Exotica/Et Cetera was more than just a zine devoted to exotica music; it was a painstakingly researched celebration of bizarre records, run by a record collector and dealer named Preston Peek. What started as a mailing list to advertise used records to aspiring customers evolved into a full production that explored unusual music via interviews and articles.
I first encountered Exotica/Et Cetera (a.k.a. e/e) a couple decades ago, when the magazine was distributed by Tower Records. But I lost those copies years ago, only to be reminded of them recently while browsing a used bookstore, where several issues were nestled among old copies of Rolling Stone and Record Collector.
Preston Peek was not an easy man to track down online; after getting “undeliverable” auto-replies from several defunct email addresses — how many email accounts can one man burn through? — I eventually found his personal Facebook account, where my messages were finally returned.
Fortunately for me, Peek was happy to discuss the history of his seminal weird-music “zinealog” (half zine, half catalog), which was cherished for years by enthusiasts of oddball music. He explained that a major attraction for collectors were the pages of used record listings, which came annotated with tantalizing tidbits to entice potential purchasers. Collectors would vie for first dibs on new issues so they could get their orders in before others.
“Competition for the LPs was fierce,” he explains. “Several subscribers paid a premium for FedEx overnight delivery, and they would drop tidy sums before the bulk of the others got their copies. I had to alert them the issue was coming so they could watch out for it. One time I got a call from a disgruntled customer who got his late. The driver had apparently left his copy at the garage door instead of leaving it on the front porch. After I had to tell him that his first three requests had already been sold (to another FedEx fanatic) he said ‘Ah, screw it’ and hung up. That was a blow, because he was a top client. But he wound up calling back later and dropping a four figure order, so the story had a happy ending.
“My phone rang non-stop for a couple of days after a new issue landed. Fax machines were still essential back then, and I had faxes piled on the floor when I woke up in the morning, hearing from all the European and Asian collectors. Of course, there were an awful lot of disappointed folks when the pickings got low, but mostly they were good sports about it. If I remember correctly I shipped the overseas copies a few days early to give them a fair shot.”
But the zine was much more than a catalog; over its sixteen issues, it produced a number of fascinating articles, shedding light on obscure and neglected corners of odd music history. Via email, Peek guided me through the history of e/e, from its early days as a distribution list to its later heights as a source of high-quality historical information about neglected areas of music history.
“My maternal grandfather went to Printer’s College in the 1920s, and he and my grandmother published the Pike County Journal in Georgia, USA, in the basement of their rural home, from the late 1930s to the mid 1950s,” he explains, by way of background. “They were a two person shop, doing the writing, editing, layout, photography, printing, delivery, ad sales—you name it. So it’s fitting that I found an outlet for the printer’s blood in my veins by following their lead many decades later, but using a computer software program rather than a manual linotype. They put out an issue every week, no excuses, no holidays. I managed one a quarter. I honestly don’t know how they did it.”
Peek’s obsession with music started early. “I’ve been a record hound since 1965 when I bought my first album: The Beach Boys: Today! Next came Both Sides of Herman’s Hermits, followed by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Who could have been prepared for that? I continued buying…and buying…and buying.”
In 1984, he found a copy of Seymour Gibbons Plays With Himself in “the sweltering second floor of a sleepy record store in Culpeper, Va.” That record was a strange piano disc on a one-off label. According to the liner notes, Gibbs had previously performed as a two-piano act with his brother, Saul, but Saul had gone missing while on tour with the U.S.O. in the Congo. Thanks to the magic of multi-tracking technology, Gibbons was able to simulate the sound of two pianists playing at once — recreating the experience of his brotherly performances. And yet despite the supposed backstory, the track titles themselves are puerile double-entendres centered around the LP title’s gag: “Lovely Way To Spend An Evening,” “Only Make Believe,” “Once In Awhile.”
“Little did I know that record would form the cornerstone of a love of weird vinyl that would become a passion and a business in 1996,” Peek explains. “Seymour, the one-handed fapper and sometime pianist, gave me a whole new focus, much broader in scope than one particular artist. In the early nineties he pointed me to the dusty boxes on the floor nobody else wanted; I dove in and didn’t come up for years. Thanks to him I still have a garage full of wax nobody else wants. I don’t have the greatest memory but I can still pull a record at random and often remember exactly where I bought it.
“In 1993 I was moved back from Canada to the States by the company I had been working for. They told me (not too thrilled) that it was the ‘heaviest’ move in the company’s 100-year history. Books and records. At that point, mostly records.
“So I decided to transition from collecting to selling. After five years of learning the ropes, getting burned, and realizing that setting up at record shows is its own brand of hell, I decided to try mail order. At the same time my interest in weird and strange vinyl was coming on strong.”
Issues 1-6: The Corner-Stapled Lists
“In the mid to late 90s most real record sellers still used Goldmine magazine, or put out lists on their own,” Peek tells. “I was no exception. I had started getting interested in exotica and the general weirdness of the fifties and sixties album world in the late eighties. I’ve always been attracted to the unusual. I was getting bored looking for yet another jazz/blues/rock LP (although I loved them as well). I began picking up oddities wherever I went, astonished by their variety, and one day realized I had a pretty decent pile. So I decided to do a list. Tag line: ‘Birdcalls, gongs, moogs, sexy women, dashing men, flying saucers, schmaltz, laughs, brass, sound effects, belly dancers and platters extraordinaire.’
“I put an ad in Goldmine that basically said ‘If you like Exotica Weird Strange Cheesecake etc. LPs, send me your address and I’ll send you a list.’ I probably got a couple of hundred responses that that little ad, which I ran biweekly for several months. The people who received it said they loved the selection, loved the comments, and loved the photos. (I took the pictures with this old Mac golfball-sized b&w camera.) They also bought the records. It seemed to me that this was a market that had not been tapped, at least in this way (even though the Incredibly Strange Music books had been out since ’93 and ’94). No one else was doing it. So every list was a hit, and sold as much as 70%, which is unheard of.
“The pictures were key. Many of these records might have been listed in Goldmine, but unless you were familiar with a certain title you had no idea what it looked like. So much of the weird/strange/lounge/bizarre genre relied on seeing the covers that it would have been impossible to make this venture succeed without them. I guess I knew that much.”
Peek shared some scans of a few pages of those early Exotica/Et Cetera lists, including page one of issue one:
These early issues are a fascinating archive of schmaltzy music. The very first listing in that very first issue starts things off on an inauspicious note:
“101 Strings – Sugar and Spice – MINT- – Somerset SF-6900 (st) – $8from Exotica / Et Cetera issue one
Uninspired easy listening LP featuring vixen Julie Newmar on the cover!”
Future issues, each of which seemed to come printed on a different color of paper, listed all manner of rarities. There was Korla Pandit’s At the Pipe Organ LP, one of the pricier selections; Pandit was a light-skinned African-American man who dressed up in a turban and claimed to be a French-Indian organist, releasing a pile of easy listening records from 1950 into the seventies. Former silent film actress Leona Anderson’s lone album, Music to Suffer By, was also up for sale. Notorious as “the world’s most horrible singer” when the LP was released in 1958, she was a regular novelty act on Ernie Kovacs’ show, where she charmed audiences with her deliberately shrill and tone-deaf performances.
“They ranged from six to twenty pages,” Peek says of these early issues. “I suppose it was good for the time. Laid it out in Word. Got it printed cheap. Stapled it, and away it went. Set the stage, as it were, for the bound issues.
“I don’t remember the moment I realized I wanted to publish an actual magazine (or zinealog, as I called it), but at some point I knew the corner-stapled format had run its course. The blurry photos were popular but not the best. I was already crossing over in Issue 4, with two ‘ads’ and a Hot Pick style of listing. I also could almost never list a record without a line of (usually smartass) commentary. So why not take it to the next level?
“Looking back, I also relished the opportunity to flex my writing skills. I had burned out on corporate PR (how many press releases/speeches can you write?), I was tired of corporate freelancing, and this presented a chance to write about things I cared about. Compared to the white collar world the money was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t. But this was fun. So I gave it a shot.
“I wrote every word in every issue except where by-lined by someone else. Somewhere in the 95+% range. I shot and cropped every photo, typed every record entry, laid out every page, drove the masters to the printer, stuffed every envelope, licked every stamp, and shipped every order. If it hadn’t have been a labor of love it would have never been done.”
Starting with Issue 7, e/e evolved into a true magazine, adding full-length features and capsule articles to the mix. Peek used the computer program Pagemaker to create the layout for this edition. It marks a bit of a transition period for e/e. There are reviews of contemporary releases as well as a page called “Bizarre Vinyl,” which showcases two peculiar records from Peek’s collection. One is the pivotal Seymour Gibbons Plays With Himself LP, and the other is the tasteless Colorful Stylings by The Crusaders of Illinois and The Singing Midget. There is also “The Cheese Gallery,” which features album art depicting female models.
Many of the reviews in Issue 7 were written about releases on the German label Q.D.K. Media, which is run by a renowned record collector named Thomas Hartlage. Q.D.K. releases covered in this issue include CD and vinyl releases of the soundtracks to several Russ Meyer films, along with Electronic Toys, a compilation of seventies synth music.
Peek tells me that Hartlage started off as an e/e subscriber. “We conversed quite a bit, and I would order wholesale, although he was very generous with promos,” Peek says. “The quality of his products, especially the vinyl, was beyond perfection. I thought the concepts behind some of his releases, like Pepperisms, the Love, Peace & Poetry series, and Doob Doob O’Rama, were brilliant.”
Peek notes that this issue also introduced a new tag line, “Celebrating the Vinyl LP as Art, Amusement and Artifact,” that served as a mission statement for e/e; it also was the first issue to zero in on cheesecake records as a graphic focus.
Peek points out that e/e‘s eighth issue is four pages shorter than Issue 7, yet considerably more substantial. That’s because of a shorter LP list, which left room for more articles.
This issue introduces a regular column, “The Esquivel Page,” which was written by Brother Cleve, a member of Combustible Edison. Cleve had visited the Mexico City home of exotica pioneer Esquivel numerous times, and this article discusses new music that Esquivel was arranging for a new album, including arrangements of “Wedding March,” “As Time Goes By,” and “Singing in the Rain,” along with a new original composition called “Guacamole.” That album was going to be produced by Brother Cleve, but — as far as I can tell — never came out.
“Brother Cleve was an early subscriber and composer of the soundtrack to the film Four Rooms,” Peek says. “He was also a close friend of Esquivel, so I asked him to write a column for each issue about the master. He kindly agreed — for Issues 8 – 14, when he said he ran out of things to say. At one point he offered to arrange a visit for me with Esquivel in Mexico (he was 80 or so and in poor health), but I couldn’t get it together. One of my real regrets.”
Peek conducts a thorough investigation of LP covers featuring Jayne Mansfield (“Un-COVER-ing Jayne Mansfield”), with pictures and summaries of each — including two separate releases that use the exact same cover photo. “I wrote the Mansfield article on a plane headed to LA for a week of vinyl scrounging,” Peek tells me.
Another highlight is an interview with Jim Silke, who was Capitol Records’ art director in he fifties and early sixties. That interview was conducted at Silke’s home outside of Los Angeles. They discuss the pragmatics and sociology behind cheesecake covers.
A personal favourite is Peek’s article, “Vinyl Karma,” which is a description of his experiences collecting unusual records.
“If records appear mysteriously when you least expect them; if you find some strange unknown LP and two people from different continents mention it that very week; if you search for years for a record and then five five copies within a month… it’s karma. Vinyl karma.”
Careful to distinguish himself from a crystal healing mystic, he describes his pooling theory, wherein experiences happen due to the sheer experience of bringing an item into consciousness. He cites the Seymour Gibbons Plays With Himself record. Prior to writing about it in Issue 7, he claims not to have found a record for a decade; yet shortly after Issue 7 came out, he came across a near-mint copy at the very start of a buying trip. That’s Vinyl Karma!
Issue 9 sees an interesting deviation from the exotica-centric perspective, boasting an interview with Jello Biafra — who, to be fair, was a keen collector of exotica and oddball records. “[He] was a subscriber,” Peek explains. “He loved this stuff. He had just released Wesley Willis: Greatest Hits on his Alternative Tentacles label, which I reviewed in Issue 7. Jello preferred calling to faxing, so we’d spend an hour or two on the phone, he asking about a record, me dutifully cueing it up and letting him hear it through the earpiece.”
In that article, Biafra describes some of the more bizarre records in his collection. There’s Rosa Linda’s Will Success Spoil Rock-Maninoff? LP, which consists of “rock and roll versions of classical tunes done way back in the late 50s.” Then there’s The Spiffys, a group of US Naval Academy members doing garage rock covers plus some originals. Biafra mistakenly assumes The Spiffys continued making records year after year, though it turns out there were only two volumes.
Biafra also describes his enthusiasm for private-press lounge music, citing Bob Springfield’s The Best Of Bob Springfield At Striker’s. “It’s just one guy with an acoustic guitar covering Eagles songs and contemporary hits, but he’s so aggro about it, trying to get the audience into his act … if he doesn’t get a response from his audience, he yells at them until he does.”
Biafra discusses a number of odd records, some of which still don’t seem to have filtered online. A live album by a lounge singer named Don Snyder, recorded at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, is one that doesn’t turn up any Google search results. “He just can’t contain his bitterness about how much he hates rock and roll. His jokes are a little too hateful for the audience to even laugh at.” Then there’s an unlisted-on-Discogs gospel record called “Heaven is Our Goal” by the Gospel Tones:
“…the cover looks as hopeless as you might guess, but there are two marimba players in the band; it’s mainly several generations of one family from a teeny tiny farm town in Colorado. But the two marimbas give the music a ‘Martin Denny for Jesus’ feel, and the second song, ‘Suppertime,’ is such a depressing vocal tone that I seriously wonder whether they had just drunk purple Kool-Aid and were about to pass out.”
Other highlights of this issue include a spotlight on a Florence Foster Jenkins record and an examination of the Moog synthesizer as cultural phenomenon by David Schafer. There is also a wonderful article about the High In-Fidelity series from the early 60s, a collection of gag record covers with no records inside them, often featuring absurd or racy content (“Communist Party Songs,” “Music For Casual Affairs,” “Songs for Swinging Mothers”). This is also the first issue to feature Tony Maygarden’s Soundtrack Page, which in this edition covers the life and work of Bernard Hermann (Psycho, Vertigo, Taxi Driver).
Things were rolling by the tenth issue, which features a thrilling chronicle of Peek’s trip to Mexico City in which he travels to the heart of the city in search of rare used vinyl. The story includes a scary moment where Peek was mugged in full daylight, just one block from the US Embassy. Yet he still emerged with eight boxes of quality vinyl.
“I had a friend who worked at the US Embassy there,” Peek tells me. “I would never go if I didn’t have a secure place to stay and a friend to show me around. Although I talked with one subscriber who high-tailed it down there after reading my article and ventured deep into the urban flea markets, with considerable success. Even locals had warned me away from them as being too dangerous. So either he was lucky or I was a wimp.”
Then there is a colourful interview with a retired Episcopalian priest, Rev. Warren Debenham, who discovered e/e and called Peek to discuss his true love: comedy albums. “As frequently happened, the Rev came across the magazine God knows where (and I guess God DOES know where) and subscribed,” Peek tells me. “He bought the sixties comedy records with the nude covers. We had quite a few talks over the phone, and I found him so interesting I asked him if I could do an interview. One of the fringe benefits of the mag was getting to meet a lot of interesting people. They would call to order a few LPs and we would wind up spending an hour talking about records and life in general. I enjoy a good conversation so it happened quite a lot. And I was also receptive to a good story.”
He also points out a particularly memorable anecdote from that interview:
e/e: What does your wife think about those nude and sexy adult comedy covers you have in your collection? A friend recently saw my collection and said “Boy, you must have a tolerant wife.” Has it ever come up with you?
WD: (laughs) Well, my wife is great on that. She knows that I enjoy well-developed ladies and as we’re going down the street she’ll point them out to me.
e/e: You’re kidding!!
WD: Nope, you can’t ask more of a wife than that. She’s quite relaxed about it.from e/e, Issue 10
As an interesting footnote, Debenham has since donated his collection to Emerson College, where the Warren Debenham Comedy Novelty Collection continues to amuse and entertain library-goers.
Also included in this issue is a review of a 1997 re-release of a 1959 RKO 10” record by Edie Adams, The Charming Miss Edie Adams. “Her son contacted me and asked if I would like to review it, which I did,” Peek tells me. “She sent word through her son that she loved the review. That was so nice.”
In Issue 11, Peek included an article titled “True Confessions of a Female Vinyl Junkie,” which Peek tells me was fully the idea (and work) of its author, a fellow crate-digger named Jessica Cameron. In it, she calls out the sexist assumptions she’d encountered at flea markets and record fairs, where fellow collectors had trouble accepting that she was a serious wax enthusiast. Along the way, she provides memorable anecdotes of cherished finds and withering character studies of the more socially inept record dealers she met.
I lose sleep over cheesecake album covers. I have this conflict: can I be a feminist and still own a copy of Sea of Dreams?from e/e, Issue 11
There’s also an article about vampire movie soundtracks entitled “Soundtracks That Suck,” and a remarkable interview by David S. Miller with Dr. Paul Tanner, who played theremin on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” In that interview, Dr. Tanner discusses his creation of a hybrid theremin that allowed greater control of the pitch, leading to Tanner being hired for many recordings, including at least two albums. Like many guest articles, it came about because the writer was a fan of the magazine.
“I was chatting with David Miller one day and he mentioned the interview,” Peek says. “I told him I would love to publish it. He agreed. So I was lucky that Miller found the magazine and subscribed and found something to order and called and was pleasant enough to chat.” This was also the first issue with an ad in it, courtesy of a London, UK record store named Intoxica.
“What’s one of greatest perks of publishing your own zine?” Peek asks. “Being able to print a picture of your newborn daughter on the inside cover. Another is penning a tribute to your father, and the record collection you grew up with. He died on December 25, 1993, and this was the best eulogy I could deliver, even though it was a few years late.”
This issue also features an interview with another e/e subscriber named Pea Hicks, a musician (and collector of old Optigan records) who discusses a CD he created called Lucas and Friends, which took disembodied home recordings found in thrift stores and set them to whimsical music.
Then there is Peek’s seminal article, “The HeArt of the Cheesecake Cover,” which had been published in Goldmine magazine in 1996, discussing the rise in the fifties of LPs featuring scantily-clad women. “It’s an important subgenre during the fairly repressed times in which it flourished,” Peek argues. There is also a story about the first ever cheesecake cover, 1947’s easy-listening LP, Music Out of the Moon: Music Unusual Featuring the Theremin – Themes by Harry Revel, which pictured a model named Virginia Clark laid out on the simulated surface of the Moon. A follow-up record, Music For Piece of Mind, takes the same model but has her lying nude in a simulated cloud. Apparently, the material used to mimic the cloud was made of spun glass, leading to Clark’s skin getting pierced by glass particles — and apparently a lawsuit!
“I tried to save some money by limiting the press run of Issue 12,” Peek says. “And as a consequence I found myself without a copy. Several years later my mother died and I found the one I had given her, thereby completing my set.”
“OK, let’s just get it out of the way,” Peek starts. “I printed an interview with famed Hollywood bongo player Jack Costanzo, and… I spelled his name wrong. On the cover. And I knew better. He was gracious about it but I have still not lived it down. One of his nieces called to order extra issues, and pointed it out to me. The value of an editor can be priceless. When you have one. The interview was rock solid, however.”
Peek also tells me about yet another article that came to fruition thanks to a subscriber. In this case, the subscriber was Steve Young, who also happened to be a comedy writer for The David Letterman Show. “He collected corporate musicals – those extravagant and costly shows written for sales conferences in the 60s and 70s, with full story lines and original music/lyrics,” Peek tells me, pointing me towards Young’s 2013 tome, Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. “How’s that for a niche? We spoke from time to time, and one day he called to ask if I would like to come to Manhattan and take a look at ‘Dave’s Record Collection,’ which was for sale. This was one of the brightest gems that ever fell into my record selling lap. Long story short I went, I saw, and I bought.”
For those who don’t remember, Letterman used to have a bit on his show where he would showcase a bizarre record and make a few jokes about it, ending by tossing the record off-camera like a frisbee. These records, which included ill-advised musical turns by celebrities and amateur private-press releases, were sourced from thrift stores by Young and other employees.
Peek remembers combing through the Letterman collection as someone came to Young’s office door, asking him to write Letterman’s Top Ten list for that night. “I still have one LP with the post-it note jokes on the back that Dave would read before frisbeeing the record across the studio,” Peek says. “Steve begged him to stop doing that.”
In this issue, the massive Letterman lot is organized by theme, all available for sale via Peek. Some copies even came with the original post-it notes featuring recommended jokes!
Issue 14 has one of my favourite articles from e/e archives, an article by Ed Veenstra, a Dutch collector of unusual and anti-records. (As a side note, I’m hoping to arrange an interview with him for Anomaly Index to discuss his collection.) In the piece, Veenstra profiles a number of bizarre anti- and art-records from his collection, including:
Various Artists – The First Strike (Turnabout Tapes, 198?)
A compilation of experimental music that came encased inside a (fake) turd.
Lyssa Humana – Hör Zu 7″ (private, 199?)
A rusty iron anti-record that comes with a rusty iron stylus. (See an Anomaly Index article about this record here.)
Alex Sanders – A Witch Is Born (A&M, 1970)
“The initiation of a witch by warlock Sanders, complete with whips, candles and chants. Withdrawn soon after release. Gatefold sleeve with lots of nudity.”
“[He was] yet another subscriber turned contributor,” Peek explains. “His passion was the truly esoteric: a chocolate and ice record, a cassette encased in an ersatz turd, broken records. I found his collection intensely interesting. We were a far cry from exotica, but it was certainly bizarre.”
Peek also included another narrative article about a home visit he did to collect some records — to a trailer in rural North Carolina. It reads like a horror story. First he describes being led into the trailer by a 6’6″ giant with swastika tattoos. Then, as Peek is pawing through a crate of vinyl, the Goliath’s much younger girlfriend seems to be smiling at him. Frightened that this may be misconstrued, Peek hurriedly buys some records and leaves.
Peek summarizes the state of his mail order operation at the time, which was broadening in scope: “850 LPs for sale. Definitely shifting away from exclusively exotica et cetera stuff. I think at this time I needed to reap more profits; the magazine was becoming a luxury I could not afford. So there is rock, jazz, and even alternative in this lot. Sales were good.”
Issue fifteen is a sad one — several articles were written when Peek’s computer crashed, taking all of the content with it. As a result, this issue is almost entirely a for-sale list of LPs. The one article, however, is an interview with Bob Thompson, whom Peek considers “the master arranger of the exotica/lounge era.”
“I had a full page ad from Goldmine. That counted for something,” Peek concludes.
Issue 16 is what Peek considers his “crowning achievement,” with a full-color glossy cover that featured a never-before-seen picture of the pin-up model Bettie Page, a fixture on cheesecake album covers. “Maybe I was saving myself for this final issue when I went so short on copy for the previous one,” Peek reflects. “I am myself surprised at its scope. And its length—an unprecedented 48 pages. I remember I pulled my first all-nighter in years to get it print ready.”
A highlight of the issue is an interview with Peter Dunn, who was the owner of a wonderful record store in Toronto, Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum. Peek had befriended him on his frequent trips to the record emporium. “CDs had finally brought him to his knees, so he was forced to close down,” Peek says. “He called me a few weeks before, however, and invited me up from North Carolina to go through the untouched stock in his basement. It took me three 12-hour days. One of the most fun digs I’ve even been on. While I was there a film company rented out the store to shoot a scene for a made-for-TV movie about Alan Freed, with Judd Nelson as the title character. So I would dig around in the basement, then come up and chat with Judd or watch them if they were filming. It was a hard life. Needless to say I interviewed Peter for this issue.”
“The magazine was doing well, and LP sales were excellent, so why did I cease publication with this issue? A couple of reasons: it was a tremendous amount of work (don’t forget I was also traveling to buy records, selling to other venues, and, after Issue 12, taking care of a toddler); and I never came close to recouping my costs on the magazine portion in ad revenues and subscriptions. In a way, the earlier lists were a much smarter way to go from a business perspective. Also, the idea of internet sales was really taking off, and I saw that I could devote more time to my web site without the additional cost overlay. For whatever reason, it was time to move on.”
At the time, though, he was undecided. “Hence the back cover ad. Thanks to my neighbors for posing with another cheesy record motif”:
Life After Exotica/Et Cetera
“Many people say they collect records, but there is a distinction between amassing and collecting,” Peek reflects. “Most serious-minded record hounds I have spoken to narrow it down to at least one very specific, and cherished, subgroup. One collected Japanese white-label promos. One liked samplers. Another treasured corporate musicals. Yet another sought out obscure northern soul. In all cases they reduced their general love of vinyl to a manageable subgenre that crystallized the real joy of collecting.
“In time, I realized that record collecting/accumulating can bring down the roof, both financially and literally. But it was hard to stop buying. They were everywhere. Record shows were a glorious discovery; you mean these nice folks brought all of this vinyl here just for me? As those years passed I added substantially to my archives, partly because I had the means, partly because I knew no one and was lonely, partly because I was single and had nothing else to spend money on, and partly because I travelled quite a bit and was able to hit tons of record stores across North America. When I moved to Toronto it was a whole new market. The records poured in. On one memorable weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the sad closing of one of Peter Dunn’s record stores — massive racks of LPs for minimal outlay. A trunkload found their way into my stacks. On most weekends I hit at least one store, if not a show. Things were getting seriously out of control.
“Amidst this insanity I was somehow able to fall in love with, and marry, a young lady with whom I worked. She accepted my passion, but love is blind. We decided to relocate to the States, largely because the company that had moved me there had to move me back within a certain period of time, or I would have to foot the bill.”
Peek’s record selling operation was hampered by his love of the records themselves. “I would fly to LA, return with 500 LPs carefully boxed and stowed (I still have nightmares about sitting in a hotel room surrounded with piles of discs and wondering how I was going to get them all packed and checked onto the airline), return home, and then have Christmas all by myself as I unpacked. The problem was that for every two I filed in the For Sale side of the music room, at least three made their way onto the Personal stuff shelves. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that things could not continue that way for long. Not only was space becoming a serious concern; I wasn’t making any money. Was this a business or an excuse to play?
“I don’t remember the specific LP I first held and thought, through my pain, ‘I can sell this one in a 30-second phone call. I can let this one go.’ But it must have started like that. Money had a lot to do with it. An early rationalization was ‘You know, as much stuff as I see, there is no doubt I will find another copy of this one day.’ Another was ‘This will pay for my daughter’s birthday party.’ And to be honest, I was also thinking ‘I will be such a hero to have scored this.’ Collecting and ego are inseparable, after all. So I must have picked up the phone, or made a listing for the next issue, and it was done. The businessman stared into the eyes of the collector, and the collector blinked. And thereafter the slippery slope opened wide before me.
“Almost immediately, however, a curious thing happened. The thrill I always felt when I found a real gem was actually heightened with the knowledge that I would be selling it for a nice profit. So in a way it was the best of both worlds. But as far as collecting goes, I learned an obvious, but still painful, lesson. You can’t collect everything. One by one, artist by artist, genre by genre, I slid my prizes from one side of the room to the other, then into a mailer, and finally out the door to points near and far. I had customers from Russia to Japan, from Miami to Australia, from Korea to Iceland. I had the satisfaction of knowing that each disc found its way to a good home, to be honored and displayed and spun well into the future. After a surprisingly short while I found I could part with almost anything.’
Curiously, it was Ed Veenstra, the collector of anti-records featured in Issue 14, that led to a shift in Peek’s approach to collecting. “He introduced me to a tiny but vibrant universe of artists who fused the sounds on the platter, the platter itself, and the medium it came in.”
Veenstra even sent Peek a curious gift. “It was a Christmas present 45, encased in wax paper with real chocolate and confectioners sugar dribbled over it. I still have it; the chocolate has survived two decades of storage. In keeping with the theme of Christmas the recording is of the electrical impulses of a sprig of mistletoe. It is the most artistically coherent object I own.
“At about the same time I heard from Charles Powne, who owns Soleilmoon, a three-decades-old mail order business in Portland that deals in ‘dark industrial ambient’ music. He loved my magazine and sent me a massive box of promotional items, vinyl and CD, for which I will never be able to repay him. His stock ranges far beyond ambient. The purely electronic recordings, the ones with electronic squigglings without tempo or melody, were especially appealing to me. I was able to forge ‘an emotional bond with this music,’ a phrase Charles used one day when I described my experience listening to it. In addition, the casings were pieces of art in themselves. Some even included postcards and other ephemera. It was as if the music was only one part of a panoply of art which the artist needed to express. I was hooked.
“So with these twin influences I started collecting what I termed ‘anti vinyl,’ but which could also be called simply ‘art vinyl’ (to include CDs and another media as well). Sometimes the appeal was in the sounds alone (the Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers 3-inch mini-CD). Sometimes the piece itself was the art (the Tumor Circus 45 picture disc with a 1-inch hole drilled into every copy, making it unplayable). And sometimes it was a combination of the two (1960s Polish plastic postcards with a record on one side — which I got, weirdly enough, in Cambridge ON). It’s all great stuff. It’s in short supply. And because of that, it’s a perfect thing to collect. And because I collect it, I have no inclination to sell it.
“It’s really not that farfetched that I wound up here. Album cover art (and liner notes) was always a huge part of a records attraction. Especially in the days of psychedelia it was sometimes hard to tell where the music stopped and the cover started. More recently, ‘incredibly strange’ wax had a huge cover art component, aside from its obvious sonic attractions. So it was logical that I find a home in this genre.
“One of my favorite films that no one has seen is The Legend of 1900. Without giving anything away, Tim Roth’s character finds meaning in the boundaries of the universe into which he is born. An infinite keyboard is paralyzing; 88 keys holds infinity. Freedom of movement is an illusion within a vast expanse, but it is reality between a bow and a stern. It is what prevents a collector from becoming a hoarder. Collecting, in order to be satisfying, should have those same boundaries. By definition, the term ‘record collecting’ is meaningless, as absurd as collecting leaves.
So to get down to it (finally) — If I got rid of every record I own but held onto my most prized examples of art vinyl, would I no longer be a record collector? On the most generic level, the answer is no. But having refined my stock, I could say, ‘I am a collector of art vinyl,’ which is a more definitive statement. I’m just not sure I can still say ‘I love records.’ But then you don’t have to collect everything you love.”
Thanks to Preston Peek for the interview.