A crime

May. 4th, 2009 06:28 am
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A couple of days ago, I found through Freecycle that a family a mile or two from my flat was clearing out their cellar and giving away stuff - including a window cleaner, which I could use. By the time I got there, however, the window cleaner had been stepped upon and was past repair. However, what I saw in the skip where they were throwing away unsalvageable stuff simply took my breath away.

Let us start with the vinyl. From what I was able to recover - much of it seemed to have been buried under other debris and would require a motor shovel to get it out - they must have thrown away an absolutely first-rate collection of vinyl LPs of all kinds, from Frank Sinatra to the height of the sixties (Stones, Jethro Tull, Cream, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Dionne Warwick, Pink Floyd, Byrds, Deep Purple) to a lot of hot eighties stuff (Sade, Eurhythmics, Alison Moyet, Echo & the Bunnymen, Dr.Feelgood, Joan Armatrading, Michelle Shocked, Tina Turner's "Private Dancer", Style Council, Everything but the Girl, New Order - my youth coming back to me) to world music (Nusrat Ali Khan, King Sunny Ade, a Russian chorus, Cajun music by Eddie LeJeune) and last but absolutely not least a number of incredibly rare, scholarly recordings from the American twenties and thirties: Cajun Music 1928-1938, Aunt Molly Jackson (an Appalachian singer, by profession a midwife), Champion Jack Dupree, a two-disc set of "the story of the blues", Big Maceo, Wobblies songs from the IWW, St Louis Blues 1929-1935, Howlin' Wolf; and just as a cherry on the cake, a couple of items by Dolly Parton and Queen, and two classical LPs. Now why had this treasury of music been thrown away? Because some - not even many; some - of the covers had been ruined by the damp. The damp, of course, does nothing to vinyl; but the fact that they could not sell them was enough to decide to destroy them. They evidently had never given a thought to the fact that a collector would gladly take them as they were.

But that was nothing compared to the comics. Literally hundreds of original 2000AD-Judge Dredd progs from the eighties; whole runs, it seems to me, of Watchmen and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing; dozens of Marvel and DC series including such things as Grant Morrison's Animal Man; and - believe it or not - what seems, from the little I could recover, to have been a run of the original Uncanny X-Men at least from 109 (the first Byrne-Austin) to the 170s or so. The whole thing, as I told to the family's faces, would have been worth literally thousands of pounds - if it had not been literally devoured by the damp and by mouse bites.

The story, as I can reconstruct it, is as follows. The wife's brother seems to have been a comics collector in the eighties, when that sort of thing was cool. He left for America "years ago" - to judge by the comics left, sometime about 1995 - and took only a part of his collection away. Now, already the fact that he seems to have left behind stupendous items like the Alan Moore Swamp Thing and the best writing Chris Claremont ever did makes me suspect his taste. However, the real crime was that he did not bag a single one of them. Plastic bags would not have kept out all the damp and the mold, but would have significantly reduced the damage, and would have discouraged the mice. And they are the only thing about collecting comics that is cheap. Bear in mind that by the time he left, the Moore Swamp Things, let alone the Claremont-Byrne-Austin X-Men, were already universally regarded as classics. Anyone who cared for the artform - or even only for the money spent buying them, which could easily be got back tenfold by selling the best of them back in good condition - would have taken the trouble to bag them.

I took away as many of them as I could. Many of them, perhaps most, are beyond saving, but I hope to at least be able to preserve a few. And it might give me an object in the future: to keep each damaged and unsaveable item until I have been able to buy another copy in good state, so that, in a while, I can rebuild the collection I could have had - and that the bastard could have had himself - if he and his family had taken the least amount of trouble to protect something that was already expensive and collectable when they left it to the mold and the rodents to party.
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