The Austin Chronicle

Vinyl’s Tin Cup Chalice

By Raoul Hernandez, January 15, 2014, 4:47pm, Earache!

To quote Jimmy Buffett, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” As the old school ire behind last week’s cover story on the high cost of vinyl – “Why do new records cost $35?!” – I forgot about my beloved Antone’s Records on Guadalupe.

That is until last Saturday, when I walked in on a whim and bought the heart of the original Parrot Head’s catalog for $24. I’d begun across the street at EcoClean. We’d struck silk in Ft. Lauderdale the week before: a rich person’s Salvation Army – $150 Hawaiian silk shirts for pennies on the dollar. I walked out with a cool seven for $38. Time to get that smell out.

Running late for a lunch date, I stood outside EcoClean staring balefully at Antone’s. Should I? It made sense, really. In my SXSW shoulder bag rattled a Buffett burn for my appointed rendezvous, a 78-minute CD introduction I’d labored months over.

A fan before Christmas spent in Key West and New Year’s in Miami, I could never quite figure out the mostly reviled Gulf Coaster’s cult of personality beyond the obvious: middle-age baby boomers wanting to cut loose. (Check.) Then I spent an afternoon on South Beach. I got it the moment “Tin Cup Chalice” poured pedal steel into my iPod.

Like the Grateful Dead in rock & roll, the ’Bama-born singer-songwriter gave voice to a core human desire: getting high. Not so much the substance abuse either. The Dead got high same as free jazz: cut all moorings from the physical for the metaphysical. To quote Pink Floyd, set the controls for the heart of the sun. You didn’t need a toke to take the journey, but if you ever smoked pot and liked it, the whole deal made a lot more sense. Free your mind and follow your behind.

Buffett, too, only for the country-loving Caribbean explorer, he’d tapped beach culture. And not Beach Boys beach life (Sunday at the Moody), Southwestern barrier island culture. From the day I pulled into San Antonio from San Francisco 22 years ago, making one of my first myriad purchases at Apple Records on San Pedro a Buffett CD box set sampler for $8, the campy cowboy reminded me of none other than a personal childhood sweetheart: Michael Nesmith.

These are Southwestern song and dance men with unfailing vocal melodies and lyrics both wholly autobiographical and often with their tongue firmly in cheek. And when they cut their three-minute westerns, they did it in Nashville, with session aces on recordings as simple but perennial as their country gods. Michael Martin Murphey’s but one gateway for both Nesmith and Buffett and an entire generation of postwar storytellers born below the Mason-Dixon line.

Reading Buffett’s nearly 500-page autobiography beginning in Port Aransas and then Florida, 1997’s A Pirate Looks at Fifty (check), I veered from Nesmith’s magical/musical realism in 1998’s The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora and flew in Buffett’s boat plane to the equator for a series of real-life adventures that made me want to find a Sir Francis Drake biography next. The Jean Lafitte account on my bookshelf from the rare book room upstairs at Moe’s in Berkeley dates back to 1930.

Buffett’s grandfather was a high-ranking Naval captain, and his sailor father signed up for WWII as a plane mechanic. Jimmy pursued both with a zeal equal to his passion for music once Austinite Jerry Jeff Walker introduced him to Key West. His subsequent songs about A1A life enabled a lifetime of flying his own planes and trawling the South Seas.

Sign me up, mate.

Needing a poster to commemorate the trip – South Beach’s Art Deco convention banners were spectacular, but we missed year 38 by a week – I found a label-made record store promo poster for 1979’s Volcano on eBay. “That a good album?” asked my partner in paradise, squinting at the tiny LP art on the Deco-licious black light-like one-sheet. In the book, Buffett pilots himself over that same Martinique volcano he cut the album near, only it’s since blown and half disappeared.

“I bet Antone’s has a cheap, cherry copy of the album,” I thought, looking both ways as I ran into traffic. In fact, they had all JB’s early albums – mint, with inserts, lyric sheets, the whole nine yards. And priced as they should be: $3-$5. I walked out with six essential LPs glowing with beach art, big and beautiful.

I’d grown up on vinyl via a strip of new and used record stores in Seventies Berkeley that felt like the Broadway of recorded music. It holds zero nostalgia for me because I then had to lug around that haul for the next two decades. By the time I moved to Texas, it was down to a 75-100 LPs never to be found again. I still adhere to the son of the cassette – CDs – portable, personal music that became the iPod.

Antone’s flashed me right back to the salad years of record stores, where $1 vinyl was the bedrock of any back room. Now, that’s mostly a Goodwill conceit. I already owned all the LPs I bought at Antone’s on CD, but when I walked out of the store last weekend with a stack of 30/40-year-old records, I remembered all the Texas staples I’d bought there over the years.

You’re not likely to find the new Best Coast mini-LP at Antone’s, but if there’s an old, specific Ray Price record you’re searching for, look no further. All my Butch Hancock LPs, most of my Doug Sahm, some Ray Wylie Hubbard and Rusty Wier – all from Antone’s Records in my early years here. And on 12:20pm last Saturday, the store hummed with youngsters picking through a storeful of used vintage vinyl. Jessica at the register was spinning a Mott the Hoople record emblazoned with Escher art.

Yesterday, waiting on Lucinda Williams at Waterloo Records, I found myself scrunched into a tiny plot of standing-room-only at the end of the vinyl section. The news was mostly good: latest ZZ Top record, $19.99; yellow vinyl Corsicana Lemonade by White Denim, the same; Zoltars, $11.99. Yet why on earth is TV on the Radio’s Dear Science $32.99? A reissue of the Who’s Quadrophenia, $59. WTF?

I bought the Lucinda Williams reissue on CD, but was sorely tempted by the red vinyl. Ultimately, I’ll play the compact disc more, and even though the record comes with a download card, MP3s still lose out in sound to CDs. In retrospect, I should have bought the promo deejay 12-inch of J. Geils’ “Love Stinks” for the unreleased live version of the song on the b-side.

I’ll be back, of course. Antone’s, Encore, End of an Ear, Waterloo – they’ve all got my number. Jimmy Buffet’s “Tin Cup Chalice” from 1974 as well:

I wanna go back to the island,
Where the shrimp boats tie up to the pilings.
Gimme oysters and beer,
For dinner every day of the year,
And I’ll feel fine.

I’ll feel fine.

I wanna be there.
Wanna go back down and lie beside the sea there.
With a tin cup for a chalice, fill it up with good red wine.
And I’m a chewin’ on a honeysuckle vine.

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.