31 December, 2013

Touch and Go Records Make My Month

The Black Heart Procession are one of my favorite bands. I discovered them after a glowing review of their 1999 sophomore album, 2, was printed in an independent local paper, and fell in love with the recording’s haunting lo-fi sound, the band’s unique instrumentation (the third track on 2, “A Light So Dim,” lists drums, guitar, saw, SH-1000, waterphone, noises, piano, organ, and toy piano), and the sense of lovelorn desperation running through the lyrics:
There are no trains that leave from the maze
Your only chance was a ship to escape
You’ll be the lighthouse in the storm
I’ll be the ship with a thousand dead souls
But how long will they believe in a light so dim?
Down in the gallows the darkness glows
But it’s hard to see in the hearts of them
If you see a light, call down below
I’ll be moving and sorting out our fears
But how long will we believe in a light so dim?
Time is all we have, so take the time
Time is all we have, so take the time to make the time
Throw down the line, I’ll see to climb
If it’s held close it may just work
If you are the lighthouse in the storm
I’ll be the ship filled with a thousand dead souls
Time is all we have, so take the time
Time is all we have, so take the time
Time is all we have, so take the time to make the time
BHP released another album soon thereafter, which I relished at least as much. But that’s where my collecting stopped. When their fourth album dropped, I was locked away in a prison cell with no music but what came through a portable Panasonic tape player that got intermittent, fuzzy radio reception.

A friend hosted a weekly punk show on KKFI, an independent Kansas City public radio station, and sometimes she’d break up sets of Crass, the Misfits, and Nashville Pussy to dedicate a song to me, off one of the CDs from my at-home collection. Thanks to Madeline’s (now long gone) show and Sonic Spectrum, with Robert Moore, a much-respected local dejay, I got my occasional fix of Black Heart Procession music and was able to keep up with sporadic bits of their later work. Some I captured on cassette tapes, which I then played over and over and over again, heedless as always to the dangers of nostalgia, but genuinely happy.

The prison eventually allowed its inmate population to buy CD players and to mail order discs from approved vendors, which was nice, but by then I’d compiled a little bestiary of mix tapes I was loath to part with. A few things I’d recorded were irreplaceable — live in-studio or onstage sets — giving me at least one solid reason not to make the switch to digital. Quantity was another. The rules cap inmates’ collections at twenty cassettes or CDs, so switching meant ditching my ninety-minute recordings for a format that averaged just over half that playing time. However, new releases weren’t available on tape. As wave after wave of unfamiliar sounds washed over my bulwarks like the songs of sirens, my resolve crumbled. It was only a matter of time before I surrendered and dived in.

Compact discs were already on their way out by then, surpassed in popularity by compressed-bitrate convenience, and the few vendors that still did business with the incarcerated, via certified checks and postal delivery — Union Supply Direct, Music by Mail, Walkenhorst’s, Pack Central — carried only a smattering of CDs by the Billboard-uncharted bands and artists I most enjoy. My Deserted Island Collection is comprised of some great stuff today, all of it from the aforementioned companies, but there’s not much else they stock that I’m itching for. To get that, I had to change how I scratched.

“Dear Touch and Go Records,” I wrote a couple of months ago, explaining as concisely as I could, to whomever happened to check the company’s mailbox, how profoundly I love the Black Heart Procession’s music, how 2 was the band’s only album I’d been able to track down and order, and how my unfortunate circumstances made buying from an amply stocked online vendor, such as Amazon, impossible. “Can you help me?” I practically begged.

With an enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope I suspected might never get used, I dropped my letter in the box. A reply came soon. It was handwritten on tan stationary with the Touch and Go logo in red at the top of the page. At the bottom, in the same red, was printed, “the nice label”:
Hi Byron,

Thanks for writing, and thanks for your interest in the Black Heart Procession! We haven’t had a mail order division in around five years, so we looked around for a store/vendor who could fulfill your request. Somewhat surprisingly, we couldn’t find one... The Internet has made ordering music by mail go the way of the dinosaur. So... we decided to make a one-time exception in this case and ship an order to you directly.
The writer went on to list all three albums I wanted that the Black Heart Procession put out through Touch and Go — Three, Amore del Tropico, and The Spell — with prices and shipping costs.

Here’s the thing: I realize that Touch and Go Records is a business, meaning their clear and obvious goal is to make money, and that, in the interest of money-making, collecting about forty dollars on the sale of some older merchandise that wasn’t moving makes good sense. But there were so many reasons for them to have ignored my letter — that its return address was a prison; that indulging my unorthodox request would be a hassle; that the payoff, even for a struggling indie label, would amount to chump change.... “The nice label,” indeed. It’s a gesture that makes me smile, just thinking about it.

My package of BHP CDs should be arriving any day now. A friend with his own copy of Three, when I mentioned this serendipitous tidbit to him, suggested we throw a listening party (“musically group our consciousness with a great album,” he elaborated) once my order gets here. At a prearranged date and time, we’ll cue it up simultaneously and revel in the melodies. Music like a talisman joining faraway friends. If it’s held close, it may just work.

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Lacking computer access of any kind, Byron cannot respond to your comments but is relayed them and appreciates your kind remarks.