Thursday, March 22, 2012

Relentless Masters

We all have our white whales, right? We all have these objects we're looking for, these final pieces in a collection of things that make the whole thing fit together.

These segments which define how we search.

I flicker idly through CDs, whenever I go to a store that still carries them, for a copy of the Envy/Jesu split released by Hydrahead Records. It's not that I don't have the songs already, I do, but at the price iTunes asks for the split (roughly 13 bucks, Envy's side is about 16 minutes, at three tracks, Jesu's is almost 22 spread over two tracks) I may as well search for the CD.

And when Tower Records or Virgin Megastore still existed, I was fat and happy on the search. But now, the only places that survive sell used CDs, only vinyl or are Best Buy. This isn't mourning the loss of those stores. I've done that already, years ago. Forever 21 is where the Virgin Megastore and it hurt the first time I saw it. There's no longer even a dull ache. That battle got lost.

Real briefly: CDs weren't making as much money as they used to, because of a number of reasons, copying had something to do with it, but…it was also the fact that the public knew there was a tremendous markup and collusion to keep the price above about ten bucks.

So: With Virgin Megastore, Tower Records and local record stores stocking these loss leaders, real vulnerable, major labels (the people who create most artists and CDs) decided that price could be allowed to dip below $10, at Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

Dedicated record stores got the bum end of the deal. Big box stores had everything their customers wanted, but cheaper and with the powers of a massive corporation behind them. So those dedicated record stores went out of business. When the economics of the music business went from bad to worse, Wal-Mart and Best Buy divested themselves of their esoteric stock…which meant that the record labels who turned to Best Buy to carry their not Top 40 and evergreen stock suddenly had nowhere to go but the same record stores they had shit on.

There's only a couple places to go now and I know that what I want is out of print and is unlikely to reappear. The search continues, but it's futile.

But the desire in the search doesn't quite go away. I jumped into comic books about the time the ship of music had finally begun to sink for good. There's an argument I've traded one sinking ship for another and it's true, but comic stores still have lots of places and nooks to check for back stock. The search lives on.

Thus, whenever I go to a convention, I spend the majority of my time peering over longboxes looking for specific issues or specific collections.

Since the two collections I look for both start with the letter Q, I can tell pretty quickly these days what the odds are that a place'll have what I want. Both volumes have basically the perfect scarcity: They went out of print only recently, so there's a solid enough chance of being in the next forgotten half price bin that I keep looking, because the next one could be the last one.

The two volumes are:

1) The first Definitive Edition of Queen and Country, by Greg Rucka, a man who used to write for DC, and perhaps his most challenging work for that company was for a character called The Question.
2) The first of the six collections of the 36 issue ongoing series of The Question, which in turn, inspired Greg Rucka. This is called Zen and Violence.

That first Definitive Edition of Queen and Country, came back in print at the time when the publisher (Oni Press) relaunched their logo and I bought one, so that item can be crossed out, technically, but it's a second edition of a book, along with three other first editions. It's crossed out, but it might not be finished. Siiiiiiiiiiigh.

But! Zen and Violence is still out of print. And, thanks to the vagaries of fate, and a couple hours before my flight out of Tri-State area, I indulged in the search when I was in New York City.

I searched, high and low, for two hours, like a madman, for a copy of Zen and Violence.

I got up early, put far too much money into the New York City public transit system, and descended into the labyrinth of the NYC subway system and got to it. Of course, this is a Monday morning in NYC, so no self-respecting comic store is going to open before 11. So, I stopped into A MAJOR NEW YORK BOOKSTORE THAT PRIDES ITSELF ON MILES AND MILES OF BOOKS, to the better part of a half hour. I managed to leave with two deeply discounted philosophy books and a decent paperback by Lawrence Block, a New York author with many titles to his credit including Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America.

By that time, Forbidden Planet, apparently three blocks down the street, opened.

I left my bag with the attendant and went directly to work. Checked, first, the normal section. Then, I went to the place where, if it was there at all, it'd be there. The sale books. Not there either. I took a chance and found a gent with just enough tattoos to be knowledgeable, and asked about Zen and Violence.

Turns out, the guy who I asked, owned a copy of the volume himself. I remarked to him that looking for the volume itself felt like a search, which, given that I'm looking for the Question, it feels appropriate. (As I said that, I realized the truth of it.) He gave me three suggestions, one, St. Mark's Comics, Roger's Time Machine and the bookstore I already left. From there, I ran, back to THAT SAME MAJOR NEW YORK BOOKSTORE,

(A DIGRESSION REGARDING THAT MAJOR NEW YORK BOOKSTORE: It thinks of itself as the flagship for independent bookstores or whatever, but it somehow can't direct me to any of their paperbacks by Raymond Chandler. So, fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck that place.)

where I tore through their actually sizable comics and graphic novel section and did not find Zen and Violence. But! I found a copy of Greg Rucka's Stumptown on sale for $20. Greg Rucka is the next writer of note to pen the faceless hero's adventure.

And I'd been meaning to buy the comic, but the $30 price put me off of it. It's a sumptuous edition. It's not beautiful. But it's striking, well-designed, with excellent use of color, except for printing the excellent Matt Fraction introduction in black, which makes it hard to read against the deep aqua. It's probably worth the money.

But, as I was running from AFOREMENTIONED MAJOR NEW YORK BOOKSTORE to St. Martin's, the thought percolated, finally, like a finally drinkable batch of coffee: I still haven't found Zen and Violence, but look at what I've found along the way: Another Greg Rucka series involving a PI, two foundational pieces of philosophy and another entry in a blue chip New York mystery author.

I found, in other words, most of the ingredients for the Question. But, I also was made aware of the joy of finding things along the way. The journey itself ought to be enjoyed. The search has value independent of its endpoint.

Roger's Time Machine opened too late for me to able to go there and safely make my flight, so after St. Mark's was a bust, I took the subway back to collect my suitcase. And that makes me sad. That title, though? Relentless Masters? It's a 108 song, but also; Roger's Time Machine is the first place I'll visit the next time I'm in NYC. The search continues.

Not Relentless Masters, interestingly enough. There's things to say about this song, A Far Off Reason, but really, the riff is gorgeous. It's envy, and it's titanic in scope. I think, anyway. As always, play loud. Listen, friends, to that riff.

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