Armagideon Time

Of the roughly five hundred records I’ve acquired in the past two years, less than a dozen were purchased at brick and mortar establishments.

I have nothing against these places. I want them to survive and the scene to remain healthy because I frequently deal with their mail order departments. It’s just that the act of visiting a shop to browse the inventory runs counter to my current methodology for vinyl collecting. The few times I’ve tried it over the past couple of years have found me staring blankly at the array of crates while desperately trying to think of something — anything — specific to seek out.

The little notebook I keep on my work desk has several successive wish lists scrawled in it, though these are mostly down to impossible to find (much less afford) rarities. Most of the records I buy these days are the stuff of whim, where some well-regarded song or artist will get jarred loose from the dark recesses of memory and generate an intense (and typically brief) search for an affordable vinyl copy in decent condition.

There’s little rhyme or reason involved, and it has been all the more enjoyable for it. Nothing drains the joy out of a hobby than turning it into a methodical exercise in strip-mining. Without a fixed event horizon, there’s less likelihood of reaching the point of diminishing returns. Instead, I bob along with the currents of my subconscious until it surprises me with some odd impetus to seek out something like…

…the Jerome Moross soundtrack EP for The Big County.

I’ve never seen the film, a 1958 western starring Gregory Peck and Chuck Heston, but encountered the title theme through a sample in the 808 State/MC Tunes technojam “The Only Rhyme That Bites.” The sound made me think it was lifted from a John Williams 1970s sci-fi score, but a little digging turned up the actual source and sparked an intense love in its own right.

The track is the epitome of the “symphonic Western” sound, those work for hire riffs on Aaron Copland’s marriage of American folk and classical music traditions. It’s a epic overture to mythic nostalgia, lofty yet folksy and brimming with a sense of confidence that idealizes the country’s frontier past and triumphalist present — and it sells that bill of goods so damn well that even my revisionist cynicism gets a little wobbly before it.

The full soundtrack got a domestic LP release, but I settled for the UK 7-inch EP version which included the main theme and three other short selections. While I was unpacking and prepping it for shelving, I noticed the picture sleeve felt oddly lumpy. I’ve found a lot of weird (and often unpleasant) things packed in with used records, so it was with no small amount of trepidation that I shook out the sleeve…

…causing a DIY death card tumbled out onto the coffee table.

I’m much obliged to the Mancunian buckaroo who slipped this handmade treasure into the sleeve decades ago, and I wish him or her the happiest of trails.

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