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Music: I Lost My Soul

What becomes of records left on the subway? Try eBay.

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It happens nearly every day now: a wince and a sudden squeeze in the kishkes as I remember another lost record.

A few Fridays ago, I took the Q train to work, toting a box that held dozens of late-sixties and early-seventies 45-rpm funk singles I intended to play on my WFMU radio show that evening. When I got off at Rockefeller Center, I left it on the seat. Next came all the desperate, futile acts you would expect from an obsessed collector who'd just lost a precious chunk of his collection: Pounding on the token-booth glass and screaming at a bored, shrugging clerk. Uncontrollable weeping. A strained conversation with a dispatcher at the end of the Q line. A frantic heads-up to every local record store that buys vinyl. Daily calls to the lost and found. Flyers promising extravagant rewards. Heightened self-loathing.

Now, by funk, I don't mean Sly and the Family Stone or Funkadelic; they're about as important to me as Liberace. No, I'm talking about Big Al and the Star Treks, the Sticks of Dynamite, U.S. Warren and the Genghis Pea -- forgotten acts that recorded for tiny labels in places like Greensboro, North Carolina. Think the guys in High Fidelity are nutty obscurantists? Trust me: They've never heard of my records.

Hardly anyone has a record player these days, or even knows what a 45 is. Whoever found my records -- did he throw them away? Is he using them as gaudy mismatched coasters? Or will he sell them on eBay, at which I now stare bug-eyed for large parts of the day? (I'm sneaking peeks as I write this.) In just the past few months, eBay has completely changed the nature of obscure-funk-45 collecting. Instead of blindly mailing in a bid to a dealer who's auctioning off a record I need, then waiting days or weeks to hear whether I've won -- standard practice in record-collectordom for years -- I can keep up-to-the-second tabs on the gamesmanship of my rivals (they're all here: Yves from Switzerland, Ian from England, Marcus and Josh from California, Glenn and Jeff and Georges from Brooklyn) and furiously try to outbid them in the last few seconds of an online auction as it ends before my eyes. We compete in paranoia, too, changing user names (it doesn't help, Ian!) and bookmarking one another's current-bids screens in case something slips by our own notice. As more and more good records show up on eBay daily, is there a chance I'll find my beloved "Popcorn Push Push" by Ernest Van Treose and the McDaniel Mary Street Band for less than $75 -- and, more important, that I can thwart Yusuke from Japan?


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