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April 2024 Intro

David Hicks | Published on 3/29/2024

Part 1. The Buy


“Improve The Sound of Your Music Without Changing Your Playback Equipment!”

When I first read that I thought it must relate to directions on how to set up your stereo within your room. Sure, the room and how your gear is placed can have the biggest impact on how your stereo will sound, it’s just that I was a bit perplexed about why this was printed on the back of a plain brown paper wrapper covering a vinyl record by an alternative music group.  

But, let me back up a bit here…


Not long ago I moved to Portland, Oregon. Portland, the land of Portlandia. Just don’t say that to the locals. Oregon, the state that decriminalized personal possession of all drugs not containing radioactive material. Also home to 33 record stores, according to ( I think there have to be at least 1/3 more record stores than 33, but really, if you count the number of stores that sell records in addition to books, flowers, artwork, groceries, or secondhand clothing, etc., there are undoubtedly well over a hundred locations in the city. And hey, as you may have heard, it rains a lot up here, and listening to vinyl records is generally considered an indoor activity. In addition, Portland boasts over 300 live music venues with many of those hosting music outdoors when the weather permits. People do get a little stir crazy after the winter rains.


Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Portland. So, earlier this year I was hanging out at my favorite Portland record store and flipping through some of the limited-edition vinyl pressings that were available from local bands as part of the Portland Music Month celebration. I narrowed down my choice to one of three albums that had interesting covers by groups I’d never heard of. I figured, if I didn’t like the music all that much, I could at least enjoy displaying the cover.



I’d become conversationally familiar with most of the behind the counter employees at the store, having been in once a week or so for the past year, but there was one person I’d never had any interaction with even though I’d seen her on many of my visits. I think it was just by chance that whenever I‘d been in the store before, if she was there one of the other counter people, most of whom were older, happened to ring me up when I made a purchase. But behind the counter this day was Oola, the salesperson I’d never spoken to. In fact, until that day I couldn’t have told you her name. Oola. It was spelled out on the silver pendant that hung low enough into her décolletage that I knew I shouldn’t stare at it for too long, though that was tempting. But she also had many other points of interest that could tempt one’s gaze to linger. There was the chignon wrapped at the back of her head that had brightly colored streaks of hair held in place or randomly spiked out with what looked to be lacquered chopsticks. Then there was her semi-goth makeup and her strikingly mixed ethnic skin tones. I had a hard time approximating her age other than guessing twenties to thirties. But now, given that she was the only one working and as I was the only customer in the store at that moment that rainy afternoon, I decided to see if she could offer any advice as to which of the three records I had in my hand she might be familiar with and recommend.

I walked over and stood for a brief while expecting her to notice me as we were now separated by the width of the case with the cash register on top. I was close enough to smell a mixture of fragrances that I assumed were emanating from her, none of them displeasing. Eventually, I placed the records on the counter, which got her to glance up from her phone. I asked my question, wondering if she would recommend one album over the others, but she just looked at me quizzically like she didn’t seem to hear me or understand why I was there and looking at her. Maybe because, even though there was some modestly loud music playing over the record store’s sound system, she still had her phone earbuds in and was listening to…, I knew not what.

She popped just one of her earbuds out, catching it and leaving it hanging on a gold-colored looping earring that seemed to wind around multiple studs in that ear. As she looked at me, her eyes, which I realized I must have never directly seen before, unnerved me a bit. They were a deep, glowing, golden-hazel color that was contrasted by an unnaturally luminescent sclera that was only slightly bloodshot. I repeated my question now, with a bit of a self-conscious stammer, as I was staring at her eyes without trying to appear as if I was staring while I was attempting to determine if she had some kind of cosmetic contact covering in place that was at least partly responsible for the captivating appearance of her ocular orbs. She paused for a moment without breaking eye contact or looking at the records I’d laid on the counter, almost as if she was sizing me up or enjoying my bit of discomfort. And then the spell was broken as she looked away distractedly and said, “Oh yeah, you want to get this one.” That was when she reached below the counter and pulled out the brown paper-wrapped record.

She set the record on the counter and stared at me again without saying anything else. After a moment I realized she was probably waiting for me to ask her some questions as a prompt for her to give me any indication about just what kind of a record she was recommending I buy. I was about to do that when the bell over the record shop door gave a tintinnabulation as another customer came into the store. Like a Pavlovian Dog responding to the ringing*, Oola turned and grabbed a seemingly random record from the middle of an as-yet unsorted pile of used records, placed it quickly on top of the brown paper wrapped record, and proclaimed in a voice loud enough for all to hear, and in a tone that seemed to say, can you believe this guy, “Yes sir, one used copy of The Shaggs, Philosophy of the World. Oh, have a good time with that!” And then she added in a hushed and conspiratorial voice as she fixed me in her gaze once more, “$50, cash only for this one. Quickly.” Then she held out her hand palm up and looked at me with an expression that I read as, don’t waste my time, pay up now. I happened to have three twenties in my money clip and I pulled them out and placed them in her hand. I imagined she would do something expected at this point like put the money in the cash register and hand me the difference. Instead, she lifted her loose-fitting, lacy, gossamer, bohemian-style top with a space-themed design just enough to shove the bills down the front of her tight-fitting stretchy yoga pants. She then replaced her earbud, picked up her phone, and began tapping away on the screen as her face entertained the faintest glimmer of a smile. I stood there for a moment waiting for my change until she looked my way one last time, gave me a wink, puckered her ruby lips, raised her eyebrows, and waved with her hand in a shooing motion, clearly indicating that I should take my records and get lost.

Did that transaction seem strange to you? I was originally choosing between three albums I was unfamiliar with based on the artistic designs of their covers. Instead of getting one of those I ended up with an album wrapped in a plain brown paper wrapper. And the Shaggs LP. I got back to my car and was about to remove the wrapper to see what I’d bought when I noticed what was printed on the back of the wrapping.  

I decided to wait until I got back home to remove the wrapping, thinking this might be something worth preserving as part of a limited run record.


Part 2. What did I buy?

Later that day, after returning home from my local record store, and first grabbing the mail, feeding the lamas, taking off my shoes and putting the kettle on the stove, I turned on the amps to warm up the house and get ready to listen to my latest acquisitions. I got out a disposable scalpel so that I could slice through the tape on the back of my mystery album without damaging the wrapping. Helpful hint: Scalpels also work well on the shrink wrap many albums come in. 

Inside the brown paper wrapper were two pieces of thin protective cardboard on either side of an ordinary looking 12” black vinyl record with white labels in a standard economy paper record sleeve with cutout holes on each side for reading the label. The labels were crudely marked with a black marking pen for sides A & B. No other album cover except the brown paper that I’d just unwrapped. Disappointing. Especially given the $60 price I’d paid. Maybe the music would be worthwhile? But what was the music? What was the name of the group? Sliding the record out of its paper inner sleeve I could see that there were what looked to be multiple tracks on each side, but the grooves revealed no further information about what sounds I could expect to hear when I put a needle to their skin. 

Then I noticed that after sliding the record out there was something peeking through the hole in the record sleeve. There were some small pieces of paper that had resided next to the vinyl record. I shook them out to reveal a multi-colored piece of paper that was about twelve centimeters across. It had a bit of texture to it and I could see that it had some perforations that divided it into eight squares, four marked with the letter A and four with the letter B. There were also three medium sized yellow sticky notes stuck to the back. One contained a track listing for the two sides with a header that I took to be the title of the album, Bonus Prescription.  The second note had the names of the two musicians, one of whom was Oola, and the other who was identified by the name, “Cat,” in parenthesis. Then there was a list of the instruments, which included, “Vocals, Synthesizer, Bells, Chimes, Gongs, Soothing Bong Water Sounds, and Purring.” The third note was a congratulatory note, letting me know I had received the bonus album which contained all the ingredients necessary for altering my awareness to one where hyper-music enjoyment was guaranteed, followed by a "Schedule of Consumption" for A & B, as well as a WARNING not to consume all segments at once.  That got my attention. Consuming what? I read further onto the back of that sticky note where there was, apparently, an explanation of what was in A and what was in B. 

I recognized the letter/number section as chemical formulas, though I was pretty sure neither of them matched the formula for Caffeine that I had on my T-Shirt.  Using the Google camera app on my phone confirmed my suspicions.  There had been a lot of news broadcasts back in December of 2022, and I mean a lot of news broadcasts. All of them focused on a couple of not quite legal establishments selling hallucinogenic substances with no attempt to conceal their business even though the local news showed daily lines outside the stores. That situation was unlike the way I apparently became part of a slightly concealed transaction through my local record store, but the results of my purchase were much the same, except that I received a vinyl record included in the transaction!  

Part 3. The Music

At this point you have to be wondering, so how did the record sound? Did I partake of Schedule A or Schedule B, or both?  Well, don’t forget that this is a family friendly publication that is available in all 50 States. Some of those states may not reflect the liberal attitudes that exist in Oregon and the West Coast. Heck, it’s even possible via the World Wide Web that this article may be read on the International Space Station, where they would not have access to, nor be recommended to take mind altering substances while orbiting the Earth at 28,000 kilometers per hour! I mean, we have standards to maintain, so I will, at this point, just focus on the music, and leave the state of my mental analysis while I listened up to the individual reader's imagination. 

I will say that the music on the Bonus Prescription album, exceeded my expectations. There were 16 distinctly individual tracks, with names like “Launchpad, You Are in Orbit Now, (see why I made the ISS reference?), and Re-Entry. And in between there were tracks named, Space Debris, Out of Control, and Booster Rockets.  But how did it sound? Surprisingly listenable. I think headphones were an appropriate choice for my first listen, and maybe for future listening too.  I’d describe the overall musical flavoring like a mashup of some of Zappa’s instrumental music, mixed with a Vanilla Fudge vibe, some Kraftwerk, and some instances of your 6-year-old nieces and nephews using GarageBand to mix together cartoon/video game music that they’ve run through Auto-Tune. Oh, and the occasional Meow and Purring provided by Cat. 

Highly Recommended!

Oola Record on Turntable

*And, I know, I know, Pavlov used a metronome and not a bell to condition his dogs, but the myth persists, and there was no metronome connected to the front door of the record shop! 

Two of the images in this article were generated by Microsoft Copilot Pro's Designer AI