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September 22, 2016

WMUA Vinyl Sale a Huge Success

It was somewhere around the discovery of adjacent vinyls by KC and the Sunshine Band and Boris Karloff performing a dramatic reading of “Peter and the Wolf” that it became clear: Not a mite of musical minutia would be left unattended to at WMUA’s vinyl blowout on Saturday. It was pretty overwhelming. There seemed a bin for every conceivable sub-generic categorization, not to mention the countless bins labeled “Weird” or “?!?!?!?” or “Who knows?”

The Cape Cod Lounge, where the event took place, was set up with dozens of tables roughly forming two concentric rings; the tables housed the zillions of records, tapes and CDs, with people moseying along in unending loops in the space between them.

By about an hour into the event, ponderous perusal completely clogged the narrower portions of the walking lane. The place was packed, and not just with college kids. In fact, maybe half of the customers browsing the bins were 30-something dudes smelling faintly of cigarettes. In other words, the guys you see wandering around at record stores.

But the sale still had a completely different atmosphere from that of a record store. Some combination of the high ceiling, the teeming masses, and the avant jazz (or noise rock or underground hip-hop or outsider punk) blasting from the WMUA DJ station in the corner gave it the feeling of a trade show for music-obsessed shut-ins. Those 30-something dudes – not to mention all the students – were in their element.

In all the din of strangers talking to strangers about smart-people music, it is a small wonder that the discourse did not degenerate into a kind wherein the person who can name the most obscure side project is the winner. The general attitude was much more earnest than that. Every couple of minutes, at any stand, there could be overheard a moment of genuine discovery – either a vendor would go on at exuberant length about some record the customer wasn’t looking for, or the latter would do the same for some record the former didn’t have, always to the delight of both.

The ubiquitous spark of sincerity that made the sale more than just a bigger, cheaper version of a used record store came, in large part, from the various solo vendors who travelled to the University of Massachusetts from all over the surrounding regions to display their collections. The success of the event hinged on these hardy travelling merchants.

Dean Proserpio, a record vendor from the Boston area, described his experience selling music at other such sales all over the Northeast by saying, “I find myself at these more ‘traditional’ record shows with old funk and classic rock … and I’ll be the one guy selling house music.”           

If not always appropriate for those events, where the music can take a backseat to its rarity, his vinyl stockpile is always backed up by his own heartfelt obsession. He only sells what he knows, which incidentally makes his selection perfect for college-age kids. He jokingly remarked that this makes him feel hip, then resumed eating his sandwich.

At the opposite end of the room, Stephan Brandstatter from Brattleboro, Vt. stood behind a very different array of records, an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth. Brandstatter has been selling music for 30 years, but last year (in fact, exactly a year and a day before the sale) his record store burned down. Now he sells mostly from his own personal collection, travelling with the music he knows and loves, just like Proserpio, to sales like this one. Jazz, blues and classic rock primarily from the 60s and 70s composed most of his available selection.

Adjacent to Brandstatter’s table was that of Rick Spruchman, also originally from Brattleboro (though he has relocated to nearby Easthampton, Mass.). Spruchman’s records come from 50 years of his own acquisitions of rock, blues, folk and psychedelic music. But it was not until five years ago that he overcame his crippling Collector’s Syndrome and started selling the stuff.

Now, he comes to record shows like Proserpio and Brandstatter, touting a similar philosophy that “if you don’t feel it, it’s just an intellectual exercise.” And he definitely feels it. As he raised his prized Gandalf vinyl (with a price tag of $300) to show it off, one could practically see his grey ponytail beard wag.

On the other side of the record tables, customer Brian Folan, a UMass sophomore, opened his bag to reveal his day’s purchases: a vinyl LP by John Coltrane, another by The Cure, and Roxy Music’s eponymous debut. The Roxy Music album was the real prize, as he’d “been looking for that for, like, three years, and it’s always $20 and not worth it.” He acquired it at half that price at Saturday’s sale.           

UMass sophomore Eddie Habib took a less measured approach to the day’s proceedings. He explained, “I saw them, they looked cool, they were $10 each, I had $20 to spend, so I picked ‘em up.” The first of the two victims in his indiscriminate musical rampage was Free Kitten’s “Call Now” EP, which he chose for the two lovely ladies on the cover art. Little did he know that Free Kitten was a noisy rock supergroup with members from Sonic Youth, The Boredoms and Pussy Galore – a veritable treasure trove of indie legitimacy. The other album was “Have a Lousy Xmas.” Among the bands featured was one called The Space Negros. Needless to say, he left satisfied.

It was pretty difficult not to leave satisfied; if you came with no musical knowledge, there was enough behind the record tables to go around. If you came with no money, there was a bin marked “Cheaper than free: I give you 1¢ for each one you take” with albums like “The World’s 50 Most Loved Waltzes”.

Even if you didn’t have a record player, you could have taken a stack of free magnets from WMUA’s table just outside the Cape Cod Lounge’s doors. Not everybody likes underground Austrian trance-hop, but everybody likes refrigerator magnets. WMUA has evidently discovered the secret to success here.

Garth Brody can be reached at gbrody@student.umass.edu.

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