Adventure #4

Continued from Musical Adventure #3

W

hen I was in London for our first – and, sadly, only – “vinyl raid”, I had an epiphany about how far I was prepared to go in terms of efforts and money in order to acquire as much as I could of what in my eyes was the only music worth listening to.

Having realized that, and having still some drops of pure Neapolitan blood in my veins (most of it being diluted by my north-Italian father, Swiss grandmother, German great-grandfather and some non better identified Istrian and Dalmatian ancestors), I came to the conclusion that there had to be another way to buy some more black gold (should I need to specify that it is vinyl, not oil?) for a reasonable price, and having fun at the same time.

This became possible when a very improbable series of events and coincidences all fell together.

To exactly describe this cascade of events, or to put the facts into a more or less logical sequence, is for me still a quite vague task.

…It all started during the school year after the “London Vinyl Raid”.

At the beginning of the new school year, “The Principal” had a surprise for us all.

Despite the double capitalization, The Principal was a very short man with a bad temper, a high-pitched voice and slightly effeminate manners. All of this together, made his rage outbursts quite ridiculous to look at and listen to.

Anyway, The Principal decided that our class had to be disseminated (I still find the sound of the expression quite unpleasant) among several other classes, in a final attempt to moderate our exuberance, merely meaning that he had just given up his efforts to keep our conduct within acceptable levels.

He hoped, The Dreamer (this time the double capitalization is fully justified), that placing small groups of uncontrollable youngsters  – us – in a dull environment – the new class – would eventually moderate the first and liven up the second.

But he was proved wrong – again – because the new class where our small group ended up was not prepared for the kind of ‘exuberance’ that was like a second nature to us, and finally became known as the only class where such excellent school performances were achieved by such a bunch of uncontrollable youths (they usually called us with the Neapolitan equivalent of “hooligans”, which I always resented, because in my opinion, we were not that bad).

No matter your standpoint on educational matters or school life in general, I’ve never seen teachers having so much fun giving lesson to a class like during those last few High School years.

From this new class, our old study group acquired a new member: F.B. (which doesn’t stand for “Frankie [goes to] Bollywood”).

This guy was not a specialist in a particular field, but he had (and still has) a wonderful sense of humor and the same kind of dirty mind we all shared and appreciated. And that was enough for us.

I remember mentioning his name (and surname) at home.

My mother said that a very good friend of hers during her primary school years, had married (later on, fortunately) a guy who bore that very same family name. Furthermore, her mother (my grandma) was also very close to the other girl’s mother (hence F.B.’s grandma).

As a matter of fact, both grandma’s “ruled the ‘hood”, being this kind of matriarchal power not uncommon in the pre-WW2 Naples.

She (my mom, this time) had lost track of her school friend and of course, I was immediately charged with the investigation on her behalf.

It turned out to be the very same person and because of that, F.B. and I automatically became “amici d’infanzia” (childhood pals), even though I had met the guy just a few weeks before.

OK…, now you really need to have some Neapolitan blood in your veins to fully understand the logic of this statement, or actually the lack thereof. If you haven’t, don’t even try and just accept it as a cultural quirk.

Because of this cultural quirk, we felt obliged to see each other as much as possible (just like two good childhood pals would do) and eventually we ended up becoming real (and life-long) friends.

Since we discovered to have so many things in common, becoming best friends took no effort and was a kind of natural step.

We became nearly inseparable and decided to spend our next summer holidays together.

The only problem was where to go.

In that, we differed very much from each other:

F.B. was a beach-lover (still is), I was a mountain-hiker (still am).

I wanted to go in search of vinyl, while he thought that vinyl was that thing you use to protect a table surface from scratches (which in a way is also true, technically speaking, but still something completely different from what I meant).

There were some points in common, though.

Or better, more than a couple:

    • We both wanted a vacation abroad.
    • We both agreed that money was an issue.
    • We were both not disturbed at all by the sight of girls, preferably in bikini.
    • We both wanted to exercise our English language skills.

After thinking this over during the next couple of months, we reached the conclusion that Malta was the place we were looking for.

This little island, generally known as ‘The navel of the Mediterranean’, offered lots of sun, it was completely surrounded by the sea (it was an island, after all), was incredibly cheap (at least, it was at the time, believe me…), there was a very cheap boat going there twice a week, they spoke English (people from the United Kingdom could dispute this fact, but we were not that picky), it was a foreign Country, despite the fact that half of the population shared common roots with the Italian population and, last but absolutely not least, lots of girls in bikini must have crowded its beautiful, sunny beaches.

Pity for the mountains, because with a highest point just short of 255 meters above sea level, Malta is a certified mountain-free Country (even hill-free, to be precise); but hey, I’m a flexible guy…

Most important of all (for me at least, ex-aequo with the girls in bikini), rumors went that many record stores over there had still some undiscovered treasures; call it a kind of late heritage of the British Empire.

…And they were cheap, ludicrously cheap.

Of course, I had to go and find out personally whether or not the rumors were true.

Hence there we went and, indeed, we had a wonderful time, honestly and (almost) equally divided among bikini’s, sun, sea and record shops.

It also signed the end of my friend’s ignorance about the noble use of vinyl, as he too became infected by the music virus, even though his could be considered a mild infection, as he never reached those peaks of acute illness that I consider to be normal.

Again – like it had happened some time before in London – I had to ship the greatest part of the harvest by postal services and therefore wait for some incredibly long weeks to receive them, once back home.

Nevertheless, I enriched my collection with, among others, the original editions of several records by Hawkwind, some nice early editions of Can, a very rare Help Yourself and a couple of almost-mint conditions Captain Beefheart‘s, together with one unsurpassed first edition of Neutrons and one original US first-edition of Stoneground, among the most noticeable catches.

The nice thing about this records hunt was that the particularly friendly shopkeepers on that wonderful, sunny island had absolutely no notion of the treasures they were keeping on the most obscure and dusty shelves of their shops; on the contrary, they seemed to be so glad to get rid of that “old stuff”, that the prices were a mere formality.

I remember one of them inviting me to come along the next day so that he could bring up from the cellar some boxes with “old rubbish” which I might have wanted to buy.

Of course, I had to struggle not to look too eager or interested, but from out of the true rubbish contained in some of those boxes I was able to isolate the original edition of Neutrons’ second album and a wonderful original Space Ritual (by Hawkwind) still featuring the poster that accompanied a limited number of copies of the very first edition.

I hope that the shopkeeper or his heirs will never visit this page, because he sold those jewels for a couple of today’s Euros altogether.

I can still can feel ashamed if I think of the price I paid (not a single, fat chance, actually…).

Since then, I have not stopped entirely collecting vinyl, but the prices of the original first editions have sky-rocketed, so it’s not fun anymore.

Moreover, many alternative labels have started to publish that music on CD, remastered, cleaned and enhanced.

On the other hand, vinyl is still something that adds a tactile factor to the auditory pleasure of the music.

But then again, a CD is far more resilient than an LP and you can play it over and over again, or even rip it to FLAC format and play it on your computer, without even touching the original material.

…Ah, the pleasures of the modern technology.