Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
I have a vivid memory of something that never happened.
It’s 1978, and I’m in a record store in the mall in Greenville, Miss. I’m there with my friend James, who’s two years older than I am.
James knew a lot more about music than I did, as he had an older brother who was kind of a hippie. I, on the other hand, had no older brother, so at 12 years old my musical tastes ran from the song “Convoy,” the novelty hit about truck drivers and CB radios, to the song “The White Knight,” the novelty hit about truck drivers and CB radios.
So James and I are in the record store, and he’s randomly flipping through the albums in the bins and pulling out ones that he recognizes and commenting on them. He’ll pause on Ted Nugent, “This dude is bad,” then on Anne Murray, “My mom likes this,” then on Frank Zappa, “My brother won’t let me listen to this one,” and so on. James was no Casey Kasem, but it was my first glimpse into the world of songs that didn’t include the lyrics “10-4, good buddy.”
“This is The Beatles,” James says, taking the album all the way out of the bin and handing it to me. “These guys are weird.”
I take the album from him and study it more carefully. There are four guys pictured on this album, all dressed in white with pieces of dismembered baby dolls and hunks of meat draped all over them. The guys all have big, beaming smiles. Yep, they’re weird, all right. Clearly not the type of music I’d enjoy – there’s not an 18-wheeler to be found anywhere in this picture. I hand it back to him, and we move on to other stores in the mall.
A trivial moment, to be sure. But one that I remember very clearly. And it’s only made nontrivial by the fact that there’s NO WAY IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED!
Sorry to get so dramatic with the ALL CAPS, but this freaks me out a little. Give me a moment, and I’ll explain. And brace yourself – some serious Beatles geekery is about to take place.
The album I’m describing, with the dolls and such, is commonly known as the “Butcher Cover.” It was the original cover of the Beatles’ 1966 album “Yesterday and Today,” and before it even fully hit the record stores the folks at Capitol Records realized they’d made a horrible mistake. Reviewers and others who got advance copies responded to this bizarre album-cover photo with a unanimous “WTF?” All the copies were quickly recalled. Quickly, as in the same day. Some of them went to landfills. Others were fitted with new covers, the more familiar picture of the band members sitting around a steamer trunk. These new photos were literally glued right smack-dab on top of the old covers.
This all took place when I was about 3 months old.
By 1978, when I was (allegedly) holding a Butcher Cover in my naive little CB-loving hands, it was already an acknowledged collector’s item, with a copy having sold for nearly $1,000.
So how, oh how, could such an item have found its way to my hands, in that obscure place and all those years later? It just couldn’t have.
But it happened. I swear it did! I remember it so well.
Here are three theories as to what happened:
1. It was in fact an actual, original, incredibly rare, valuable, collectible, 12-year-old, factory-sealed Butcher Cover on the shelf of this record store. And this wasn’t some funky hippie collectible-used-record store, either. No. It was in a mall in the Deep, Deep South, as generic as they come. Impossible.
2. It was one of the glued-over covers, and someone had opened the record, peeled off the original cover and then re-shrink-wrapped it and put it on the shelf for sale. No way.
3. It was a memory implanted to cover an alien abduction. This is actually the least crazy of the three theories.
So what does this mean? That memory is nowhere near as dependable as we like to think? That I’ve been aboard a UFO? That I missed a chance to pick up a record that recently sold for almost $40,000 for a mere $5.99? I don’t know. I just don’t know.
All I know is that I have a vivid memory of something that never happened.
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