I finally got a chance to go down there today, the last day of the exhibit at the Recess Gallery in SoHo, and I’m glad I did. Imagine (!) walking into a record store where every album is the White Album. For those who know their Beatles’ history, it was Paul McCartney’s idea to present their double album as an art piece. Designer Richard Hamilton carried out Paul’s idea. The original cover was all white with the name of band in tiny white raised letters that blended into the background.
The key was that each of those first 3 million albums issued had a stamped number, like a limited edition lithograph if you will.
And so Paul’s idea has now come full circle thanks to Rutherford Chang who had the idea of creating this “store.” He’s collected more than 700 of those first albums. All of them have the stamped number but what makes each one unique is what the owner did to the album over the years. Many people doodled on the covers, put magic marker over The Beatles name so it would stand out, or simply added their own names so it wouldn’t get lost in another’s record collection. Even when people did nothing to the album, a generation’s wear and tear is apparent. Some are water-damaged, many more are just torn and old.
The “store” smells heavily of old cardboard and mildew. Some have the original liner notes, some don’t.
Chang was there when I went and was happy to interact and answer questions from “customers.” The albums were not for sale but Chang was buying. He said he’d paid anywhere from zero to $20 tops and that many were donated.
The installation has been there since January 7th and Chang has been playing nothing but the White Album all that time and digitally recording every one. His plan, once he’s listened to every piece in his collection, is “to press a new double-LP made of the accumulated recordings and images layered upon each other.” Every scratch is being recorded.
Some of the albums were mounted on the walls as works of art and the others were in old-fashioned record bins that the public could look through. It may sound a little odd but it was great fun and of course, everyone had a story about their album. As I told Chang, I had shop-lifted mine from the Macy’s store in the Parkchester section of The Bronx. I cannot tell you how often I read those lyrics as I listened and I can still do a pretty good rendition of Rocky Raccoon. But please don’t ask.