The Man Who Never Sold The World

by Greg Dale

Many years ago I was living in Los Angeles with a friend who happened to be the first real record collector (before we referred to it as vinyl) I had ever met. His area of expertise, and passion, was David Bowie, and I mean fanatically so. He would listen to and collect anything that even referenced the chameleon-like Bowie, songs on albums that used the word David, or Bowie, or Ziggy, so you get the point, he had a wild collection of Bowie related vinyl and also, by his own accounts, every known pressing of any Bowie album, missing just a few Rykodiscs.

So this friend’s job was installing computer networks, and he was very good at it and had a large list of LA clientele, his major client being a company that provided artist management, and one of their clients was none other than… the Thin White Duke himself, David Bowie.

One day my friend comes home in a state only to be described as somewhere just below religious ecstasy, the company has said that David is in town, and if he drops off a few records they will get them signed for him. So the painful deliberation starts, he pores over his hundreds of precious records, and finally selects his three rarest pressings, and off they go to get signed.

Days later, it’s what they call a balmy Southern California evening, we’re in his kitchen, probably preparing a gourmet meal of nacho chips and tequila or something else equally complicated, and the phone rings; in those days it was still an actual phone, hooked on the wall. My friend answers.

“Hello Paul, this is David.

A pause.

“…David Bowie. “

My friend went pale. I would love at this point to say that the ensuing conversation lasted ages with them conversing like old friends about records and his career, and me listening in on another handset, but that isn’t what transpired at all.

What actually happened in those thirty crazy seconds was this. In short, David Bowie himself, sitting with three records in his hands to sign, had finally come across a pressing of When the Wind Blows, some kind of picture disc, that was one of the only known copies in existence, and he didn’t have one himself! So David Bowie had called to say, I’ll happily sign your other records, but would it be amiss for me to ask if I may keep the When the Wind Blows disc…

Now this story, which really happened, just like that, with me actually in the room, took place in the early 1990’s, but more importantly to the theme that I would like to convey…happened with a collection fully compiled in South Africa.

Lately I’ve been pondering quite seriously on the nature of collecting in the modern digital age. Gone are the days of having to seek out elusive first pressings in Nigerian warehouses and Delta shotgun shacks. Now there’s a Discogs, and an Ebay, and any record that you desire is prodded, photographed, catalogued, and most importantly, priced to sell to you. So the adventure is mostly gone, it’s now a game of may the fattest wallet or the fastest auction bot win, and in the death throes of those heady Indiana Jones days of collecting are a new generation of digital kids with access to everything, but no ability to really carve out collections of their own from scratch.

But! And here’s where it gets so exciting for me, for many crazy reasons here in SA we are currently living in what we could vaguely refer to as a kind of demilitarized zone of vinyl collecting. We have the means to research what is out there, but postage is so expensive, (both in and out! ), and our currency is so not in keeping with international systems, that we’ve inadvertently been left with a veritable island of vinyl treasure, right here on our own little Jurassic Park island of records, and they are everywhere!

A devoted hunter can still trawl market bins, second hand shops, garages and attics, even bidorbuy, and find what amounts to some of the rarest vinyl on earth, right on our doorstep, and accessible to no one but us. I marvel daily, and think that Ian and Andrew and all who started local Facebook site, Vinyl Frontier, were perhaps onto more than we know, this is truly one of the final vinyl frontiers, and we its intrepid hunters.

And in this final hunt we are descended from some real vinyl royalty, it is after all the country that spawned my dear friend, who picked up a phone, spoke to David Bowie, and to the question ‘Can I keep the When the Wind Blows?”, responded, “Um, No, its one of my prized records”. To which a bemused David Bowie replied, “Good man, that’s the spirit.” And for real that is how it transpired.

And so onward we go, hunting in the spirit of men who fought in the arenas of rockstars. Fellow frontiersmen, Ill see you in the mud at Milnerton, on the way down some cramped attic stairs, on the road to Pietermaritzburg with a ready one-tonne bakkie, or in the ring on BOB next week, because this is our hunting ground; and because that’s the spirit!

We’ve  started an INSTAGRAM account : needlesfromthehaystack – follow for weekly pics of lovely rekkids!

 

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