Fordeus in the Underworld
Tim Ford, Digging Up Diamonds In Brantford.
Tim Ford, January 14, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioDon Shirley, Orpheus To The Underworld, cover. Staff Photo.
I would rather focus my indulgence into a thousand little dirty objects, then one expensive shiny thing. I would rather take the day walking through the ancient plains of Burford and discover a rusty old axe head with my metal detector, than go to the store and buy a new one. I have compounded these traditions of treasure hunting with my gluttony for music.
Over the years I have committed most of my paycheque, lower back, square footage and passion to gathering as many records as I can. These currently reside in my very patient, numbingly cool wife and I’s, basement. At every chance, I buzz the thrift stores, flea markets, creepy crawl spaces and abandoned houses for any piece of music scarred onto vinyl.
To all those who collect anything, you know it's not what you have on your shelf, its what you don’t have on your shelf, so I continue to hunt. I have a story for every find in my collection. Almost all these stories have little significance or power to entertain anyone but me. However, in 1996 I found a record that would kickstart my future career and give me the greatest crate digging story of all time.
It was at the Pink Elephant flea market in Cainsville, just outside of Brantford proper, and it was my 15th birthday. That day the tradition began, of me going vinyl hunting to celebrate surviving another spin around the record, so to speak. Since that day I have gone every single year on my birthday. The significance of this date is not just in the genesis of a beloved tradition but in what I found that March morning. An album I bought strictly on its cover, a classic rule I naively ignored. It was by a composer named Don Shirley spookily titled ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’. The cover had this very strange painting of demons around a fire, naked and unabashed, almost jovial, like they were telling tales around camp, trying to frighten the frightening. It's startling in its magnetism.
"To all those who collect anything, you know it's not what you have on your shelf, its what you don’t have on your shelf, so I continue to hunt. I have a story for every find in my collection."
I later found out that ShirIey wrote this album as improvisations based on a French play and painted the artwork himself from a dream he had. I swallowed the $6 price tag, a bit disheartened it wasn’t a dollar like the other records in my pile. When I got home, I set aside the Santo & Johnny and the two Stan Rogers records I also grabbed and quickly jabbed the record needle into Orpheus, which I shit you not, was at this point illuminating. What came out was an oddly seasoned stew of jazz and classical music played by what I could only assume were goblins.
Truthfully between us, it’s a bit of a rough listen and only when I feel like dipping my finger in the strange and unusual, do I dare release its spell from my speakers. Yet, it’s somehow always playing in the back of my mind. I wouldn’t know for decades later, but it would be one of the rarest and most valuable finds I would ever pick, its uniqueness due to the fact that the public were so disgusted and appalled by Shirley’s painting. His record company, Cadence, swiftly pulled the product in 1958 and replaced it with a more conventional sleeve, so only a few of the “demon covers” survived. It's something I think about often, how such a rare pressing ended up in Brantford 40 years after it was supposed to be destroyed for its ugliness, and how that ugliness is what attracted me to it. What a journey it must have had.
"it’s somehow always playing in the back of my mind. I wouldn’t know for decades later, but it would be one of the rarest and most valuable finds I would ever pick, its uniqueness due to the fact that the public were so disgusted and appalled by Shirley’s painting."
From its condition it seems, whoever previously owned it had delicate fingers and appreciated a dehumidified room. I think of what kind of travelling cases and baggage it was stuffed in while travelling to our town. Did it travel by train? Maybe it’s only changed hands once, from its original keeper to me, but I kept it close for another reason. Attached to that record is the feeling I first had in finding a dirty little thing, wiping it off and falling in love with it.
It was that day on my 15th birthday I became consumed by collecting. Hunting. Searching. It’s something I have based my profession on, as my love of collecting records got me a part time job at a record store, which led to a buying position at their head office, which led me to become the vice president of that company, a journey I am incredibly proud of. But…being on the business side of something I loved so much became despairing for me, and on my 40th birthday, exactly 25 years after I found that mysterious record, I stood up from my desk, walked out of my office and never went back.
As I drove out of my parking spot, seemingly lost, I decided to hold true to my birthday tradition and I went record digging. I guess I had the time now. The Pink Elephant in Cainsville has long been put down (although its carcass still lays at the end of Colborne St.) so I hit my other usual haunts in Brantford. At the end of the day, when I would usually be looking over the daily sales figures, I went to one last stop. The realization of what I’d just done was congealing in my knees and I began to walk like I was in crashing waves. My hands became cold and every hair on my body stretched out as if to flee. I began to circle. Mom’s spaghetti.
Did I just walk away from my executive position and sexy business cards for some existential, self-righteous dilemma with no plan? No PLAN? Was I too rash? You big baby.
Maybe I’ll pull a Constanza and just show up the next day and finger gun everyone as I awkwardly walk to my office, close the door and hope they chalk it up to one of my “outbursts”. To procrastinate those feelings just a little longer I went through records. Got it. Got it. Scratched. Got it. U2? No thank you. Need it. Got it. Then a light shone bright like a diamond up from the bin. I tell you now my eyes told my brain not to believe the information they were sending it. Orpheus in the Underworld. Just laying there between Nana Mouskouri and Burton fucking Cummings. Original cover. Mint condition. $6.
Tim Ford with his diamonds. Staff Photo.
In this new world a man is not afraid to cry, and this man cried. In front of 4 people. Who stared. Believe in what you want, I believe in coincidence as well, but finding the same record that shouldn’t exist, exactly 25 years apart, in our same little town, bookending the beginning and end of my career is a bit of a mint-fudgery. At a point where I needed any sign from above or beyond, natural or supernatural, this mysterious record appeared to me yet again.
I promptly and gratefully paid the $6, drove home, set aside the Jan & Dean and two Stompin’ Tom records I also grabbed and jabbed the needle into Orpheus, as I did a quarter of a century before, to the day. Every time it spins it reveals a different story around the campfire. Each tale reminding me to keep collecting. Keep hunting. Keep searching. So, I do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Ford is freelance hobbyist who lives in his twelfth home in Brantford, Ontario…so…yeah, he knows a thing or two about aluminum siding.