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VINYL SOLUTION: Where were you when you bought your first record? While not quite ranking up there with "What were you doing when you heard Kennedy had been shot?" the question does have deep resonance among record collectors.

An obsession is born: There I am at 11 years old, hustling down the steps to the basement store that was Mack's Record Rack. (Run by the wife of local African-American entrepreneur and deejay Mr. McDaniel, its unforgettable motto, as heard over the airwaves, was "Down in the hole, where the records are sold"--the word "sold" stretched out as "sooooouuuuul" to signify the store's primary stock.) Bolting inside, I hand Mrs. Mack, as we kids called her, a scrap of paper with lyrics I'd scribbled the night before while listening to my tiny AM transistor radio.

"Is that by one of those Beatle-y groups from England, honey?" she quizzes me, scrutinizing the lyrics. "I guess so," I reply, and timidly sing a snatch of the melody as best I can remember it. "Ah-ha!" She glides around the counter, brushes past me, and expertly plucks a single disc from the massive rack of 45s dominating the wall behind me. "This be all for you today, honey?"

I am mesmerized by the record that she's waving slowly in front of me, the bright bluish/aqua MGM Records paper sleeve as exotic as an artifact from King Tut's tomb. Nodding earnestly yes, I hand her a quarter--later I'll learn to hoard my allowance for Sale Saturdays when she's got 45s on special at five for a buck--and race home to my battered kiddie record player.

So maybe "Listen People" by Herman's Hermits isn't as cool for a first love as a Stones or Dylan or even a Hendrix record. But it was MY record, and 34 years later I still own it. Long after record collectors have unloaded their Matchbox cars and G.I. Joes on younger siblings or cousins, there remains a timeless, romantic appeal to the pursuit of wax. To the whole culture of record collecting, in fact--LPs, tapes, CDs, books, magazines, posters, buttons, lunchboxes--maybe even, one day, MP3-stuffed computer hard drives.

Record collecting is the great leveler and it knows no specific demographic. It also transcends mere notions of the consumerist urge, for just as we celebrate music as an art form, so, too, do we celebrate its attendant artifacts as worthwhile art forms themselves.

Twice annually, Tucson gets a dose of the culture. If you've ever fancied crowding yourself into a room full of sweaty, jabbering anal-retentives, now's your chance. This Saturday, from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., at Eagles Lodge #181 (1530 N. Stone Ave.), the Tucson Record Show will be held. Early admission (7 to 9 a.m.) is $5, then $3 thereafter, and if you bring a couple of cans of food for the community food bank, entry costs a mere buck.

The meeting room is always lined with local and regional record dealers and collectors (a lot of unusual wares come in from Los Angeles), and you can always find single-digit bargains alongside high-priced collectibles. At recent shows I scored a Springsteen "Pink Cadillac" picture disc, a rare Springsteen poster, and enough European import Springsteen CDs to force a mid-show detour to an ATM.

Yes, I collect The Boss. So what are YOU into? Soundtracks, classic rock, disco, early and contemporary punk, jazz/blues, techno/electronica--all genres'll be represented at the show. Too, with the recent nationwide upswing in hip-hop and deejay culture, you can bet that the Old Pueblo's many vinyl specialists will have a field day.

I might show up toting my still-sealed copy of the Standells' Try It, an autographed Ramones Road To Ruin or the long-deleted White Zombie Psycho-Head Blowout EP (estimated book value $60, $75 and $50, respectively) to see if any collector will make me an offer before I put the records up on eBay. I have a kid coming, you see, and I have a hunch he's going to be an expensive little ape.

But nobody's getting my Herman's Hermits 45 just yet. I'm saving that for Junior.

MUSIC MENU: Moving on to the actual sonic portion of our program, let's take a look at some of the gig happenings around the Old Pueblo this week. Can you tell which blurbs below are "honest evaluations from a responsible critic" as opposed to "press releases rewritten by a hack"?

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Thursday, Centennial Hall): Unlike the Daily Star's standard-issue rewrites, in the interests of integrity I'll simply extract pertinent quotes here. This "breathtakingly daring and original" violinist of "undeniable virtuosity" is "one of the few classical artists who must be experienced in person." She's joined by Brazilian guitar whizzes Sergio and Odair Assad, and together they "explore the rich and mysterious musical traditions of the gypsy peoples." Word up!

Dick Dale, with The Ziggens and Deadbolt (Saturday, The Rock): Surf king Dale needs no introduction, while the rest of the bill presents good news and bad news. The bad news is that the presence of surf/punk/metal underachiever smartasses The Ziggens, currently flying high on their recent Cornerstone/Skunk release Live: Tickets Still Available, means that you'll have to put up with a mosh pit crammed with a buncha bong-huffing Sublime fans. The good news: a set from Deadbolt, whose eerie yarns of voodoo truckers, zombie hipsters, interstate serial killers and assorted human detritus, pitched against an ever-present surf rumble backdrop, are as inspiringly hilarious as they are seriously rockin'.

Dark Star Orchestra (Saturday, Rialto): This Grateful Dead tribute band's shtick: song-for-song setlists and arrangements of specific Dead concerts (say, Denver Coliseum '73) that the audience has to figure out. Hey, you can do the same thing by listening to Dead Air on KXCI Friday nights--just mute the volume when they announce the tapes' dates/venues--and you won't come home smelling like patchouli!

Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar (Saturday, Centennial Hall): Unquestionably the Gig Of The Week, just in time for the November 7 release of the 80-year-old sitar maestro's new CD, Genesis. His protégé daughter Anoushka also recently issued her excellent sophomore effort of string-bending wizardry, Anourag. Together, they bring the hypnotic sounds of Indian music to life with their "Full Circle" concerts. Anyone catch them not long ago on NPR's Fresh Air program? Both of them were personable and funny. My favorite bit: when Ravi described George Harrison's sitar work on Beatles albums as "dreadful."

A.P.E. (Saturday, Macdaddys): Neither the rock outfit Ape that recently issued a CD nor the Mo' Wax avant-hiphop deejay Ape, but Tucson's own Adult Party Experience. It's a prog/psych/freeform power trio by any other name; some liken A.P.E. to "Dixie Dregs meets Mahavishnu Orchestra," or "King Crimson on a bad hair day." You can check out tunes from A.P.E.'s forthcoming CD on the Web at MP3.com.

Mike Watt (Saturday, Solar Culture): Back in the saddle after a near-tragic brush with illness, the virtuoso bassist is on the road with his trio Mike Watt & The Pair of Pliers. They'll perform for your listening pleasure selections spanning his long and illustrious career, from Minutemen and fIREHOSE classics to solo material (including '97's brilliant Contemplating The Engine Room) to his numerous side projects. Next month Watt's off to Europe with ex-Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis as well--he's one of punk's genuine Renaissance men.

Morgan Heritage Family (Sunday, Rialto): You know, the problem with reggae these days is that so much of it--the Morgans included--sounds too darn happy. Give me some good ol' downtrodden-masses, evil-sounding deep dub any day.

Blackhawk (Monday, TCC Arena): Did I use the term "art form" above? Christ. More songs about family values and hats. The dailies will no doubt tell you about all the career obstacles the band surmounted to reach the top. If that interests you, then you're reading the wrong paper, pal.

Melt-Banana (Monday, Solar Culture): Best friends with The Melvins, Mr. Bungle and John Zorn, these Japanese art-skronk psychedelic noise mavens, along with likeminded homelanders The Boredoms, turn the words "damage," "deconstruction" and "deranged" into musical terms of praise. New album Teeny Shiny was issued this very week--smell the glove, and bring earplugs to the show.

Rainer Maria, with Mike Kinsella (Tuesday, Solar Culture): Emo-rock time. Or, more accurately, "pimply sad sacks playing moderately catchy punk rock with annoying, whiny vocals for a room full of arrested-adolescent dorks" time. Kinsella, for those in the know, helped foster the Emo movement in Cap'n Jazz and, more recently, Joan Of Arc. He's also headed up the softer/prettier American Football--call it Schmoe-core.

More by Fred Mills

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