Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Vinyl Albums

If you seriously want to move foreward at any point in life, you have to let go of the past. I said that in my head over and over and over again as I sat and stared at two boxes of vinyl albums.
I've had these for years, collecting since high school, or maybe before that.
I'm not someone to live in the past; on the contrary, I've been accused of having no sentimentality. But I do have a hard time getting rid of these albums.

Over the years, they've been replaced by CD's, and now with mp3's. In fact my CD's have been packaged and put away as all of my music now resides on the hard drive of my Mac and my ipod. I haven't played them in years, probably not since 1987, the year we bought our first CD player. But they follow me around with every move. From Boxboro to Shirley, and all stops in between. Just becoming empty pieces of useless bagage.

I remember buying some of them; we used to take the train into Harvard Square and visit the used record shops, and the Harvard Coop in search of obscure, rare albums, bootlegs, imports. Some of the bootlegs were poor quality. I have one from the Stones, circa 1978 at RFK Stadium. It sounds as if the mic was in the coat pocket of one of the audience, but at the time of purchase, it felt like a 'find'.

The way records were treated always depended on the users appreciation for music. Some people just put the album on the turntable, dropped the needle, and left it at that. I'd carefully slice the plastic that the cover was wrapped in, slide the album out and carefully place it on the turntable. I'd then wash it with the felt and wood washer, and tape it. The album would return to the jacket, not to be played for quite some time.

So how can I throw them out now?

I see Kim Wilde, with "Kids in America". I bought this used, just for the single. Bob Marley's "Rastaman Vibration" with its liner note "(This record cover great for cleaning herb)"...The Cars debut album, which I have 2 of (marraige invariably creates some duplicates; im our case, it also brought more punk albums, like the "Black Market Clash" EP)...I also have Madness 12" single of "Our House".
Another one I found is the Jon Butcher Axis; I have a hard time finding his stuff online, much less on CD now. Saw him live at the old Cinema Lounge in Fitchburg at a midnight show. He looked like Hendrix, from the bandana down to the 'strat, and had the flair down cold. Speaking of Hendrix, I also have his Euro-import, "Smash Hits". Actually, I traded a cassette recording of the Who's "Quadraphenia" for this.

Some of the albums are pretty beat. When you purchase from a used record store, the quality may not be the best, and the sleeves may not exist at all. However, if the album is rare, then you catch as you can. Case in point is the Jonathon Richman and the Moder Lovers LP; no sleeve, the vinyl has some scratches, but at the time, it was out of print, so I scooped it. I washed it down, recorded it and put it away. The song? "Roadrunner", the only 2-chord song I have ever heard, or at least I think I ever heard. And yes, the same Jonathon Richman that plays the guitar and sings on the movie "There's something about Mary".

Electronics and the cyber world has rendered any argument for keeping these albums moot. Sure, there are used CD stores at the square and elsewhere, but why travel when I can find what I'm looking for with a few key strokes? And then download for a buck? And I can take my entire music catalog wherever I go, however I travel. So there's really no reason to keep the vinyl.

I thought about selling them, as a lot, or indivudually, so I checked the various onlite sites. What I found was that, unless the album was extremely rare at the time of printing, a la the Beatles "Yesterday" butcher cover, they are not worth the material. People were giving them away. My albums are officially junk.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Tyrannosaurus Sue

I have my "Tyrannosaurus Sue" t-shirt on today. People ask who she is...

Sue is the largest, most complete T-Rex skeleton ever discovered, and currently on display at the Chicago Fields Museum. I saw her in 2002, while on my way to the Hamilton-Sundstrand IT Managers conference in Michigan City, IN. Yes, Michigan City, IN, on a man-made lake chock full of senior citizen pontoon boats.

I flew out early in the morning, caught the subway to the downtown by the waterfront, and spent a few hours in the museum to see Sue. Her skeleton replaced the Brachiasaurus skeleton, which is now at the O'Hare Airport.

Who is Sue?

As I said, Sue" was the largest and most complete T. Rex skeleton found up to her discovery in 1990; she was named after her discoverer, Sue Hendrickson. While fossil hunting with her then-boyfriend, Peter Larson, Sue happened upon a skeleton on the side of a small mesa. A complete T-Rex skeleton. The skeleton was on Sioux land (Sue, Sue and Sioux. How complex can this get?) which was owned by a Native American (yes, an out-of-character pc'ism by me) named Maurice Williams, who had a "trust" on the land. The Black Hills Institute (the Larson Brothers) had obtained permission from Williams to dig where Sue was found, and using expensive equipment, they painstakingly removed the T-Rex.

Once back at the institute, they began to prepare the skeleton for display. The plan was to use Sue as a centerpiece for their museum. But they also realized what a find they had and, being devoted (albeit amateur) paleontologist, they sought to share their find. And here's where the troubles began, for as the academic community caught wind of this specimen, word spread about the value. And everyone wanted a hand in the find.

The Sioux reservation sought claim. Williams' land was part of the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation, and the Sioux claimed that it was illegal to remove the fossil without the tribe's permission.

Williams, of course, thought it should be his (never mind he received a payment for permission to use *his* land), and the government, being the government, wanted in as well. On May 14, 1992, the FBI raided the Black Hills Institute offices and impounded the fossil. Acting U.S. Attorney Kevin Schieffer arrived on the scene and stated, out of the blue, that the fossil was U.S. government property. This claim had never previously been asserted; the government simply walked in and nationalized Sue. The National Guard was called out as part of the seizure; the governor of South Dakota, who was not informed of their use till after the fact, called the Federal government's action "underhanded." The bones were deposited in an uncontrolled environment which could have damaged them through chemical breakdown.

The government claimed that Williams had placed his property in trust with the Department of the Interior as a tax-saving action, and therefore could not sell it without permission of the government. Acting U.S. Attorney Kevin Schieffer interpretation of the law was that all Indian trust land is government property and that Indians are simply tenants. (He did not, however, extend this argument to void the oil leases which Williams had issued on his land.)

Williams prevailed in court; the government ruled that a dinosaur in the ground is real estate, and therefore Williams' trust agreement prevented him from selling her. Ownership reverted back to him. Sue was finally auctioned to Chicago's Field Museum for $7.6 million, (not counting the auctioneer's percentage), and is now on public display at the Field Museum.

The feds weren't finished, however. Wielding the sharpened axe they were aching to grind, the federal government prosecuted Larson and the Black Hills Institute on a large number of charges, none of which related directly to Sue. Larson was found guilty of "failure to fill out forms" -- he had not declared $15,000 which he had brought in from Peru on a required customs form. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison, serving 18 months.

And the "other" Sue? The feds threatened to prosecute her unless she would provide them with testimony against the Institute, and ordered her not to communicate with the Larsens. She wound up so disgusted with the entire affair that she left the United States afterward. She said that the events "shattered my faith in the United States government."

There's more to this incredible true story, but I suggest reading 'Tyrannosaurus Sue", by Steve Fiffer.

And by all means, make a trip to Chicago, and the Fields Museum. It's an amazing glimpse of the skeleton of a real-life "monster" that once walked the earth.