Jan. 2nd, 2013

jaunthie: (Seamask)
In the closing days of 2012, I found one of my holy grails of media.

We all have them, although in this era of online content, they're increasingly rare. (Ironically, this is a good thing.) The book, album, or other media object that is really important to you, but for whatever reason, isn't available as some kind of .mp3 download, ebook, online video, or other relatively low-cost-to-produce, high-impact, easy-to-obtain form. Sometimes this is due to rights issues, particularly when it's 'foreign' content. Other times it's due to obscurity. Other times, we don't know why (hello, 4th and 5th seasons of The Muppet Show on DVD, I'm looking at you!).

In this particular case, the holy grail was an album that had been widely popular amongst my group of friends and apparently nowhere else in the country, judging by its utter lack of availability today. One of my friends owned it on tape. Another had the vinyl record. And the rest of us had copies. (Yes, it was the Eighties.) The album in question? Peter Schilling's Things to Come.

(Oooh! Look at that Eighties hair! and denim! and cover design!)

Waitaminute, I hear many of you say. Peter Schilling? Isn't he that Major Tom dude?

Yes, yes he is. That single was from the first album he released in English as well as his native German, Error in the System. It too was wildly popular among my friends, but thanks to the popularity of that single, you can easily buy a CD version of Error in the System/Ferhler Im System from a number of different sources, including Amazon. (And I have.)  Things to Come was the follow-up album. It came out in 1985, and as far as I know, it was his last attempt to do an English-only release version of one of his German-language albums (120 Grad). And as far as I can tell, in the part of the world I lived in, my little corner of it was the only place where this album caught fire. Naturally enough, it has not been available on CD, and even though Peter Schilling remains an active musician to this day, there hasn't been an MP3 album release, either.

Time passes. Items get lost. So for at least the last 15 years, my friends and I (the ones for whom this is a favorite) have been searching various old record stores, looking for a vinyl copy of Things to Come, with no success.

Fast-forward to this December. I was on a trip to Portland with several friends, including two who are also fans of this album. Near the end of the day, making our meanding way towards another place we wanted to visit, we decided on a whim to stop in at a little used-record store. We were on the perpetual quest, with no expectations of success. But like good little questors, we first checked the organized, well-loved record sections (in Rock and in International), and when that failed, two of us plunked ourselves in front of the Dollar Bin, where nothing is organized at all.

And lo and behold, halfway through my third stack, there it was.

I think I said something like "No freaking way." I know my friend, rummaging next to me, actually shrieked. Our third friend came running.

The album cover was not in great shape. The inside sleeve was missing. But the record was there, and while filthy and showing a few minor scratches, looked to be in pretty good shape.

Three very happy women gleefully bounced up to the pay counter, where the very nice man (whom I think owned the shop) was very confused by our excitement, but we made sure that he understood that he had just made our year, if not our decade. For a dollar. No tax. $1.

I have a turntable, and the equipment that allows me to hook up the turntable to the USB port on my computer, and the software needed to convert vinyl albums to CDs. Over the holiday break, I borrowed a friend's record-cleaning equipment (something I don't have), and carefully went through the process of cleaning, converting, and burning over the music.

The album is just over 38 minutes long. That's pretty short, even by the standards of the day; most albums clocked in at around 42 minutes. But listening to it, I was stuck once again by how well I remembered these songs, and how much the sci-fi worldview expressed therein had really helped shape my thinking (and my love of sci-fi). There are, of course, two requisite pop-love songs, Chill of the Night and Where You Are I Am. I don't think Eighties pop albums were allowed to release without these kinds of songs, but even these are both tinged with sci-fi elements. City of Night (Berlin) is a Cold War ballad, also a standard of the time, particularly for German artists, and the least sci-fi of any of the songs. But the rest? The rest are pure sci-fi, many with apocalyptic or futurist themes. The Hurricane is a song about a once-safe town being drowned in a massive hurricane, the likes of which had not been seen since the planet's birth. (Sound familiar?) Lone Survivor is the tale of a man who locks himself away from a nuclear holocaust while the rest of the world struggles to find solutions. Things to Come, the title track, talks about how we carelessly plunder the earth for our own amusement, kings of the world, while forgetting that once upon a time, the dinosaurs thought they had it made, too. Terra Titanic is mostly a retelling of the Titanic disaster, with implications that our own world is sailing on like the Titanic, oblivious of the looming iceberg. Zone 804 is darkly humorous, speculating about what Planet Earth's reaction would be to a bunch of friendly aliens showing up, wanting to restore our damaged planet. ('Silos open, standing by.') And 10,000 Points is possibly the first song about video game addiction.

Is it any wonder that I love this album? And it holds up fairly well, too. Some of the music and lyrics seem absolutely prophetic today. I never understood why it didn't catch on across the country, instead of just the one little corner of it where I lived.

So now I have it, hiss, crackle, pops and all. I'm happy. My friends are happy.

And in the opening days of 2013?

There's a new release on Amazon. A double-album release, Things to Come/120 Grad.

Peter Schilling would laugh at the irony. As do I.
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