A man takes out his disappointment on a record collection.
A Fleamarket In Chinatown
In the heart of Singapore's Chinatown, in a small pedestrianised street which was home to a handful of flea market stalls, I found George. His stall consisted of a few tables holding plastic crates filled with records, and the ubiquitous umbrella to protect customers from the sun or the rain, one of which is usually present in Singapore. His stock comprised LPs/singles, Western/Singaporean, clean/dirty/very dirty and, to make life easy for everyone, he had a simple pricing policy - everything was S$2. George's stock was frequently replenished and I was often to be found there on a Saturday morning digging through the crates before struggling home on the MRT** with a large bag or two of purchases. We would occasionally have a chat over a coffee - kindly bought by George - and I would talk about my wish to one day open a record shop. Passers by would stop and talk to me, surprised to see a Westerner looking intently at record covers with Chinese writing and pictures of unfamiliar stars from the 1960s and 1970s.
It was during one of these visits that I discovered ZZ Top's First Album.
Analysis Of A Record Sleeve
As you can see from the picture above, the record cover is scruffy and dirty. Vincent has written his name on the front to aid identification in the event that the record was stolen or confused with someone else's copy. This tells me he probably went to a lot of parties. In fact, Vincent considered it important enough to first check that the pen was working by scribbling on the cover, as can be seen just below his name. What is more unusual is that he has also used it to keep a note of some presumably important numbers. Lucky numbers? Money he owed to his bookie? A phone number written in code? The ages of the female members of his family? Some letters also feature above and below the numbers, apparently written with a different pen. Curious.
Turning to the back cover, we can see a watercolour of the band members which appears to have been painted by Bill Narum who is credited with Album Design. The beards which later became part of ZZ Top's signature look are already in evidence on at least one of them, maybe two depending what that brown smudge is beneath the head of the one on the right.
Looking further down to the track list, it gets a bit more interesting. The track names are adorned on the left with green and red stars, the uniformity of which seems to indicate just a form of decoration rather than any kind of meaningful annotation. But on looking more closely, we can see that Old Man has a black blob in place of a red star and Bedroom Thang only has a partial star. What does this indicate?
To the right of the track names are various combinations of the letters L, S and D. Like? Don't Like? Like but Sometimes Don't? But then we get to Bedroom Thang and a B is thrown in. The final two tracks don't have any letters and I think this may be because Vincent had other things on his mind....
The elephant in the room here is the angry red stripe running the length of the cover. Beneath the red felt pen can be seen some text. Vincent's name is there, probably written on the back at the same time as he wrote it on the front, just to be doubly safe. He apparently hung out with people of questionable character. The rest of the text reads as follows:
“HOW CAN HE POSSIBLY OBJECT TO ME AS A SON-IN-LAW - SINCE I OFFERED TO CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR SUPPORT, DIDN’T I?”
Angry stuff, indeed. What seems fairly obvious is that a man wanted to marry someone, probably a woman, and asked her father for permission. The request was refused. But there are some questions to be answered. To whom is the message addressed? Whose record is it? Why was a record used as the medium for the message?
To Whom It May Concern
The writer has used 'he' rather than 'you' so the message is not addressed to the objector. My first thought was that he was addressing the lady he wanted to marry. It seems natural that he would discuss her father's refusal with her. Or had he offered to contribute to her parents' support and he was addressing the message to her mother, the objector's wife?
Whose Record Is It Anyway?
I initially thought that Vincent was the objector and the spurned son-in-law had somehow gained access to/borrowed one of Vincent's records and, in a fit of anger, used it to convey his message. Then I looked a bit more closely at the writing and compared it to the 'Vincent' text. You can see there is a definite similarity in the writing, particularly the letters E, N & T.
This leads me to think that Vincent is the spurned son-in-law and he has written on his own record. But did he give it to the person that the message was addressed to or, having got it out of his system, did he keep it to himself? And why did he write it on his record? We have already seen he was not averse to using it as a scrap pad but perhaps it had special significance - a gift from someone involved in the drama? Or maybe there was never any writing paper kept in his home and so anything he wanted to write always had to be written on a record.
We can deduce something of what went on here but some of it remains a mystery. What is obvious, though, is that this record has played a part in a momentous, emotional episode in someone's life.
Some time after I discovered ZZ Top's First Album, I was browsing Carousell* looking for records when something caught my eye.
This time, the message is on the front of the record instead of the back and there is no angry red scribble across the whole message.
It is more grammatically correct having omitted the superfluous 'since' and something has been obscured underneath Vincent's name - by the writer of the message or the Carousell seller? The mystery thickens.