Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Slurpees and Murder Record Club: A Blessing and a Challenge to You (plus: Everything Remains Terrible)

We here at the Slurpees and Murder Record Club are about to kick it oldschool like you won't even believe. There will be some super-old, super-rare Steinbach sounds spreading from your speakers shortly, so let's get a move on through my usual opening battalion of plugs first:

Uptown Magazine! 'Tis Marvelous!

My most recent column is here, and I will note for infrequent or out-of-province readers that, yes, the referenced cases in the article all actually happened.

You'll note that the judge in that first item mentioned has been temporarily (temporarily) removed from all cases "of a sexual nature", then was also promptly and mysteriously removed from a high-profile case with no sexual nature whatsoever -- amidst the emerging news that he had also made decisions like this before, no less. So despite attempts to drum up compassion for him, it's clear that there isn't a lot of faith in his abilities right now. (Imagine being the victim of the case and reading that the 'real' Justice Dewar is "extremely thoughtful", "very sensitive" and "certainly not chauvinistic". OH, WELL THEN)

Say what you will about Robert Dewar, though, you have to grant him this -- at least he wasn't charged with assault and put on leave for beating his mother. No, that was... an entirely different judge, Justice Brian Corrin, making headlines that same week in what I dare say was not a particularly good week for our provincial judges.

Local public confidence in our justice system, I may suggest, is not really at its peak right now. The normal public attitude on justice is to just assume that it all works itself out somehow, but when stories like these emerge -- or, as they did for a few weird days, combine to dominate the scene -- people like to start throwing around soundbytes about how change has to happen and we need to stand up for the people and... so on and so forth. But where does one even begin reforming a justice system? I know I certainly couldn't tell you. The default Manitoban answer for the longest time was "kill the Youth Criminal Justice Act!", but that would only solve the problem of sentencing for youths -- except for the part where it wouldn't, because our sentencing is still wildly and famously inconsistent across the board in the cases that happen to result in convictions, and because our punishments for repeat offences often seem as lenient for adults as they do for children. So... I don't know. Is there anything more productive available than the province filing complaints with the Canadian Judicial Council, or is this really just what we should look forward to?

fffffff--man, enough about this. Talk long enough about crime and punishment in this province and you risk burning yourself out really quickly, because the discussion has been rounding the same circles for years now and we wouldn't know how to implement meaningful change if we were even sure we wanted to commit to it. EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE, THERE'S YOUR LOCAL NEWS. MOVING ON.

There's one more obligatory plug, of course, before we hit today's interesting audio item. Tomorrow brings a brand new episode of Winnipeg Internet Pundits across your airwaves, live at 5:00 on UMFM 101.5, or through the information superhighway at umfm.com. Have you listened to the latest episode? I, for one, think you totally should; speaking from the benefit of my usual down-to-earth humility, it was super awesome and surely brightened the day of all who listened. So give it a whirl, and tune in tomorrow!

I believe that covers all the preamble I had planned, so without further delay -- I know that this is a text-based medium and you could have just scrolled down here whenever you liked, but humour me here -- without further delay, procured from a Goodwill with pocket change, I present to you the following:

Steinbach Bible Institute - Ambassadors of the Cross (year unknown)
[now the Steinbach Bible College | this can't be bought anywhere and nobody seems to have heard of it, as per usual | no, Google won't help ]

Though this particular work bears no date on it (HOW HARD DOES IT HAVE TO BE TO PUT THE YEAR ON SOMETHING WHEN YOU'RE MAKING IT, COME ON GUYS), we here at the Slurpees and Murder Record Club say this with a certain confidence: this could well be the single oldest thing we'll ever manage to dig up for this feature.

The front cover doesn't leave a whole lot of clues, but there are plenty of threads to follow from the back:

I mean, yeah, first off, it isn't in the best condition. If you squint at the top and right edges, or top and left on the front cover image, you may detect some Scotch tape; two well-placed pieces are all that currently maintain its functionality as an album cover instead of a flapping cardboard sandwich.

You may also note that the front cover identifies itself as "LP 100", but the record itself is marked "LP No. 101". Given the two tracklists we can see on the back, 100 and 101 may have been issued as an otherwise identically-packaged set; it certainly seems that somebody, way back when, must have owned both and then absentmindedly got the covers switched. What this ultimately means is that I was expecting the German-language album and got the English-language one, and... I'm really not sure whether I won or lost that exchange, so I'll call it a push. But it is interesting, if not necessarily surprising, that the Steinbach Mennonite origins of the album meant that the German-language record not only got the first pressing of the two but also got higher billing even on the English-language cover.

Speaking of said cover, the ad copy on the back has its own certain charm, particularly this excerpt:

"The choral choir sends forth this record prayerfully, trusting that it will prove to be a blessing and a challenge to you."

The obvious follow-up line would be "OH, IT'S A CHALLENGE, ALL RIGHT", but I'll own up to being a bit more Vaudevillian than most people. (And, in the spirit of learning something new every day, I'll confess that I had no idea "prayerfully" was even a word. Huh! Go know.) Redundancy of "choral choir" aside, I still think the wording is neat; you don't really see a product presented positively as "a challenge" any more unless it's marketing code for "most people will hate this", so the usage suggests a certain age to the item.

As for the "Steinbach Bible Institute" itself, well -- it seems the name originated in 1953 when the then-Steinbach Bible Academy reincorporated high school classes into its mandate, having dropped them when it stopped being the Steinbach Bible School. The Steinbach Bible Institute name lasted until 1988, when the Institute separated itself into Campus and Collegiate divisions -- the modern-day Steinbach Bible College and Steinbach Christian High School, which both still share the same campus.

Did you get all that down? It might be on the test later. (And if I have any of that wrong, somebody please feel free to correct me; I am more than willing to yield to the expertise of those who are no doubt better studied in Steinbach history than I am.) The important bit to take away from all that, anyway, is that the "Steinbach Bible Institute" title lasted from 1953 to 1988 -- so that narrows the potential date of this record down to a thirty-five year window. (I'll grant that this starts to stretch the definition of "narrow", but hey, gotta start somewhere.) But I have a reasonably good hunch that this item came from the earliest years of that range -- because the other clue that we're dealing with a significantly older record?

It's only ten inches across.


You have to understand, readers dear, that for most people of my generation these things are essentially urban legend -- occasionally spoken of in passing, but never actually seen. Oh, it's vinyl, is it? A 33 1/3 LP? Except tiny? Ha! No, gw'an, get out of here. Pull the other one, why don't you.

Save for a few examples of novelty use (marketed as "mini-LPs", which is admittedly sort of adorable) in the late '70s and early '80s, the ten-inch LP as a format was pretty well abandoned by the end of the 1950s once (what we understand now as) the standard-size twelve-inch LP established itself as the runaway market leader. So even if we extend the common use of these li'l guys (quite generously) to 1960, that narrows the release window for this item down to seven years -- somewhere between 1953 and 1960 -- and also indicates, no matter where we place it in that timespan, that this recording is at least fifty years old.

So! Let's talk a bit about the music you have before you now.

If you've downloaded and opened the file, you may have already noted that two of the tracks have conspicuous "(Edit)" tags in their filenames. As I'd mentioned, you see, this record is most likely over half a century old -- and you can tell from the cover alone that whoever owned it last hadn't really dedicated their time to keeping it in mint condition for future generations. This record's got more scratches on it then the furniture in a 29-cat house, so I was frankly kind of surprised it actually still plays as well as it does.

The only two songs that didn't still play in their entirety were the first track of side one -- "Comrades of the Cross", which skipped around relentlessly in verse two -- and the second track of side two, "From Every Stormy Wind", which played perfectly fine except for one freaky warbling nightmare slowdown patch in its second verse. So I debated the matter inwardly a bit, weighing my site preferences on historical preservation versus user listenability, and finally decided that the optimal course of action was to edit out the offending verses and salvage everything else that was intact.

Fortunately for me, this wouldn't turn out to be particularly onerous editing work; identifying and truncating the problem sections is way easier with religious hymns than with most song styles, since the beginnings and ends of the verses in these songs aren't... terribly difficult to pick out digitally.

I will also admit to noisegating out the relentless hisses and pops of these recordings; again, perhaps a trespass on history in the name of accessibility, but historical value only goes so far if nobody's willing to hurt their ears listening to it. (You're welcome to email me about the raw transfers if you really want to hear them, but... you don't really want to hear them.)

My caveat with that is that the first track, "Comrades of the Cross", was far and away the most scarred-up section of the physical record -- so the rescue efforts only went so far on that one, and consequently the first track is also the hardest to listen to. (Man, I hate it when that happens. This was also the case with the Louis Riel album, albeit for content rather than transfer reasons.) So I would caution against listening to that first track with headphones, but I assure you that the rest of them should prove satisfactory enough.

So give 'em all a listen! I like some of the tracks better than others, but I'll let you decide for yourselves which ones you like best; I think you'll find that the album makes good headphone music for winter scenery or for long trips, and at the very least I dare say that this may be the best fifty-year-old Steinbach Mennonite student choir album you'll hear all week.

See you next time, Club members!


Fat Arse said...

James, entertaining post - well done.

My new favorite clause in a sentence is: "Redundancy of "choral choir" aside..." - AWESOMELY funny! Thanks so much. Still laughing as I head off to bed... giggling to myself... no doubt my wife will shortly be accusing me of "smoking" something; but I will tell her the simple truth ----> "NO it's "Slurpees & Murders" fault"; at which juncture [her having NO clue who you are] she will immediately presume the worst! :(

Also a James! said...

Nice to see others enjoying obscure/bizarre vinyl! I encourage all Slurpees and Murder readers to visit The Cavern Club (Toad in the Hole downstairs) on Monday nights for The Vinyl Drip. We have thousands of vinyl records to play & lots of rare gems!
Keep up the good work James!
The Hardest Working Man @ The Cavern Club in Winnipeg,
James Brown