by Mark Teppo

Hello, my name is Mark Teppo and I am an addict. I bought three CDs today--I don't even remember what they are. I've got a stack on my desk at home that I haven't listened to and another two packages from mail order on the way. And yet, I was in the store today, my fingers eagerly flipping through the cases in the racks. Did you know that I can flip through one hundred jewel cases in a minute with my left hand? With my right, I can only manage twenty in that same time. I can't even make a real claim to ambidexterity. My right is slower at the racks because that is my handedness and that greedy paw traditionally carries the loot while the other hand searches. The weasel part of my brain knows that if a scuffle breaks out over a CD, I've got a better chance of hanging on to my stash with my stronger hand.

After navigating the check-out line and escaping with my treasures, I am faced with that most delightful and painful aspect of CD purchasing: getting that plastic strip off the top of the case. Sure, I know the secret trick of popping the lower left corner and raising the entire cover with that strip of plastic adhesive still attached. What addict doesn't know the proper technique for getting a quick hit? No, the best part of the dogbone--the name my wife gives that sticky piece of plastic securing the jewel case together--is that it keeps you out of the case for another few seconds. Yes, I see you know what I mean. Once you get the tape off and the case open, the thrill of the unknown vanishes. The CD just lies there. Sometimes the art on the disc is interesting or the sleeve actually contains some semblance of liner notes. These are mere distractions that your mind tries to focus on in an attempt to obscure the more basic fact: the case is open and there is nothing keeping you from playing that CD now. You don't want to touch it, you don't want to pop it free of the tight grip of the jeweled teeth and put it in the player, because it might suck. And if it is a terrible purchase, then you're in trouble--the acrid taste of your need will flush your mouth. As long as you don't play the CD you'll be alright. Your hands might shake a bit. You might weaken and take the CD out of the case and spin it around on your finger. But as long as it stays out of the player, the cramps and headaches won't start. You can still be free of that craving for the next hit.

There is an album called Thirst by a band named Saqqara Dogs. As I write this paragraph, I honestly can't remember the album well enough to describe its sound. I bought this disc on its release in 1987 and had it for two years before it fell victim to a purge of the library. And then, several years later, I woke up one morning with a terrible urge to hear that album. "Not a problem," I thought. "I'll just pop over to the place where I sold it and buy it back from them." I had seen the disc in their used bins on more than one occasion in the last year. I got up, showered and dressed, had breakfast, and then puttered around the house until the record store opened. Whistling lightly (as it was a beautiful day), I wandered down to the shop. I even stopped at the front counter and passed a few moments in conversation with the clerk before stepping over to the used bins.

My smile faltered. The CD wasn't there. Have you ever noticed that the "S" section of a used bin is always twice as large as any other letter in the alphabet? I wasn't in a panic yet. It could just be filed somewhere else in that section. "Or maybe even under Thirst," I mused as my fingers ran across the spines of the discs. It's obscure--maybe the employee couldn't make the distinction between the band name and album title. I laughed a little nervously and moved over to the "T" section. My throat choked on the laugh. The disc wasn't there, either. It seemed like the sun had been blotted out beyond the tiny windows of the shop as I paced around to the other side of the display and started scanning titles from the beginning of the bins. My fingers became more frantic as I reached the end of the alphabet and started looking through the compilations and the other genres of music. The furious rush of my blood was thundering in my ears. The disc was gone! One of those motherfuckers behind the counter had sold my disc. Some cocksucker had the audacity to put money on the counter in exchange for that CD! I wasn't shouting. I wasn't.

[ saqqara dogs - thirst ]
Saqqara Dogs "Grave
of Love" MP3

I keep my voice calm as I inquired at the counter about the possibility of ordering Thirst. "How you do spell that?" the guy at the counter asked. "S-A-Q-Q-A-R-A," I spelled out. I watched him closely. Was he the bastard who had sold the used copy--my copy!--to some ungrateful wretch? Would he remember the disc? My palms prickled with sweat, visions of leaping the counter and choking the shit out the clerk swam through my brain, because I already knew what he was going to say after looking through the Valley catalog. No listing for Saqqara Dogs.

In 1992, there were eleven shops that sold CDs in Eugene, Oregon. I went to all of them that day. The last three didn't even traffic in used merchandise. All their bins stared back at me like the dull, reflective surface of a sewer-choked pond and, by the end, I didn't even bother spelling the band's name to the person behind the counter. I could tell from their blank looks and the way their hands strayed towards the Valley catalog that they couldn't help me. I was going to have to find this disc on my own.

There were 126,150 people living in Eugene at that time. Springfield (Eugene's ugly cousin which lay just across the thick ribbon of I-5) boasted a population of about a quarter that number, but most of them were probably more than content to limit their CD shopping to the first three racks at the Musicland at the mall (and yes, I did go there too). I could stay on the western side of I-5 in my search for that one person. I knew a hundred people and there were probably another two hundred that I had enough contact with during the day that it wouldn't be too much of a social gaffe to inquire if they might provide me some assistance. They, in turn, could probably cover another hundred or hundred-fifty. And another hundred from each of those people. And another. It could be done. If the chain held, I could find the bastard who had stolen my CD. He probably didn't even know what it was that he had picked up from the bin. Probably thought the name was cool or liked the cover. Fucking Philistine.

As you can well imagine, that plan didn't work. Most of my friends just looked at me with the hollow glance I was getting used to seeing. "Saqqara what? They're a band?" After a few weeks of this torment, I stopped asking and started to haunt the CD stores. Maybe he would sell it back. Eventually he would stop looking at the cover and actually play the CD; he might find it not to his liking and then take it back to the store and try to recoup some of his $8.95 loss. Six months passed. I never saw the disc in any of the bins.

When I traveled (and I assign a past tense to the verb so as to make it sound like I don't do this now), the first thing I would do when I got to my destination was to check the Yellow Pages and figure out how many CD stores I could hit while I was in town. Poring over the terminally incomplete map offered by the rental car companies, I would plan my routes and my free time. I hid my affliction well. I was never gone overlong. Just long enough to stab out in one cardinal direction and catch a few shops on the tip of my thrust before returning. And the next day, I would rotate myself one full notch around the compass and attack again. It was precise, it was methodical, and it allowed me to imagine that no one ever knew about my problem. Maybe they all did and no one ever mentioned it and, to all of you, I want to apologize for those years. I was never the best of company and you tolerated me with great benevolence.

On January 11th, 1994, I walked into Tower Records near Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.

Now you have to understand this is like going into 7-11 at 2:29am with a handful of change. Some of the coins are so encrusted with grit and grime from the floor of the car that you can't readily tell if they were dimes or pennies. But there is just enough in your hand for one 40-oz. beer. You take the bottle to the counter and put down the handful of dirty change and stand there without an ounce of pride in your spine 'cause all that matters is in another few seconds that cash register is going to ring and then that cap can come off the bottle. Suddenly, there is complete silence in the store. You had a $1.69 in coins. You know this because you've counted it three times. But what your bleary eyes are seeing on the LED register display is: $1.74. "Bottle deposit," the guy behind the counter says. "Five cent deposit." You don't have that extra nickel in your pocket and you both know it. The clerk--feeling generous, or maybe he just wants you gone from his store--grunts slightly and reaches into his pocket, feeling for change. He finds a quarter and drops it onto the pile of change on the counter. And before you can stop yourself, your hand reaches forward, all that your enfeebled mind can think of is that you are now twenty cents over! A look of utter contempt and disgust flickers across the clerk's face and he doesn't even try to hide it. "Hey buddy," he says as he sweeps all of the change out from under your reaching fingers, "maybe you should get some help."

This is what it is like to go into Tower Records in San Francisco looking for Thirst. My hands shook, my vision was blurry, and my throat was noticeably dry as I stood in front of the alternative rack and stared at the plastic divider that had the words "Saqqara Dogs" printed on it. "Yeah," I mumbled to myself as I waited for the clerk to run my credit card, "after this one. Yeah, I'll stop. This is the last one."

[ muslimgauze - tandoori dog ]
Muslimgauze "Girl Who Lived Inside a Sitar" MP3

The next morning was filled with a bleak emptiness. I couldn't get out of bed. I stared at the hotel room ceiling, trying to find any reason to get up. The Saqqara Dogs CD case lay on the table next to my Walkman. I had listened to it several times last night, remembering and re-experiencing all sorts of associated memories. My tongue was sticky and I had trouble focusing on the white ceiling. What was the point? I thought. I've found the disc. What was the point of getting up? There was nothing at the stores now; I had no reason to haunt the dusty bins. What was the point of even starting the day? I was in the throes of Post-Acquisition Syndrome.

It disappeared eventually, buried beneath the incessant hunger again. And, after awhile, I learned to avoid PAS. I always had something on my list that I would never find. For the latter part of the '90s, it was the Muslimgauze back catalog, but even in my addled state, I could discern that after the first sixty or so discs, there was a repetitive familiarity in each new disc. This realization has forced me to shift my focus to the German ambient label, FAX, which has its own share of holy grails, ensuring that I'll be out of the PAS zone for quite some time. I found three FAX discs in the used bins just last week; they're not very good, but they were three I didn't have. You can't be too picky sometimes about the quality of your hit. You just take them because you know that--for a little while--they stave off the shakes. Sometimes a 40-oz. will do--it'll keep you going until you can get your hands on something of higher quality.

The first part of my compulsion is the need to acquire. According to a highly unscientific poll, this is a common affliction among boys. It doesn't really matter what the object is. It could be cars (toy replicas or full-sized Porsches, it all depends on your income level) or stuffed bears or playing cards or the sweaty workout clothes of former Mouseketeers. But, for some of us, the obsession lies with music and, as the ability to produce music becomes easier and easier for one individual to accomplish, the need for acquisition is only to going to increase. Naturally, in direct proportion to the desire will be the availability and quality of that drug which will soothe the fried neurons in your brain. For example, Frozen Empire Media and Troniks--both fledgling noise labels--are releasing their material in runs of less than fifty units. Individuals are founding labels in their garages to put out limited editions of 127, 326, or 666 units. CD packaging becomes hand designed and isn't limited by the shape of the jewel case or digipac. I've got CDs mounted between slabs of granite, on ping-pong paddles, and in hand-sewn fabric pouches. Vinyl fetishists are regularly presented with a rainbow array of colors for their records. I've yet to see proof that yellow vinyl plays better than green or clear or black, but it certainly fetches a better price. The market is responding by making offers to us addicts which only heighten our need for the next hit. Going to the mall CD store (or some equally bland online superstore) just doesn't satisfy the need any longer. It's just nutmeg to your desire for a decent toke of the sticky green stuff.

EBay needs a public service page--a section where they list the most exorbitant prices ever paid for items that catch your fancy. All they ask is: Would you pay this price? Just so you can face yourself. Muslimgauze's Tandoori Dog LP set: $400.00. "Yes." Tetsu Inoue's Ambiant Otaku (on FAX, still sealed): $350.00. "Yes." A copy of Les Joyaux de la Princesse's Exposition Internationale Paris 1937 box set (one of sixty copies made): $525.00. "Yes." And I've never even heard the last band, which makes it the most desired item on my list.

I am a music junkie and, while the infection of eBay has certainly heightened the exquisite agony of my torment, I'm not so damaged that the online auction house has become my only pusher. While an overpriced Belgian lager will definitely quell the twitch in my fingers, a can of lukewarm Schlitz will water the parched desert of my thirst just as easily. Don't get me wrong, the last time I bought Schlitz it was $6.98 a half-rack and tasted not much better than I imagine a chilled can of water laced with heavy atoms and four kinds of animal urine would taste. I'm aware of the differences in vintages, thank you. It's just that, more often than not, my favorite Trappist beer just isn't available--at any price. I am forced to try other things, forced to find something that will replicate the fine experience of that earthy, nut brown monk-made beer. You see, the more degenerative quality of my condition is that I crave the fresh experience. I need to be moved by the music I hear, I need to be inspired--regenerated, reborn, reinvigorated--by the sounds which are poured into my head. This is the second part of my compulsion and the aspect which will ultimately ruin me.

It is a terrible trap which my cynicism has built around me. I have heard so much music and am so continually frightened by the staggering amount of material that I have not yet heard that I languish in a narrow vale that funnels all sound past me at a horrendous rate. Something has to make a furious impact on me for it to be remembered, and I have neglected a very important aspect of music. It has to be savored. It has to be allowed space to breathe, to fill up the room around you and make itself comfortable in your life. There are some albums which you never quite realize their marvel until you've heard them several dozen times. Or maybe you aren't ready for it now and maybe it should be shelved for a few years until you have grown a little grayer and a little slower. But you can't listen to music impatiently. You can't sit in front of the stereo, staring bug-eyed at the timer, your finger tapping nervously on the "skip" button of the remote. I do. I gulp, I slurp, I guzzle, and reach for the next one before the taste of this one has left my mouth. My house is littered with half-opened cases, spilled vintages, dusty bottles never cracked and nearly forgotten now. My sense of taste is dull and there is a buzzing in my ears that simply will not go away.

My name is Mark Teppo and I have a problem. This is the first step, I know; the admission of powerlessness to your crippling affliction. On the second Tuesday of every month, I'll be down in the recreation room of my apartment building around 8pm. There will be coffee and donuts. You should drop by, we can talk. I know I'm not the only one out there. Please, stop by. I'll have a CD player, we can play a few discs. I know I've got a few I need to listen to.

[ tetsu inoue's - ambiant otaku ]
"Low of Vibration" MP3

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