Monday, April 26, 2010

Best Record Store Find

Object Long OOP CD version of The Mandrake Memorial’s 2nd album Medium, from 1969
Discovery Made Fall 2007
Location Wuxtry, N. Decatur Rd., Atlanta, GA
Price $13

The Mandrake Memorial was a psychedelic rock trio out of Philadelphia who recorded three albums from 1969 to 1970. I was introduced to the group after hearing their song Smokescreen from the album Medium while listening to XM radio aboard an airplane some years earlier. The music struck me as something far ahead of its time for 1969, and I remained intrigued. And so it entered my mental list of items to search on subsequent record store visits. But, it was nowhere to be found. Only a select few record store managers had even heard of the group.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the CD version of Medium had only been issued in the early ‘90s on the Sony Collectibles label, and was about as likely to be stocked in most music retail outlets as 12 year old milk at the grocery. I learned the album featured about eight songs, and was wrapped in a comic book -like image of a disjointed hamburger on the front cover. The two buns, the meat and the condiments all separated by empty space, looked as if it had been conceived by Salvador Dali, but painted by an amateur art student.

Eventually I gave in to the online temptation, but results in cyberspace were only hit and miss – an LP version might appear occasionally, but I was really after the CD version. A CD edition might appear perhaps once or twice a year, but always fell well outside my price range – I remember one seller on ebay wanted $250! So, I resigned myself back to retail, and the hope that one would elusively show its face on the day I happened to go shopping. I didn’t consciously give up the retail search, but after months of futility turned into years, other wants made their way up to my mental shortlist, and slowly edged out the elusive Mandrake Memorial collectable.

In the fall of 2007, I spent a day in Atlanta visiting my mom and, since we happened to be in the area, convinced her to let me stop off at Wuxtry. She went into another store in the same shopping center while I started browsing the racks. I was keeping an eye out for a few items, but nothing turned up. The last item I wanted to look for was Patrick Moraz’s The Story of I, so I headed over to the M’s. Wuxtry stocked their discs only by letter, not by pure alphabetical order. So to find Moraz meant having to flip through all the M discs. There were two whole columns of M’s on the shelf, and to go through them all took probably ten minutes. I was nearing the end of the second column, and no sign yet of I. Only three more remained. The disc I was looking for had a dark cover, mostly black with just hints of green glow. I flipped the next and it was a white background, with some splotches of color near the center: red, green, brown. My index finger was already inserted behind it, ready to flip it down, as my reflex was to observe first the color. But my eyes trained in on the white cover for just long enough that it struck me like a clasp of thunder on an otherwise sunny day. Staring back up at me, there it was, after so many failed attempts that it no longer remained in my regular search pattern. The Mandrake Memorial. Medium.

I blinked to make sure it wasn’t a hallucination. Then my eyes darted back and forth, trying to see if anyone else in the store had seen this treasure. I jerked the disc up and held it firmly and close to my body as I walked over to the cash register. Everything else on the search list was forgotten. The Story of I mattered nothing at that moment.

There was another customer ahead of me at the register. It was an agonizing wait, although in retrospect I’m sure it was less than a minute. And then it was my turn. When I handed the disc over to the clerk, he adjusted his glasses and then he muttered a “hmmph”. He seemed to be familiar with the disc, but I did not want to engage him until the sale was final, and the disc back in my possession. He rang up the price: $13 plus tax.

Not until after he handed it back to me, did I confess my excitement. “You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve actually been looking for this disc for about five years now, and I’ve never seen it in any store anyplace.”

“Well, its funny, because I remember this one, and we’ve had this copy in the store for probably 15, and no one has ever asked about it, or seem to have known anything about it.” The clerk gave it another look. “Mandrake.” And then he exhaled. “Memorial. Never heard of them. You say you’ve heard them before.”

“Not live. Only on the radio once. They were a group in the sixties, and as far as I know, split up long ago.”

“If you say so.”

I headed out the door and turned down the sidewalk to look for my mom. My hand clasped around the plastic case. By the time I finally put it down inside her car, it was damp from sweat. For years, I had searched in vain for the disc. And in the span of only a few moments, by matter of chance, futility had been turned on its head. I was in possession of something more than just a sought after disc. I was in possession of delight.