God Speed, Rollo Steele
Every record has a story. Who owned it, where it's been, etc. Sometimes they come right out & tell you.
Today we’re taking a look at one of my latest crate digging finds.
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Crate digging can go either way. You might find something you've been looking for for years (rare) or come home empty-handed (lol. c'mon). The trips are usually a batch of small wins. Maybe something I'd had on my list for a while. Perhaps something I didn't know I needed until I came across it in the stacks.
Taking the time to go to a brick-and-mortar store enhances each of these. The victories are sweeter, the losses sharper. Could I shop on Discogs? Sure. But what's the fun in that?
And I like new records as much as anyone, but I really prefer rooting through the used ones (as does my wallet). The history of any given record is intriguing to me. Pulling something out, I wonder about the backstory.
Is the ring wear because the record was constantly being pulled out/put away, or was it just stored carelessly?
How does a hype sticker last 30 years?
Why did people write their names on albums?
Was this a thing? I never recall doing this, though I wasn't porting them around a lot, either.
Some collectors find this distasteful. Reddit and other forums are full of people who see this as a mortal sin and regard those who buy written copies as only slightly less contemptible. I'm not one of them.
I recently made the cross-town trek to my favorite store (the same one with the mystery grab bags I mentioned before). As usual, I picked one of those up but have yet to open it, so that'll have to wait.
The store is on a cramped street crowded with either people, bikes, or cars, usually a combo of all three. Parking can be like playing the lottery, and I'm usually resigned to being a block or two away. Not this time; there was a post literally in front of the front door—an early win.
New releases/records are upstairs, and I did my usual cursory lap through them. I do this mainly to say I did; I'm not usually looking for anything new, so there are few reasons for me to stay at street level. And it's usually a little too people-y for my liking—a great problem for the store, but just one more reason to get down the stairs.
Down to the used section, where the real fun is.
Once in a while, I'll know exactly what I'm looking for. More often I’ll have a few vague ideas I might scribble down in an attempt to lend some strategy to it all ("Caribbean music," "70s R&B." "Wire"). Most of the time, though, I start in one corner and work my way across the floor, letting things unfold however they might.
Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't.
Until recently, The Del Fuegos band had never moved past the "I like a couple of their songs" level. Guitarist Warren Zanes has carved out a remarkable second life as a writer, and there has been a lot of recent press & reviews for his latest book. It takes a look at Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, and in turn, I've taken to looking through their discography.
I've been enjoying what I've heard. Yes, I know late to another party, and some of you might be rolling your eyes, wondering where I've been. I get it.
I made my way through the "new arrivals" (predictably picked over), skimmed the soundtracks, and R&B/Soul, before getting to "rock." Midway through the D's, I found it; a copy of their 1984 record, The Longest Day. And right in the middle of the cover was a name.
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Most people at least save their signature for an upper corner or the back side of the sleeve. Not Rollo. He put his name front & center, right by the band, in tentative cursive. The same style most of us had when we were just confident enough to try it out whenever we could. Looking at the sleeve, you can almost imagine the two solid lines with the dashed one in the middle—the "l's" clear the halfway mark. The "o's" do not. Nice work.
So who was Rollo Steele? Dear reader, I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that I must've made up half a dozen backstories before I even made it back upstairs. Part of me wanted it to be someone from the cast of The Sandlot. Part of me wanted him to be a steelworker, right down to the attendant mustache. I briefly entertained the idea that someone wrote it as a joke years ago while in school --the UW campus is literally right down the street--but quickly dismissed it. That just felt cheap.
I eventually settled on the notion that it was someone named Roland- the type of name that is so instantly nickname-able that the only people who still use your legal name are your mother and the DMV.
So I had my answer- or at least a manufactured one, anyway. But that just led to more questions.
Where was he taking this that he needed to write his name on it?
Was it a gift he felt he needed to mark to differentiate it from ones his parent or siblings might own? We all go through that phase.
Why'd he get rid of it?
It's an older record, but it doesn't have the musty smell so many other records acquire after they're exiled to a basement and forgotten.
Did he like the album? There's not much ring wear, or any wear, really. Maybe our Rollo took great care of his records (writing his name on the cover notwithstanding). Maybe it was a well-intentioned gift that missed the mark and didn't get much attention.
What I can tell you is that I added it to my stack without a second thought. It found its way to Strictly Discs in Madison, WI, into my hands, and into a new forever home. Having now listened to most of the band's discography, it's probably my favorite.
I don't know the exact path it took to wind up there. I only know mine, so half the story will have to do. I'm having more fun filling in the blanks anyway.
In my version, Rollo sells it to set off on a new stage of his life. Maybe he is old enough now that he has become the sort of very serious person who insists on being called Roland, but I hope not.
Either way, I hope he's winning. I'm definitely counting this as a win.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the record! Do you buy records if they are written on, or are they a hard pass?
Thanks for being here,
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