I Want A Refund! (A Story Of Humiliation & Heartbreak)

SHAYNE CARTER, I owe you an apology. Back when you were a customer of a record store I once ran, you got your CD home, opened the jewel box, went to pull it out of the casing, and it snapped in half. I was not particularly sympathetic. A refund was not forthcoming. I probably muttered something to a colleague along the lines of: “Probably stoned off his gourd and didn’t know how hard he was pulling that thing. Bloody musicians.”
I seem to remember Shayne taking my rejection well. With the benefit of hindsight, I appreciate that. [I was, after all, known as “that sour looking guy behind the counter”, and suffering bouts of almost seismic retail hatred].
The thing is, after decades with zero problems with the CD format, it’s the digitization that’s undone me. I’ve been slowly working my way through thousands of rarely played compact discs, and loading them to iTunes for storage on my music-dedicated back-up drive. And yesterday, on the second disc of Roy Harper’s Live At Les Cousins, my world collapsed.
I bought this album when it came out in 1996, and played it exactly once. At the time, I was running my record store, and more interested in soaking up the sounds of those squiggly electronic music makers working loosely in the realm of what they used to call IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). Many years on, and somewhat recovered from my electronic years, I was tentatively looking forward to getting acquainted with the first known live recording of the “stoned freak poet”, who has recently undergone something of a revival at the age of 70 with the support and patronage of Joanna Newsome.
When I applied moderate force to pull the CD from its casing, however, it snapped. I was dumbfounded. Now, if I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that this has happened once before, a couple of years ago, when I attempted to wrestle the XX/Gil Scott-Heron remix album from its case. But that was a little different. I was in the car, and in a hurry, and it’s possible that I did apply just a little bit more pressure than was required. I think that particular casing may even have required a specific technique to extract it from its holder, and I may have disregarded that. But this time, I was gently trying to wiggle the CD out of a typical double-CD jewel case, and SNAP!
I felt as humiliated as if I’d been onstage at Vector Arena and about to put in the pre-recorded introduction to major band, with all eyes on me, given the important job of wrestling said CD from jewel box, and guiding it expertly to the CD mechanism.
The thing is, I’m really careful with all kinds of recorded discs. Just last night I played my vinyl copy of Frank Zappa’s 1969 album Uncle Meat, which I’ve had since the mid-‘70s, and it was so bereft of any marks or wear and tear that it sounded as pristine as the latest CD remaster.
The one serious incident I do remember with my vinyl collection requires casting what’s left of my mind back to 1982, when I was flatting on Wellington’s Majoribanks St and working full-time as editor/writer for a music magazine. I had bought some liquid miracle-maker that I had decided to spray on every single album, and to expedite the process had covered the lounge floor with naked vinyl albums. That is, every square foot was covered with record covers, upon which were placed special inner dust jackets (you know, the expensive ones with the paper and plastic stuck inside the paper) and on top, the albums themselves. When each vinyl had been sprayed and wiped, I would affix a special little label to the cover, noting the treatment date.
Unfortunately, in the middle of this very careful, painstaking process, which involved me tip toeing around carefully in the cracks between album covers, the front door opened and a large canine came bounding in. Said canine ran around the lounge excitedly. I screamed at his owner, and the dog was extracted from the room with great speed, but in a matter of seconds, a number of my most precious vinyls had ended up with dog nail scratches, some of them merely skin deep, others more like gougings.
I’m glad my memories of that time aren’t crystal-clear, because my mortification gauge automatically shoots into the red when conjuring this incident, and if I had a photographic memory, and could remember each record that had been ruined by that dog, I may be a ward of the state by now. [Then again, I could look at each dog nail scratch as some kind of souvenir of a now long-deceased favourite pet – not a favourite of mine, you understand, but someone’s favourite, nevertheless].
Really, in all my years of vinyl collecting, I’ve had few such incidents. Sure, there were the school friends who munted a few LPs, thereby ensuring that I would never again act as a lending library. And there were the dunderhead DJs who used to frequent my shop and put their germy thumbs all over my fresh imported vinyl with no perception of my need to sell it ‘as new’. And there was even the North Shore hi-fi shop who totally fucked a track on one of my beautiful 180g Santana vinyl reissue by accidentally bumping a heavy cartridge across the grooves.
Really, I’m lucky that I’ve not had more catastrophes with recorded music, and the snapping Roy Harper CD is just one of those rare salutary lessons in good jewel box conduct. I guess one snapping compact disc is a whole lot less troublesome than a dying 3-terabytes of digital music collection with no back up of the back up. GARY STEEL

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