Atomizer by Big Black

Posted: July 15, 2013 by The Social Retard in Music
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Big Black

Big Black

Like a lot of people my age, I first learned the name Steve Albini from Nirvana’s In Utero album liner notes. He was the guy those songs were “recorded by”. Little did I know that he was so much more.

The closest I had at that age (14) to a musical pedagogue was my older cousin Daniel. The best he ever did was introduce me to Sugar and Bob Mould. Not even Hüsker Dü. I shouldn’t have expected much from the guy that used to come over when I wasn’t home, play my Downward Spiral CD, and then leave it outside of its case where it got scratched up by mysteriously vicious air particles.

As a result of my lack of guidance, I didn’t learn about Nirvana’s influences until years after Kurt Cobain was just dust in the wind (dude). The loud-quiet-loud dynamic was a direct ripoff of the Pixies and that the same Steve Albini had recorded their album Surfer Rosa. I have hope for the future because my little cousins in Florida that are less than half my age already know all of this stuff. But I didn’t have the benefit of high-speed internet when I was their age. What an old codgery thing to say.

Albini had recorded countless other classic albums like PJ Harvey’s Rid Of Me and all of the work up until that time of The Jesus Lizard. Admittedly, I only know about JL because of the Clerks soundtrack but I still thought they were pretty good. Even after I found out about this Albini character, I still had no idea that he had his own band, let alone how awesome they were. It was ten years after I had first become aware of Steve Albini that I was working as the assistant manager at a wretched Southern-based bookstore. I met and interviewed a bright young lady named Lauren.

Lauren was 17 but already knew about the Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, Albini, and the whole Touch & Go Records back catalog for which Albini has a major hand in. I felt like a neophyte that had wasted my life, not knowing about this shit. For the record, this was not what we discussed in the interview. I did take some pride in that job at that time before strange things were a-Foote (this typographical anomaly is intended).

It took a while for me to get into Big Black but I loved Albini’s one-off band Rapeman instantly. It consisted of Albini on guitar and vocals, Jesus Lizard bassist David Sims, and drummer Rey Washam, that I knew from Ministry. The Two Nuns and a Pack Mule album hit all the right angry notes with me. I also liked Albini’s current band, Shellac, more than Big Black. I think I had an aversion to drum machines or something. Completely unjustified reasoning in retrospect.

Lauren loved Big Black’s Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape comp. And while I am receptive to new music, I also sometimes dismiss stuff that she plays me initially. She’ll play me stuff over and over until I can’t stand it anymore. Eventually, I’ll get around to listening to it on my own and come to the conclusion that it is one of the greatest things I have ever heard just so I can feel like I discovered it myself. It’s a dick thing to do but, sometimes, I’m a dick.

All of this new love of this kind of music led me and my buddy Hector to open our own online music store. At first, we sold CDs but the profit margin was just not good enough. Besides, the big box stores could offer CDs below cost as a tool to get people in their stores. We didn’t have a store for people to come into, so that was not a viable business option.

After much prodding, I convinced Hector that we should start to carry vinyl. He was hesitant because, like a lot of people, he assumed that vinyl was a dead format, the fucking heretic. However, he changed his tune once I showed him the Touch & Go catalog (in those days, T&G distributed their own stuff) and how much cheaper the record costs were compared to the CD costs and we could sell the records at a far greater mark-up. We tried it on a trial basis and we sold off all of the records we ordered in the time it took to sell 1 CD. I didn’t turn him into a vinyl lover but he sure liked money. We were off and running.

Not long after our conversion, Touch & Go sort of went under. They were no longer releasing new music nor doing direct sales with stores. This news sucked. There prices were great and the music was something I believed in. They also distributed Merge and Drag City, among others. I was just about to restart my record collection again and now my main source wasn’t going to be available. With the writing on the wall, I used the opportunity to order our largest order form there ever, putting in a chunk of my own money to buy everything in their catalog that I was ever going to want. Somehow, I harbor a bit of guilt that we waited until the end for such a big order. Maybe if we had ordered more before, they wouldn’t be closing up shop. That is a ridiculous notion, of course. I always thought that if I won the lottery, the first thing i would do is buy a stake in Touch & Go and bring it back to its 2007 state. I digress.

Some stuff wasn’t available anymore but I did manage to get, among others, Slint’s Spiderland, The Jesus Lizard’s Liar, and a whole mess of Albini stuff:

Rapeman’s Two Nuns and a Pack Mule and the Budd EP

Shellac’s At Action Park and Excellent Italian Greyhound

Big Black’s Songs About Fucking, Pig Pile, Headache and Lungs EPs, and their 3 45s.

A couple of things were missing in there but the one that really mattered was the one that was out-of-print: Atomizer. The Eight Track Tape consisted of Headache and the “Heartbeat” maxi-single, along with 1985’s Atomizer LP. This was the one piece that I could not have.

My friend Joe and I started going to monthly record shows nearby, namely the one at the Holiday Inn in Hillside. I’d go with a fifty dollar budget that often was just an arbitrary number. We would always try to get to the show as soon as it opened to better assure ourselves the pick of the litter. That’s just good strategy.

When we got our stuff back to his house, we showed our offerings to his wife, Theresa. Bless her that she pretended to be interested in what a couple of knuckleheads have been wasting their time and money on. She likes to sleep in on Sundays, so I’m sure she was just glad that her house was moron-free until noon. Unfortunately, that was usually when we started watching football or playing Rock Band. They have a kid now, so that shit’s over.

Anyway, at this particular show, the guy in the back right corner of the place always had the oddball alternative stuff, so I made it a point to check out his offerings. There was always this hippie-looking douche that seemed to shadow me at these things and I never paid him any mind until I fell asleep at the proverbial wheel. I almost always asked vendors about Atomizer or the Bulldozer and Racer-X EPs that I was also missing. I had managed to acquire those sealed for $10 apiece before but I still longed to scream “Passing Complexion” through my stereo.

On this day, I had rifled through this gent’s collection, saw Sonic Youth’s EVOL for $50 but I had already gone through at least half of my monthly allotment. I eventually asked the guy if he had Atomizer and he said that he did but someone else was about to buy it. I looked over at the culprit to find that it was that Willie Nelson-haired fucktard. That patchouli prick forked over the $45 and offered a half-assed apology. Have you ever seen the American version of Shameless on Showtime? This asshole looks like that motherfucker Jody, the half-retarded husband of Karen. Haven’t seen it? Look it up.

I could have eaten this bastard’s eyes, I was so mad. I tried to shake it off and find something else but I just wasn’t having that. I carried that cloud for the rest of the morning and well into the month that followed.

I hunkered down in my place, ignoring the cries of my roommate’s two Pomeranians. And, yes, he was a guy. What kind of guy has one Pomeranian, much less two? He expected me to walk them but that wasn’t my damned job.

I scoured Gemm.com and other sites that sellers post their wares. Of all places, I found it on eBay. There were 13 days until this auction ended with no “Buy It Now” option. I had been outbid several times for Atomizer on eBay because I refused to pay more than I would paid at the record show. I was not going to admit defeat.

I waited and waited and waited to place my bid. I maneuvered my work schedule so that I would be home with an hour left to go in the auction. The price sat at a manageable amount that escapes me. I plunked down my bid of $40 with ten seconds to go and won the item. Final price: $25. Patience is not a virtue that I have ever really possessed. People marvel sometimes that it looks like I wait forever for some things but it’s an illusion. I am dogged. I am always hunting even though I may not know what for. It’s animalistic, I can’t help myself…I am not a serial killer. I felt like that was where that was heading, so let’s, just, not.

It wasn’t patience that allowed me to get what I wanted (which was actually better since mine was pressed for Homestead Records, an earlier pressing than the one that “Jody” got). It was perseverance. I refused to miss out just because some jagamuffin swooped in like a vulture with a learning disability and snagged my desired record. This is a story of overcoming adversity and triumph. This is a colossal “fuck you” to Jody’s everywhere.

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Comments
  1. Gigi Coan says:

    An admirable quality you have here- assertiveness. Not being so summarily dismissed in pursuit of a vinyl pressing that you so wanted to possess that you somehow managed to compare your dogged determination to that of a serial killer(cereal killer?).
    Intrigued where the name “Jody” came from in reference to this Joe Dirt character. All seemingly silly questions aside, I think I know the mofo you speak of. Remind me to tell you about him next time i work with you.
    How funny- my first exposure to Albini was through Luke at that wretched Southern Trendkill bookstore—must be something with people whose names begin with the letter “L” and whom we worked with. Surfer Rosa on repeat. I got the message, although it took a while to segue through the haze of the 90’s alternative haze that I was in at that time.
    I am ashamed to admit that I am not very familiar with Big Black. I guess it will be up to you to enlighten me at some point.

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