Thursday, 31 December 2009

PITCHFORK ON CLEAR!

Today's entry is without doubt THE most important entry I have made yet on this blog, and without doubt the longest. Please bear with me whilst I give you the background on this, discuss the issues it raises, generally whittle on and finally bore you into submission…

But before I get started, I'm going to tell you what the record is. It is a 7" by a band called PITCHFORK called 'Saturn Outhouse', released by a record label called Nemesis Records back in 1989. This is one of 100 copies on clear vinyl, which are hand numbered on the back of the sleeve. Until today, this was by far and away my most wanted record. This what it looks like:

In case you have never heard of the band, Pitchfork was a short-lived band that were active between 1987 and 1990. They were from San Diego and released only two records - this 7" and an album called 'Eucalyptus', which was also put out by Nemesis Records. Pitchfork was the first band to feature John Reis & Rick Froberg (aka Rick Fork). In case you are unfamiliar with these dudes, they went on to do several other bands over the years, such as Drive Like Jehu, Rocket From The Crypt and Hot Snakes.

But why exactly was this my most wanted record? And why the hell did I pay so much money for it? Well, to understand, you need to know the FULL story. Take a deep breath...


1. BACKGROUND - THE WANTS LIST

When I first got "serious" about trying to collect records in the early to mid 90s, one of the first things I did was to put together a Wants list. Any self-respecting record collector has one. And when I was getting started, the way I put together my first wants list was just to flick through my collection and just list colour vinyl versions that I knew about of all the records I already had at the time on black vinyl. So, for example, I had the Gorilla Biscuits LP on black, and the Turning Point LP on black, so on to my wants list went the GB LP on purple and the Turning Point LP on clear. There was no level of priority to it. I just wanted a colour version of every record I already had. And yes, I mean literally EVERY record that I already had on black vinyl. I guess that really it was more of a wish list rather than a want list. I mean, it was a pretty long list. So even if someone magically appeared and offered me the whole lot at one go, I would not have been able to afford it. No chance. Not when I was a 20 year old student. I wasn't in a hurry though. I saw the list as a long-term objective, and was happy to tick things off one item at a time for as long as it took.

I used to write up wants lists by hand, photocopy it & send it out when I wrote to people. I wish I had some of my early ones, but I don't. The oldest want list that I still have in my possession is one that I published in my first zine in 1996. Yes, I made a zine and used one page of it to publish my want list. Here is a scan of the page from my zine which shows the want list:

Some of the items on the list are pretty funny, because back then there was no internet and information was scarce, and I got some things wrong. I guess I had bad information. But it makes me laugh that I was seeking a Turning Point 7" on BLUE. Ha! What an amateur.

Next, a scan where I have highlighted the items that, since publishing the zine thirteen years ago, I have NOT yet acquired:

As you can see, there are 9 items that I have still not yet acquired. However, six of them I could have bought many times (Bold 7", Endpoint 7", Swiz 7", Unity 7", Face To Face LP & Uniform Choice LP) since they have sold on eBay frequently over the years. That leaves three of them I have not had a chance to get... the Drive Like Jehu LP (although I did get a white vinyl copy, so getting a clear one isn't that much of an issue), the Uniform Choice demos double 7" (which is also on Nemesis Records, and also seems rare as hell), and the Pitchfork 7".

What this shows is two things - that The Pitchfork 7" has been on my want list since AT LEAST 1996, and that it is hard to find.


2. MOVING UP THE WANTS LIST

As you can see, I had a pretty long wants list back in 1996. Funnily enough, since 1996, my wants list has only really got longer. But by 1996 I had started buying new releases direct from labels in order to get the limited colours of vinyl, so in theory all I had to do was keep up with new releases and then, now and again, pick up some slightly older things, and the wants list would start to reduce. Sometimes, however, I would miss new releases, e.g. the Floorpunch LP on white or the first In My Eyes LP on red. They sold out super fast and I missed them, so they got added to the wants list. Or sometimes I would pick up rather late on bands that had been around for a while, so I would then need to go backwards and try to get their older stuff. But I would always be picking up things from it at the same time, so whilst it was never really getting any shorter, it was constantly changing.

What I quickly began to realise was that, although my want list was long & comprehensive, I could pretty much classify each item on it according to one of three levels of priority:

Priority 1 - This was usually reserved for my favourite records, which were generally the classic, older releases that I really badly wanted.

Priority 2 - This was stuff that I definitely wanted, but not as badly. Generally, newer releases that I liked a lot that I had somehow missed fitted into this category.

Priority 3 - This would be stuff that was on there because I knew it existed and in an ideal world I wanted it, even though the record itself was not a particular favourite. Generally, Priority 3 stuff was just there for completeness, and tended to be stuff that I wasn't that bothered about (so why the hell did I even put it on the list - what a dipshit!)

Each record on the list would fit into one of the above priorities, although the priority list was just in my head rather than on paper. Quite often I would get offered things by people that were priority 3 and I would turn them down because I really wasn't bothered about them. A lot of Priority 3 items are relatively easy to get. They're for sale all the time, and this somehow makes them less attractive. You probably have your own priority list, but you just don't have it written down.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that, when I first made my early wants lists, the Pitchfork 7" on colour vinyl was definitely priority 3. I had the record on black vinyl, and I put the colour vinyl one on my want list simply because a colour one would be better than a black one. I didn't even know it existed on colour vinyl at the time. It was just an educated guess, given that most other Nemesis releases came on colour. But yeah - I fully acknowledge & admit that, back in 1996, this record was only on my list for the sake of completeness, and not because it was one of my favourite 7"s.

As time passed, however, I found the Pitchfork 7" moving up the priority list. Not because I listened to it loads and decided that it was in fact my favourite record ever, but more because it started to feel somehow elusive. I began to notice that this one record seemed to have been languishing on my want list longer than most others, and ultimately this began to irritate me. I just didn't understand why it was so difficult to find.


2. THE MISSED OPPORTUNITY

I have a hazy memory of finding the Pitchfork 7" on clear vinyl for sale on How's Your Edge trade board circa 2001. I have no idea who was selling it. I didn't exactly use HYE regularly back then. But I distinctly remember the incident because I remember the price. I emailed whoever had it on their list, and they replied to tell me that they wanted $50 for it. So I said no.

What you need to understand though is that back then this was a LOT of money. To give you an idea, at around the same time Revelation used to sell records on the 'Charity Auction' section of their site, and I bought a test press of the Supertouch LP on there for $50. Even funnier is that I thought I was pushing the boat out by paying $50 because it was the one Revelation release that didn't exist on colour vinyl, and because I focused my collecting on limited versions, I figured that the only way to get a limited copy of the Supertouch LP was to get a test. So I spent big money. Fifty bucks. It felt kinda lavish and reckless at the time. Haha! Oh yeah, and around the same time I remember Rev selling a Movielife LP test press and there was only one bid and it sold for $20. I guess this seems as ludicrous to you right now as it does to me as I write this in 2009. But the point stands - in 2001/2, prices were a lot lower than they are today, and $50 for the Pitchfork 7" (making it comparable with a Supertouch LP test press) seemed insane. So saying no seemed sensible.

If, however, I could have known how much that decision would come back to haunt me in the following years, I would have gladly paid it twice over.


4. THINGS START TO GET DESPERATE

After turning down the chance to buy the Pitchfork 7" in 2001/2, I then didn't have so much of a sniff of it for another 5 years or so. So somewhere around 2006 I began to realise that this 7" was different to any other record I wanted or indeed had ever wanted. What made it different was:

- I had never seen one.
- I had never come across anyone who had one
- I had never seen it on anyone's trade list
- I had never seen it on eBay
- I didn't know anyone who knew anyone who had it
- I didn't know anyone else who wanted it
- I didn't even know anyone who even knew what colour vinyl it was on (I mean, I had been offered a clear one, but I hadn't SEEN it, so wasn't sure if it was actually existed. Nor did I know if there was another colour of it, seeing as Nemesis Records seemed to make a lot of their releases on several different vinyl colours).

It was because of these factors that, around this time, I began to think of this record in a different way. The more I thought about it, the more I began to realise that this somehow seemed to feel like THE rarest record of all time. It began to take on holy grail status (or 'white whale' as people seem to refer to it these days). I struggled to understand was how obtaining a Chung King LP and a Chain Of Strength 7" with silver sleeve had proved relatively easy, yet this 7" by some crappy rock band that nobody really knows or cares about was so difficult.

Realising just how difficult it was to find only succeeded in making me more frustrated about it, which made me want it even more. At this point I realised that I wanted it more than any other simply because this record seemed so elusive. So rather than just sit around hoping it was going to fall into my hands, I decided (for only about the second time ever) to target this record and put some time & effort into trying to find it.


5. THE "I CAN HAVE ANY RECORD ANY TIME I WANT" THEORY

After deciding that this was my number one want and my record collecting priority, I naively figured it would be relatively easy to find. I've always has this theory that I can have pretty much any record I want any day of the week. How? Simple. Money.

Ultimately, with tangible goods, everything just comes down to money. Using sites like HYE, Dead Format, eBay and Google, it's possible to quickly locate people who have pretty much any record you can think of. I mean, if I decided that owning a Chung King test press was the ultimate objective, then I know three people I could email! Once you find someone who has something, then IN THEORY it is then just a question of money.

For example, let's just say that I decide I want a Chung King record... well, I could quite quickly find a list of several people who have one. Then all I do is offer them money until one of them gives in and agrees to let me have one. If everyone says no, I would just increase my offer. But eventually someone would give in and take the money. You think that's not true? Well, imagine for a second that you have a Chung King, and you know that they usually sell for about $3000. What if I offer you $3500? Are you going to sell it? Possibly not. But then what if I offer you $10,000? Or $20,000? Are you still going to say no? Probably not. So even though the people who have one say they don't want to sell, there comes an amount at which they would change their mind.

So all I am saying is that, if you decide you want something more than anything else in the world, all you have to do is pay more than someone else thinks it is worth and they will sell it. That's my theory.

However, this theory is predicated on one basic assumption - that you can FIND someone who has the thing you want in the first place. Unfortunately though, this was exactly my problem with the Pitchfork 7". Nobody had one, nobody had ever seen one, and nobody knew anyone who had one. So what the hell could I do?


6. TAKE SOME ACTION!

Well, I racked my brain and came up with a few ideas of things I could do to find a Pitchfork 7" on colour vinyl. Here's what I did:

1. Set up a trade list on HYE. I put my whole collection up for trade, and listed the Pitchfork 7" as my only want. I figured that, since I have a lot of rare records, someone out there would come out of the woodwork with one and ask for one of my records in exchange. And chances are I would have gone for it. I was prepared to trade BIG for this record. But I never had a single offer.

2. Contact the owner of Nemesis Records - After he appeared on Double Cross, I emailed Big Frank Harrison, who used to own/run Nemesis Records. He was able to confirm that the Pitchfork 7" existed on clear vinyl and that the sleeve was hand-numbered out of 100. Unfortunately though, he didn't have any spares. In fact, he didn't even have one for himself!

3. Contact other collectors - I asked Igby (some dude who works at Revelation, who used to be good friends with, and helped out the label). He had sold some Nemesis Records tests a couple of years ago, and is supposed to be a big collector, so I thought he may be able to help. But alas he didn't have a Pitchfork 7". But he did say that he thought that he may have had one at some point in the past. I also asked Dave Mandel, who runs Indecision Records, and who is reported to have one of the best collections out there. Again, he didn't have one, but also thought that he may have had one years before… but he also threw a spanner in the works and told me that he thought it existed on blue vinyl. I also asked Cliché Jon, a young British chap who seems to be particularly talented at locating ridiculously rare records. But he couldn't find this one.

4. Search the internet! I tried HYE and Dead Format regularly, but nobody on either seemed to have the record I was seeking. I got excited for a short while when I used google and found this weird site where the clear vinyl Pitchfork 7" is mentioned. I emailed the site owner and offered him some money twice, but I never got a reply.

5. Contact the band - I emailed Rick Froberg himself, who is now an artist living in NYC, and who plays in a band called Obits. To my surprise, I got a reply within about twenty minutes, saying that he had "a few" copies of the clear vinyl Pitchfork 7"s in his storage back in California. He even said that next time he was out west he would grab one for me. A few months later I emailed to see if he had been, but I got no reply. I tried again two or three times, each time a few months apart, but I got no reply each time. Eventually I felt like I was bothering Rick, so I gave up emailing him.

6. Set up an eBay notification so that when anyone lists anything in the records category in eBay containing the word 'Pitchfork', I get an email. At least twice a week I would get one of these emails from eBay, but the listings generally pointed me toward were always either the Pitchfork 7" on black vinyl, or Clutch records ( since the first Clutch 7" was called 'Pitchfork').

Despite putting in the time & effort, I was no better off. All of this action yielded no result. Well, that is until...


SUNDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2009

Sunday 29 November 2009 was the day that my luck changed. I awoke to find an email from eBay. And as usual, the records it was showing me were Clutch records. However, at the bottom of the screen there was a fourth listing… and when I saw it, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. The email I got can be seen here:

The listing went up and, as you can see in the picture, the starting price was $249.99, but there was also a buy it now of $999.99. And to make things just that little bit more nail biting, it was a 10 day listing. I didn't want to have to wait for ten days, but at the same time I didn't want to pay the ridiculous buy it now price. So I didn't really have a choice.

However, to make it complicated, the main problem was that I have NEVER seen one of these before, let alone seen one sell. So I had absolutely no idea what it might be worth... or rather, what it might sell for. But I did figure that I probably wanted it more than anyone else in the world... which meant that I was, in theory, going to pay more than anyone else in the world for it. But I had absolutely no idea whatsoever how much this might need to be. Would it REALLY need to be a thousand bucks?

I talked with my girlfriend about it for about an hour, trying to figure out what to do. I did actually consider paying the buy it now, as it would have been the only guaranteed way I could get the record. Any other tactic carried a risk that someone else might beat me to it. But in the end, after a lot of thinking, I was so convinced that nobody would use the buy it now that I decided to just sit & watch the auction progress. To add to my worry though, the seller kept reducing the buy it now price. After a couple of days it went down to $750, then down to $500, then down to $400. There was no hit counter on the page, so I had no idea how many people might have been interested. But I stuck with my original theory that nobody was going to want this as much as me, and nobody was going to use one of these insane buy it now prices.

Well, the day of the auction end finally came around. It was ending at about 17:30 my time on a weekday. Usually I would be at work at this time. And where I work, the internet gets blocked if you are on it for more than half an hour. Although for some reason, if you go on eBay, you seem to get blocked within about ten minutes. In the past I have logged into eBay at work to bid on something, waited until there were a few seconds to go, then clicked "submit bid" only to have my work system block me from ebay, causing me to lose the item. Obviously I could not risk this. So I took the afternoon off work.

Well, with 5 minutes to go there were still no bids and I started to get nervous. I just sat there clicking refresh over and over until there were only seconds to go. Then I put my bid in. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, I won. One bid. Clearly my initial assumption was correct - nobody wanted this as much as I did.

As soon as the auction was over, I emailed the seller to ask where he got the record from. I was just curious as to whether the seller was the original owner or not. Here's the reply I got:

No, I'm not the original owner. It was just one of those lucky things where I went into the music store just after they had priced the 45, but before they put it out for sale. There was actually two of this same Pitchfork 45 that they were about to put out for sale, this one, and a black vinyl one. I bought them both. The black vinyl one was in good shape, but obviously had seen a bit of play. With clear vinyl it's harder to tell, but when I played the record at home to judge the condition for the auction it was obvious to me that the same person had owned both the 45s, and had used the black one to listen to, and had just kept the clear vinyl one pristine. My play of it may have actually been the first time! Although that's a hard claim to make on a eBay auction unless you ARE the original owner. Based on some other auction with some other super-rare Reis related 45s I had going about 9-10 months ago, I really thought this would sell for twice as much, if not more. But am glad that you bought it. I'm sure you'll be very happy with the condition

I'm guessing the seller paid like $5 or so for it. I didn't care though. What I found interesting was simply that I had been chasing this thing for years and theoretically, if I were in a different part of the world, I could have just walked into a used record store and picked it up for next to nothing. What a concept! Made me wonder how many other people's white whales are out there just waiting to be found.

The story wasn't quite over yet though. The next problem was shipping. The seller insisted on this thing being sent insured. Previous experience told me that, if I had paid for this to be insured, then the "value" would be declared on the packet and I would be hit for import duties, probably amounting to about $60. Obviously I would rather avoid this if I could. So I hatched a plan. I paid to have the item shipped to Mike in the States, and got him to send it on to me in a regular priority mail envelope without declaring the value. The only downside to this plan was that it would take longer to get to me, and there was a chance I would not get the record before the xmas holidays.

After only a couple of days, I was informed that the record had completed stage one of it's journey and arrived safely at Mike's. He even sent me a picture as proof:

He then sent it on to me. It was then a race to see if it would arrive before xmas. But there was an added complication. I get all my records sent to work, since my home mail box is tiny and anything that gets delivered ends up being taken back to the depot until I can collect it. But my last day in the office was 22 December, and the office was going to be closed from the afternoon of the 24th until 4 January 2010. And come 22 December, it hadn't shown up. So I instructed my colleagues to call me at home if it showed up on either the 23rd or 24th. And wouldn't you know it, I got a call on the morning of 23 December telling me that it was there. Typical! I take a day off work and then there's a reason for me to go in! So I drove the 38 mile round trip to London and back to collect the thing. Here's what it looked like:

The main feeling I felt holding this envelope was relief. Relief that the 13 year old chase was finally over. I savoured the moment for a few seconds, then sliced the fucker open...

The record itself is an interesting colour. Clear, but with a slight green tint to it, like glass. There are also a few brown-ish smears eminating from the centre, which just about show up in this picture:

And, as I had heard years before, the sleeve is hand numbered out of 100.

So there it is. My number one want finally acquired. Kinda feels like finishing a video game that you have been playing for months, or the end of a long-running TV series that you have loved. I'm just left with a feeling that some part of my life is over.

So what's next? I don't know. No idea what my most wanted record is now. Maybe I should just give up collecting. Stop buying records and stop this blog. Game over. I'm done.

Although, that said, I'm suddenly thinking that I wouldn't mind a Pitchfork 7" test press...

19 comments:

Alternate1985 said...

jesus christ this is the longest blog post in the history of vinyl blog posts....I have to wait till tonight for this one.

jhulud said...

This is definitely one of my favorite blog entries Marcus. It's full of passion and commitment for the hobby and genre. Great read. I love it. Thanks for sharing it. Your orignal 'wants list' parallels mine from back in the day as well. No wonder you and I get along so well.

marcus said...

I'm glad it is one of your favourite entries. Took me long enough to write! Thanks for reading it though, dude. Your kind words & support are always appreciated.

Tim said...

What a story! Thanks for the post I enjoyed reading it it.

eulogyforadream said...

Best entry on this blog by a long shot. Good read through and through.

marcus said...

Thanks dudes! Glad people are actually reading this long ass story!

Mike said...

Awesome post, Marcus. So glad that I was able to assist!

mike said...

always a good feeling to take a big bite out of the old want list!
congrats on this one.

M.

John said...

More posts like this!

marcus said...

I'm not sure I have the time or energy for more posts like this to be honest. But thanks!

outofstepsince81 said...

One of the best posts ever in blogging history. It always feels great finding one of the last missing records. Keep it up, love reading your blog.

mel said...

great story Marcus, such passion man and so glad you finally got it. I still have your original zines with your wants lists.

a happy ending man. i think you got it pretty cheap to, considering it was your #1 want.

Dunceor said...

I can really understand this quest. For my big wants they are not that hard to find, it's usually just a question of money. But cool you found it!

tadpole records said...

great blog marcus, bumped into steve in town today (think he just sold you some records) and he said i needed to read this. Darren

marcus said...

Hi Darren,

Hope you are well! I went to Steve's house back in May. A pretty interesting story. Bought two 7"s off him on ebay & he sent me an email asking if I knew you. Said that you used to mention my name back in the mid 90s as a fellow trader/collector, and he wondered whether the ebay buyer was the same person. I ended up driving to his house & giving him a lot of money. I wrote it up in three entries - Road Trip Parts I, II, and III. Check it out if you have some time.

ET said...

Read this a couple of weeks ago and just came back to read it again, it's a great story and congratulations on finally tracking it down!

deafmx said...

awesome read! stumbled across it looking for endless quest records. updating the list, oh joy. i think you earned this story, i don't know if you would have wanted the wait to go any other way. except maybe with a small price tag. congrats! it makes me want to listen to Pitchfork, being kinda curious about Obits lately.

marcus said...

you were looking for endless quest records?

Jake said...

I'm very late to the party but this was a great read!