7.26.2004

Obsessive over Jeff Buckley

There's an interesting story behind the song lyrics I chose for Romance.net part 11 (the 4th to the last chapter in the longest story I've ever written -- this one, if voted into the book, probably won't fit). Actually, there's a larger interesting story surrounding this interesting story, but that'll come later and I won't ruin it for you (if you're a fan of the Romance.net series. If you aren't... well, you'll just miss out, I guess. Not that it'd matter, because you aren't a fan and you probably don't really care. Which is no biggie, really. I won't cry. Much.)

The song "Just like a woman" is a Bob Dylan track, but the first time I'd ever heard it was on a (then) VERY rare bootleg of the Sinè recordings of Jeff Buckley's early career. I fell in love with it instantly and probably repeated that one track 200 times the first time I ever played Disc 1 of the 4 disc set (the set you can buy in the store today is the "official" archival release and contains exactly half the amount of music the bootleg set has. It's really a shame that Buckley's mom didn't see her way clear to just go ahead and release it all at once... I guess she's going to release the other 1.5 hours later and profit just a little more from her son's death...) The song has a lot of meaning for me - of course, it relates to the story in a way that you will see later, but more than that - how I came by owning this set is... well, a story in and of itself.

I was introduced to his music around 1993, just after a very short show here in Atlanta had blown every single attendee away. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend that show (or any other he played here, which is just sad. Each time he came into town, some ridiculous tragedy befell me). A guy I went to school with had taped the show and brought it for me to hear, and I simply fell in love. Immediately, I went in search of music by this Buckley guy, and all I could find was the Live at Sinè EP - 4 songs, performed acoustically, that absolutely haunted me. I couldn't BELIEVE that there wasn't more work by this guy out there! Fortunately for me, 1994 came around and Grace was released, and the whole world began to clue in to a fact that I'd learned a year previous: this Buckley guy was 100% amazing. It was also in 1994 that I began attending collectable record / CD shows with Mike, looking for things you couldn't find in the stores - most notably, rare Smashing Pumpkins and Jeff Buckley stuff. I'd happen upon the random Last Goodbye single or Eternal Life CD-5, and my existence would have meaning for a while. Hearing rare and unreleased material by Jeff elated me in a way that is still to this day unrivaled in any other artist I collect. I picked up EVERYTHING that I could find with his name on it - bootlegs, show recordings, radio broadcasts - anything that had the word Buckley on it, I bought - regardless of price.

Then, tragically, Jeff Buckley departed this world.

Around the same time of the events in Romance.net, Jeff Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River just outside of Memphis. This was a devastating blow for me. To say that he was my favorite artist at the time (and still now) is an understatement. Unfortunately, the market for his rare / unreleased stuff went haywire after he died, so anything and everything that was coming to light - the early releases of "Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk" (Then simply called (Untitled - New Buckley Demos, Memphis 97), The Mystery White Boy sources, the Peyote Road Theater tracks - they quadrupled in price almost overnight - a fact reflected at the next CD show I attended after he died.

Now, there's something that every comic book nerd, record collector, toy enthusiast, etc. knows about shows - there are customers, and then there are regulars. Customers breeze into a show, look around, point and say "ooh, looky there." They might even spend some money at a dealer's table - and in some cases, a good bit of money, especially for that one item from their past that they coveted as a child or if you have a huge deal on recent release stuff (10 cd's for 30 bucks, 10 comics for a dollar, whatever). In fact, the majority of a dealer's take at any given show / convention will be from these passers-by.

But then, there are the obsessed people who are at every single show, every month / season / year (whenever they have them). These people started off as normal customers, looking at the odd rare Mint "White Album" (Beatles) or the super old Amazing Fantasy #15 (First appearance of Spiderman) or the first release of the Invisible Woman action figure (easily the rarest action figure to ever be produced) - and while they did this, something scampered down from the table, crawled across the floor and up their pant leg and bit them. They got infected - and they fell in deep. These people will be at every show, every time. If they come by a dealer's table and see something they didn't see the last show that they want, they will pull out a huge wad of cash and say "here."  They won't shuffle or contemplate or hem and haw. They will simply buy it from you. You may have to come down on the price a bit for that ultra-rare UK-only release of "Halo eleventeen - broken, fixed and broken again" by Nine Inch Nails, but doing so for these people is WELL worth it. They are the mouths of your industry. Everyone who collects whatever it is you're there to sell probably knows these people, because they're at EVERY show. They're experts on the collector market. If you make them happy by giving them the final piece they need for their shrine to Treznor, they will make sure to tell every one of their fandom friends about you.

It's safe to say that, if you know what's good for you, you will NOT piss these people off.

So there I was at yon CD show. I was standing in front of a dealer table that I'd never seen at this show before. He was what we call an opportunist. He had no real motif - most dealers deal exclusively in one thing or another. Some do live videos of shows, some do singles and imports, some do 60's material. This guy, however, simply sniffed the air and found out what was hot, and then picked up items he could resell to capitalize on whatever was the popular wave of the time. He had Tori Amos's "Y Kant Tori Read," the sole reason I can't respect that ridiculous excuse for an "artist". He also had, sitting on the back shelf, a white box with 4 white paper sleeves. The box was marked "Jeff Buckley Sinè Set - 93".

"HOLY SHIT!" I yelled, drawing his attention immediately. Mike looked over from a box of Helmet singles he already owned every copy of.

"What?" he asked. I responded by letting my mouth gape open, my eyes pop out of my skull and my index finger point to the box. "Wow," he replied. "You gonna get it?"

"I... Uh... well, YEAH!" I enthusiastically replied, drawing a wide smile from the dealer. He reached around behind him, grabbed the box, and plunked it in front of me.

"Great set," he casually said. "Very hot item right now."

"Yeah, I bet!" I replied. "I've heard rumors... but man, I can't believe I'm staring at it!"

"Yep!" he said. "Ever since he died, people's been askin' for his rare stuff. I got my hands on these and I'm hopin' to move 'em."

"Oh, I'll definitely take them off your hands!" I replied. "How much are you asking?"

He replied with an answer that really shouldn't be repeated here, as it was so grossly offensive that, should I repeat it, might bring about fines from the FCC.

"What!?!" I replied. "Dude, that's a CAR. I'm not paying you a car for that set."

"Fine," he replied, placing his hands around the box in preparation to remove it. Reflexively, my hands shot out and grabbed hold of the set.

"Hold on!" I said. "Can't we work something out?"

"Hmm... 'Fraid not, if you ain't willin' to pay me what I'm askin'."

"Look, I have some stuff I can give you in trade," I replied, whipping my bag up on the table and removing several ultra rare recordings that I had duplicates of. "Look, here's an original pressing of Matthew Sweet's Goodfriend, and... let's see... OH! How about the 1963 Blue Note session with Ellington, Coltrane, Davis and Roach?"

"Sorry, not interested. Cash only."

"Come on, man!" I demanded. "There's got to be something I can do to make you part with the set."

"No, thanks." He said, tugging the box away from me forcefully and placing it back on the shelf. I shuffled away with a giant pout on my face, saddened that there were Buckley recordings that I couldn't possess simply because I was unwilling to pay a small Ford for them. I slowly arrived to a dealer named Keith's table.

"Dude, why the sad look?" He said in lieu of a greeting.

"Man, this dick over there wouldn't make a trade with me," I replied with a frown. "What a jerk."

"What were you trading for?" Keith asked. "More Matthew Sweet stuff? OH - Speaking of that, I have the new demos for... What is it... Mars, something?"

"Blue Sky on Mars, and thanks, but I already have it," I replied, patting my bag. "Have a few extra, if you think you can move ‘em..."

"Nah, I think you're the only person on Earth who likes that guy," he replied. "So what was it you were trying to get?"

"Oh, the Buckley Sinè soundboards. That guy wants $2,000 for them."

"HOLY..." Keith shouted. "That's INSANE!"

"YEAH, I know!"

"Fuck...." Keith said, shaking his head. "That's just too much. I don't see how he can command that price. Just because the guy died a few weeks ago..."

"Yeah, I know," I said. "It makes real fans suffer, you know?"

"Yeah..." Keith said, looking away and scratching the 5 o'clock shadow that was coming in on his face 4 hours early. "Wait... You know who has those? Jim Bileux, down the row here. I just saw him talking to some guy about them. Have you seen him yet?"

"Nah, haven't been to that side yet," I replied. "But if Jim's got 'em..."

"Yeah, check with him," Keith replied. "If he doesn't have 'em, I'm SURE he can locate 'em for you."

"Alright!" I replied over my left shoulder, my body long since heading in that direction. I arrived at Jim's table where he was haggling with some newbie over the price of Prince's Black Album, a once rare CD pressing that, at one point, commanded over $1,000 at shows.

"Joe!" Jim said. "How ya been?"

"Not bad, Jim," I replied. "I got something to ask you for."

"Sure! Whatcha got--"

"Hey!" The customer said. "I was talking here!"

"Yeah," Jim said to him, cutting him a look that would carve a pumpkin. "You're talking nonsense. I'm not parting with this disc for less than $700, and that's that."

"Whatever," the angry customer replied. "I saw a guy over there (points in a random direction) who had it for $300!"

"And what did this guy look like?" Jim asked without batting an eye.

"Um... Tall guy? With a beard? And glasses?"

"Ah, that's Mark. And yeah, he has it, but he sure as hell doesn't have it for no $300. I'm sure he has it marked at $1000 just like I do, because I'm the one who sold it to him for $600 earlier today."

The guy pouted. Defeated, he marched off and allowed Jim and I to continue our business. "So, Joe, what can I sell you today?"

"Well, I'm looking for that Buckley Sinè box. You have it?"

"Nah," he said shaking his head, "But I can get it for ya. What's your budget?"

"I dunno," I said. "I saw some guy over there who had it for two grand."

"TWO GRAND???" Jim said. "Preposterous."

"Yeah, I know," I agreed. "That's just sick, Jim."

"Look, let me talk to Grahame at Marshall's Records. I'm sure he can do way better than two grand." And with that, he marched off and left his son to watch the table. I smiled wide as I followed in tow, hopeful that I might secure this elusive and very expensive set of recordings. Grahame Marshall is literally the patriarch of the CD collecting business. He's routinely the man who sets the going rate for just about everything in the market. Quite literally, if it exists, Grahame Marshall has either two copies or knows someone who does - and you can count on the fact that he's going to give you whatever it is you're looking for at a fair price. Once we arrived at the Marshall's Records table, Jim jumped right on Grahame and set to business.

"Grahame!" Jim said loudly as Grahame turned to look. "You got that Sinè set?"

"What's that?" Grahame replied.

"That Jeff Buckley set. The one from... what year was it, Joe?"

"'93," I replied.

"1993," Jim said. "White box."

"Lemme look..." Grahame answered, then dove under the table. Right then, his assistant (I don't know his name. Consequently, you don't, either) spoke up.

"I saw it at a table earlier," Random Assistant Guy said. "Over there, I think. Near the wall."

"Yeah," I replied, "And he's charging 2,000 bucks for it, too."

We heard a resounding clunk as Grahame's head hit the underside of the table. He emerged, rubbing the crown of his skull and holding a white box with some CD's in it. "TWO GRAND, you said? Did I hear you right?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Who was it? Who was he with?"

"I dunno," I replied. "Never seen him at these shows before.

"Hmm... Let's go see him," Grahame said, carrying both me and the object of my desire over to the new dealer's table. Jim followed, and on the way, we picked up Mike.  All four of us landed at the new buck's table and proceeded to watch  our fearless leader asked to see the box on the shelf with the Buckley in it.

"Here ya go," the asshole said as he handed it to Mr. Marshall.

"How much you have on this?" Grahame asked calmly.

"$2,000," The man replied plainly.

Grahame scoffed. He looked hard at the man, then scoffed again. He fingered one of the CD sleeves and began to extract the disc from inside.

"Woah!" the dealer said. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Examining the disc," Mr. Marshall said. "If I'm going to pay 2 grand for some CD's, I want to make sure they're pristine."

"Oh, I assure you, they're top quality," The dealer said, snatching the sleeve from Grahame's hands. "Absolutely flawless, never been played. Now, you buying or what?"

"Let me see the disc," Grahame said forcefully.

"I can't risk you damaging the set," The dealer replied. "Now, are you serious or not?"

Grahame stared at him hard. Quickly, he snatched another disc out of the box and quickly pulled it from the sleeve before the dealer could react. Grahame Marshall nearly choked on his bile as he looked at the CD, then showed it to us. "LOOK AT THIS!" He shouted. "What a forgery!"

"Sir," the dealer said harshly, "I assure you, those are genuine! How dare you accuse me of selling a forgery?!?"

Grahame smiled wide as he plunked his set upon the table. He opened the top of the box - much brighter white with much clearer printing - and pulled out a disc. The top was bright white with inlaid silver writing, whereas the newbie dealer's disc was a dull grey with silver writing formed by the lack of printing.

The dealer knew that the gig was up.

Grahame Marshall turned to me and said, "Now, if you are interested in the GENUINE article, I will sell it to you for... oh... Five Hundred."

Without even hesitating, I reached into my pocket, pulled out a wad of cash, and handed it to him.