Monday, August 3, 2009

Alberti Records (2001) pt. 1

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG 3 - This is the first half of an article that ran in Punk Planet 47. I worked this job in the weeks after 9/11, driving a large truck at dawn and spending my days in a haze of exhaustion and existential willies. It was good, honest labor in a time of mass insanity, and I'm sad the job didn't last longer.


Alberti Records of California has closed its doors after 55 years as a vinyl manufacturer. Although I've covered four states since first dealing with Alberti in 1993, fate had me living a mere half hour down the freeway by the time they'd called it quits. The final announcement was made by mail. Being the closest label-owner made me the first to receive the letter, and the bearer of bad news to other anxious label-owners. We had been given exactly one week to clear out.
After next week there will be no here at all [sic?], the doors will be locked and the keys to the company will be turned over to our lawyer, read the impenetrably bleak announcement. After that point anything remaining here will be sent to the dump. "No here"? The dump?? That sounded hopeless indeed. A lot of record labels started emailing me. I suddenly found myself popular.

When I and Andy and Andy's van arrived at their plant in Monterey Park on the 18th, I was armed with a mandate to retrieve all parts for nearly every Vermiform, Kill Rock Stars, 5RC, Punk In My Vitamins and Paralogy record pressed in the nineties, over 180 titles. I also packed; a clipboard, detailed notes on every release by name and catalog number, magic markers, liability waivers (removing our right to sue in case of injury on their now-uninsured premises), a bottle of Bushmills whiskey, a red Christmas bow and two pairs of wollen winter gloves unearthed from the pre-California section of my closet. Ebullition Records owner Kent McClard greeted me at the door with a hearty handshake. The last time I'd seen him was 8 years ago, and I'd placed my first call to Alberti from his living room.

The whisky & xmas bow were for plant manager Frank Scalla. My 8-year phone relationship with Frank had left me anxious over meeting the man in person. Mordam employees had described him as "an old hippie". I'd pictured him more like the late actor Jack Nance in his "Blue Velvet" role, gruff beyond gruff. It was a little jarring to see the place in person. For all the rumor surrounding Alberti, I don't know a single label owner who's ever set foot in the place. Kent admitted this was his first time at the plant (while on tour three years ago, I'd made arrangements to "swing by".... I'd heard later that my last minute no-show had actually been considered as rude an offense as the $500 bill I'd temporarily stiffed them for). Frank appeared. His Wilfred Brimleyish mustache surpassed all expectations. Following him was Bill Alberti, the middle-aged and mannerly grandson of the company's founder. We made our introductions and ceremoniously signed the waivers. "Any injuries around here?" one of us asked in half-mock nervousness. "Welllll.... let's see," Frank said, stroking that incredible mustache. It was like seeing a famous radio DJ in the flesh. "One guy got three fingers crushed in a press a while back. That's about 2,000 pounds per square inch."

Kent directed us into the snarled interior of the assembly room. It was a little hard to get a visual grasp on the place - stuff, stuff and more stuff sprawled in all directions, crammed into loose boxes, shoved under tables, piled around trash cans. Andy & I were directed to six tidy, narrow aisles along the east wall. "Here's your stuff," said Kent, pointing. On a certain shelf I found a neat stack of all my mothers - the solid nickel master record that the more brittle and short-lived pressing plates are born of. Almost every release I'd ever pressed was here. One aisle over we were shown the endless stacks of paper labels and pressing plates. "Isn't it kind of disturbing seeing everything at once?" asked Kent, laughing. It was. All my triumphs and all my mistakes were neatly arranged and covered in a fine layer of dust. The entire space resembled a monastic library, faithfully maintained over the eons by dedicated monks. Except for the overhead hum of fluorescent lights, the room was silent. The winter gloves had been a false alarm... we'd expected loose stacks of razor edged mothers and had instead found each sealed cleanly in its own manila envelope. Flipping through these manilas released small eddies of fetid crypt air. I felt like the world's luckiest archeologist. The relevance of particular artifacts made it a little hard to concentrate. Here and there were the very plates that had pressed some of the most significant albums of my formative years, long before compact disks were a twinkle in anyone's eye. Andy threatened to stab me with the (presumably) sharp edges of the Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables mothers. I menaced him with Flipper's "Gone Fishin'". Long Gone John of Sympathy For the Record Industry emerged from a further aisle. "I've got over five hundred titles here", he said morosely, to no one in particular.

Behind the assembly room we found an equally spacious loading dock. Here were hundreds upon of hundreds of boxes, frozen in bankruptcy - some loaded on pallets, some buried, some loose. A bound tower of Lookout Records cartons teetered off an eye-level ledge at a crazy 45 degree angle, like part of a lame Universal Studios theme park ride. The clutter extended across the breadth of the room and continued into a second story loft, receding into darkness. Andy pointed to a series of aisles underneath the loft, also dark. Bill told us this was "mostly old stuff".

We flipped the lights and gingerly started down the corridors of this auxiliary lost library. Faded boxes of labels hinted at the company's history; "Wild West Recordings of Rialto, CA", "Kick Khadafy's Butt", the "Erotic sounds of Love" series, the "Black Political Power" series. My excitement at certain Rollins Band labels paled next to Andy's near swoon at the sight of certain Nuclear Crayons labels. The timer light for this section kept shutting off, leaving us a few private moments to contemplate our immediate find as the other fumbled back to reset the switch.

On the 19th we brought a truck. And my mandate was widened - Jade Tree, Troubleman, early Slap A Ham, a stray Mr. Lady mother. I made arrangements for more people, feeling like the begrudging spy from Our Man In Havana - slowly hiring on sub-agents to help with the dirty work. We spent the morning loading pallets. Alberti had always kept strict east coast business hours, 6AM to 2PM. I'd been told this was because Monetery Park is "a hellhole". Standing by their loading dock in the cool dawn air, surveying the hills and swaying cypresses behind the plant, I wondered why. By eleven I understood. Outside the sun was merciless, the perhaps 40 feet of loading area a scorched airport tarmac. Inside, the oxygen was flat and wrong. Bill Alberti good-naturedly chuckled at my pampered discomfort. "This is like heaven to us. When those presses start up, it gets to 110 degrees in here."

[Continued tomorrow....]