Thursday, March 23, 2023

Two Obsessions Converge In Dust

I have a lot of motivating factors that keep me going to thrift stores. I go there to buy clothes, materials for mail-art, and various collections of paintings, statues, and bobbleheads. It’s a pattern that has persisted for over twenty years. This addiction was initially fed by the search for records. For a few dollars you could fill in your musical gaps well before every record was available. You could even make a few cents here and there. All of that went haywire when everyone started buying records again. Thrift store records went right into the shops. Now, all used records are $20.00 dollars at the record store and all new ones are at least $30.00. You can get anything, but you pay for it. 

Gorgeous circular record stickers.
Whenever I walk into a thrift store or junk store in 2023, and see a box of records, I often see an obligation. I know there’s not going to be much in the box, but I feel inclined to look. Unless they were just put out, there’s no way there’s going to be anything worth buying. One person like me comes along and everything of value is gone. You have to be at the right place at the perfect time to find any gems. Sometimes I don’t even flip through the Sing Along with Mitch records or Firestone Christmas records unless they’re elevated, sitting on a table. Most of the time it’s not worth taking a knee. Who needs added knee pain for B.J. Thomas’ greatest hits?

With all of my current record annoyance, my interest in looking at records has gone through the roof in the past couple of weeks. My interest in mail art and records have converged. Not only am I using records to make mail art (post cards, cutting up the records into strips) I’m diving more into the peculiarities of records, namely the stickers. You know those stickers, the ones used in old record stores to move unwanted product? The older the record the better. The more “worked” the sticker the better. The vast majority of these stickers are for pricing, $3.99 etc. Some stickers tell us the record is promotional material. Some tell us about the actual record inside, the singles, the hits, and what not. Some stickers even advertise random concepts about music. A recent one I found was a circular sticker that read, “Music, the gift that keeps on giving.” Looking for these stickers clicks a lot of boxes for me. It gives me pointed reason to go to a thrift store and most importantly it provides me with ephemera I can use in my mail-art. Also, I like searching for things. 

Rectangle label style stickers.
Here’s my process for collecting stickers from thrift store records. Most stickers are found on old records, the older the better. They’re almost exclusively found on records still with their cellophane protecting their cardboard covers. Most stickers seem to come from local record stores and sometimes, big stores like K-Mart. There’s record store history with these stickers. I’ve seen the names of many obsolete stores (Corvette’s, Peaches, Marty’s) flash in front of me, a lot more than the big stores. The ubiquity of regional record stores was a big surprise to me, I never realized how big Durham’s The Record Bar was in this area. I have so many of their stickers from across many decades. The story that starts to appear is as much fun as looking for the stickers themselves. Fun fact: Did you know that The Record Bar was bought by Blockbuster and rebranded as Blockbuster Music in 1993?

Anyway, so back to the lecture at hand. When I find a good sticker, one that is unique, colorful, and fixed in time, I take a picture of that sticker. I usually have to brace my arm against the shoddy thrift store racks. I take the picture and then put the record back, no money required, not one cent. A collection that doesn’t anything, who knew that was possible? After collecting a number of these stickers, I edit them on my phone, only minimally. I like to keep the scuffs and imperfections in place. I want them to look their age. I then upload the most interesting ones to an Instagram account creatively called STICKERSONRECORDS. No idea why I did this, just seemed like the right thing to do. Also, in a quick spin through Instagram I didn’t see any similar accounts. Maybe someone else is interested in the backwash of the record industry?

The main goal for the stickers is to have them come back alive, like dinosaurs in amber from the 1993 hit movie, (the same year The Record Bar was purchased) Jurassic Park. I’ve already started this process. I’ve printed off some of the rectangle stickers and put them on envelopes. I’m going to do this with the more visually pleasing circular stickers as soon as the raw materials are delivered to my door. With a lot of organization, and a little work, I can have the most unique record related stickers in all of mail-art. Oh how they will honor me!

My "new" stickers I printed at home.


Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Preciousness of an Address

People are precious about their address. Mail art people too, at least sometimes. I get it, it’s your home and all of that, but it’s also the 21st century. Most broad information can be found with just a little work. If I want someone’s address, I can probably find it with some persistence. Yes, that’s creepy, I get it. Not that I do this, or ever have done this, I prefer folks to willingly give them to me.

Mail-artists are somewhat inclined to give out their addresses. They’re less precious about this information. I find addresses through add and pass sheets, mail art calls, ones listed on IUOMA, and others given to me. You do have a few folks that expect people to ask for their address. I’ve never asked for an address to a mail-art person who is willingly trying to hide it. I avoid them not because of any ideological purpose, I simply don’t want to send an email to get it. I’ll find it or not, or I’ll just mail to a different person.

You always have to have a picture in a blog post, right?

Public addresses are different. You know, landmarks and what not. I’ve sent unsolicited collages and random ephemera to Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles and to Ian MacKaye in Washington DC. The Dischord house is a public address to me, an institution. Strangely, Ian sent me something back, and has for the past couple of years. This rarely happens. There’s not a lot of context for mail-art. I can only imagine what people would think of something sent at random to them, but I’ve done this for as long as I’ve sent mail-art. I’ve directed mail to a taco joint in Lexington North Carolina for years and I have no idea if that’s a burden, or a pleasure. It has to be better than an application for a new credit card.

There’s enough mail-artists to send to, easily available addresses, to keep you sending. Public places and famous addresses are also somewhat easy to find. Sending to non-mail-art people you admire is a different issue altogether. You know, artists and musicians that aren’t involved in mail-art and probably don’t have a famous address like the Dischord house. How do you get that address? Why send anything at all? It’s a challenge, it’s fun. I like looking for hard to find addresses.

In the 21st century, the easiest way to contact this low level artistic “celebrity” is through Instagram. I’d dipped my toes in sending “DM’s” (as the kids say) before and with some success. One random hardcore legend (not Ian, a different one) sent me his address. I’ve been sending stuff to him for quite a while. I was emboldened by this to have the project be a little more ambitious. So, sitting in my basement last weekend, I crafted a short message. I referenced that I was a mail-artist and that I’d like to send them some things, no obligation on their part. I sent this message to at least 20 people / groups, everyone from indie rock bands, to podcasters, to somewhat famous actors. You have to ask, right?

It’s been almost a week and I’ve only received one response. It was from a band I could see responding, my favorite band, a band with a clear D.I.Y. aesthetic. With my initial post, I didn’t prepare for the recipient’s confusion. Whoever was writing on behalf of the band, asked me “Which member do you want to send to?” I’d clearly not thought of this. Without a good response, I wrote, “Whoever might seem most interested in the project.” I didn’t hear anything back. The experiment failed.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Someone at a Thrift Store Priced One of My Makings


I’ve finally found something I’ve made for sale at a thrift store. It’s a long time coming. Not that I go to thrift stores looking for my own stuff, I don’t. I go to thrift stores looking for stuff to make into other stuff, that hopefully ends up at a thrift store. I have no idea how this item made it into a thrift store. I’m going to guess my way through this next part. 


I ended up making five or six of these mirrors, mostly by request. They’re nothing more than the back of an old book, some Scrabble letters, a plastic mirror, and some string. For a while I really got into gluing letters to things. I like signs. I like language that tries to produce a clear result but fail. I like signs that confuse. The “Good Enough” mirror could confuse. It could be an affirmation that the person in the mirror is actually “good enough,” or the sign could imply just enough. You know…fine. I think most people who wanted one of these thought of it as a positive affirmation, which I did as well, but there’s the other side.

Of the five or six I ended up making, most of them went to specific friends. I might have had one or two left over from the pile. These inevitably would have been dropped in various little libraries around Winston-Salem. Although I almost exclusively drop my makings at the little library in front of Acadia Foods, I used to drop most of them on Academy Street. That little library disappeared one day and with it, the place where I easily got rid of my somewhat creative clutter.

Since I made the “Good Enough” mirrors around two years ago, well before that library went away on Academy Street, it probably ended up there. (Maybe it was one I made for a friend, I have no way of knowing). What’s amazing about this is that someone probably picked it out of the little library, had it for a spell, and then saw fit to donate to a thrift store. It wasn’t something to immediately throw away, it was something they thought had enough value to donate. Someone else might enjoy this thing. That I like, that’s what I’m focusing on here. They could have easily have thrown it away, they didn’t.

Side note here. This is what I want done with all items I’ve made that people no longer want. Well, something in a frame, something that takes up a little more space than a small envelope filled with my nonsense. Give it to a thrift store, let it live again. Also, I don’t mind using the frames again, so give it back…I’ll cut up or repurpose the making as well.

I’m not sure all people who make stuff, want their work to end up in thrift stores. It’s like seeing your record in the discount bin, maybe. I recently bought a painting at a thrift store from a prominent Winston-Sale painter. It was only $25.00. It’s a huge painting with handwritten notes on the back for how to install it in your house. I’ve thought about contacting her about my discovery, after all, that’s what I would want people to do for me, but I haven’t. I might have even done this when I found a smaller painting of hers many years ago. I’m not sure if she was thrilled. I’ll hold off on telling her.

Four dollars seems fair. Twenty dollars would have been ridiculous. One dollar would have been too low. Whoever puts prices on things choose wisely. A perfect price. This is the first time I’ve noticed anything I’ve made go on the secondary market. I hope to find more of these in the future. If you’re interested, you can purchase the “Good Enough” mirror at the University Goodwill in Winston-Salem North Carolina.