accurate, at least for half of the record. Two of the tacks are mid-paced with those baritone vocals, and while the Morrison influence is palpable it also reminds me of a more straightforward version of the Birthday Party (or maybe Nick Cave's band before that, the Boys Next Door?). The other two tracks are pure NYHC rippers that sound to me an awful like the Mob, and are so crushing that even if you aren't interested in the mid-paced tracks this is still very much an item of interest to the NYHC connoisseur.

According to Discogs, there are a few things I'm missing. There's actually a copy of the Beastie Boys' Cookie Puss EP sitting in the new arrivals section at the shop right now but I don't think I'm going to grab it. I think we only priced it at like 8 bucks (it's the version in the generic DJ sleeve), but it's just not a record I'd ever really listen to. If at some point I decide that I need it for completion's sake I think I can always grab a pretty cheap copy online. The second release on the label was a 10" by a band called Crazy Hearts. I've never heard of them or the release, but I have to say that given the quality of the rest of Ratcage's discography I'm intrigued. I was also surprised to see that Ratcage did a US pressing of Raw Power's fourth album, Mine to Kill, in 1989. While I love the first two Raw Power LPs, their third record, After Your Brain, has never really grabbed me so I've never ventured beyond that. Mine to Kill does have some cool artwork, though, so maybe I'll give it a try at some point. [Update: just snagged a $10 copy on Discogs, so we'll see!] The label was apparently also resurrected in the early 90s for a couple of CD releases, but I'm not interested in those for several different reasons.

So, that's my Ratcage story. Like I said, it was never a quest for completion, but my thirst for information and context brought me 90% of the way to completing this "collection," which I find really interesting.

One last thing for this week's blog. I haven't talked about business stuff in a while, so I thought I would mention one of the few things that really gets my goat when customers do it: ask for partial refunds after (sometimes well after) they've bought something. I never really thought about it before I was on the other side of the retailer / customer divide, because it seems logical on the surface. If you buy something and you're dissatisfied, why not ask the seller for a few bucks back to make you feel better about the purchase.

However, as a seller this is really annoying, and in the case of online marketplaces (and increasingly brick and mortar retail) it seems like extortion. When a customer writes asking for a partial refund, I always feel like the implication is "give me some of my money back or I'll leave you negative feedback, write a shitty Yelp review, or make some other action that negatively impacts your business." I have an extremely generous return policy. Basically, if you ever want to return a record for any reason I will be happy to give you a full refund and even pay return postage if you bought it through the mail. However, there's no way for me to accurately gauge how much a record should be discounted based on a customer's level of dissatisfaction. Further, in most cases there's almost certainly another customer out there who would be perfectly happy to buy the record for the original asking price, and giving a partial refund deprives me of that opportunity to sell a record at the full price.

Last Black Friday someone bought four copies of that Lush Ciao double LP on ebay, and despite the fact that they were double-boxed the buyer complained that they all arrived with a small corner ding. The buyer punished me about it relentlessly, sending what must have been a dozen messages through ebay, complaining about how they bought these records to resell and now they couldn't because they weren't mint, fully acknowledging that I make no claims to be a record distributor and that my packaging went well beyond their expectations, but yet still refusing my offer of a full refund with return postage. Essentially, they just wanted me to refund a bunch of their money for something that was not only no fault of my own, but that I had taken particular care to avoid happening. Eventually I got them to agree to send the records back (which it took them two months to do), and when we put them out in the store at full price (with a note about the barely noticeable corner ding) they sold immediately to happy customers.

Why am I ranting about this? I don't know... it just really bothers me the way that the feedback system of sites like eBay and Discogs--and increasingly brick and mortar stores through sites like Yelp--creates this completely uneven power differential between sellers and buyers. Anyone who has dealt with me knows that I am a straight up person who will go well out of my way to make someone happy, but when someone comes at me with an entitled, "the customer is always right" mentality it makes me want to hold back what they want merely out of spite. Maybe that makes me an asshole. Maybe that makes me punk. But having the power to, very occasionally, act like an asshole is one of the handful of privileges of owning your own business.

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