Half the used albums on Greg Greenstein’s table at the Arbutus Record & CD Show are marked with little price-tag stickers that say “Meat” and the other half are marked with little stickers that say “Produce.”
Greg, a dealer from Moneta, Va., southwest of Lynchburg, gets the price tags free from a friend in the grocery business. Who is he to look a price-tag gift horse in the mouth?
But what’s even odder about Greg’s price tags is what’s printed on them. The price of just about every record — Molly Hatchet, Todd Rundgren, Al Wilson, Jules and the Polar Bears — ends in 23 cents: $5.23, $10.23, $18.23 . . .
“There are 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up your DNA,” Greg explains. “Two plus three is five. Five is the pentagon.”
There’s more: The next time you see a movie with a scene set in a hotel corridor, watch what room number pops up. “Don’t pay attention to it, just plant it in the back of your mind,” Greg says. “You will see exactly what I’m talking about. They’re walking down the motel hallway. They stop and the camera pans left to the door. Oh, it’s Room 23. It happens all the time.”
The Arbutus Record & CD Show happens monthly in the volunteer fire department hall in Arbutus, Md. On the third Sunday of the month — usually; this month’s show is the fourth Sunday, May 28 — dozens of dealers haul in LPs, singles, box sets, CDs, posters and other music-related ephemera. (Visit arbutusrecordshow.net for info.)
Some of the records are new pressings — examples of the vinyl resurgence we’ve all heard about — but the vast majority are old. Once, someone wanted them. Then someone didn’t — their owners outgrew Rush or the Monkees; they converted their records to MP3s; they died — and now these dealers hope someone wants them again.
Me, I am consumed by a newfound appreciation for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and want to own “Damn the Torpedoes” on vinyl, a record I was too cool to buy in my new-wave-obsessed 20s. It’s proving harder to find than I’d thought.
Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd — their albums sell quickly, Greg says. They’re snapped up not by nostalgic 50-year-olds but by inquisitive millennials.
“They’re all albums that you should have in your collection because they’re standards,” Greg says. “Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ will probably sell from now to the end of time because there’s always going to be that 16-year-old kid who’s discovering it for the first time.”
Arbutus is close to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, a location that makes it attractive to international buyers. Dealers there still talk about the Japanese customer who would fly in, pay top dollar for rare Blue Note jazz titles, and then jet back to Tokyo and sell them in his store.
This particular Sunday doesn’t seem to have attracted any deep-pocketed Japanese dealers, but there is a Greek guy who’s been buying up entire collections. It is unclear whether he is from Greece or just of Greek extraction. He breezes past, followed by a smiling dealer wheeling a hand truck stacked with milk crates full of LPs.
Dealers are here to sell, of course, but most have their own interests. Before the show opens to the public, they peruse one another’s booths.
“I’m a closet Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart collector,” Greg says. “I probably have 15 Jerry Falwell records. I probably have 30 Jimmy Swaggart records.”
This news catches the ear of the dealer one table over, Tim Harris of Lynchburg, Va.
“One of my specialties is weird Christian children’s records,” Tim says, explaining that these are not records by weird Christian children, but weird records aimed at Christian children.
“Like Christian pirate records,” Tim says. This genre was created by a hard-drinking motorcyclist who lost an arm and a leg in a crash, found religion, and refashioned himself as a Christian entertainer named Captain Hook.
“There’s a market for that,” Tim says. “It’s not to be confused with the children’s Christian ventriloquist records, which there’s a big demand for. And there’s a lot more of those than the pirate records.”
Tim also seeks Christian rock bands, which use the devil’s music to spread the Lord’s word.
“My Christian rock mentor told me the rule of thumb is, the ones where they’re smiling always suck,” Tim says of album cover band photos. “Buy them when they look sullen, when they’re looking away, when they look angry or sad. The happy-faced ones never pay off.”
As I’m leaving, a bright-red album cover on one dealer’s table catches my eye. It’s “Damn the Torpedoes.” Tom Petty is sporting a knowing grin. And, $12 later, so am I.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.