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Social Studies


Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 7/11/2007

About 15 years ago, I used to work at a record store. It was a locally owned independent, and all of my fellow clerks were true music aficionados with so much passion and knowledge that sometimes we would spend more time talking about our love of music than actually selling records and CDs. While I was working there, Miles Davis' The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965 box set came out. Now, for hard-core Miles Davis fans, this thing was the Holy Grail. The Plugged Nickel sessions were a legendary performance by the trumpeter's then-new mid-'60s band playing old Davis standards, but more importantly, it was a performance that for 30 years was damn near impossible to find recordings of.

As we popped open a promo early one morning, my manager--one of the aforementioned Miles Davis acolytes--regaled me with outlandish stories of his decades' worth of experience with Japanese bootlegs, late-night exchanges of reel-to-reel tapes, and double crosses by various seedy characters, all in search of the crisp, crystal-clear, remastered material we listened to over coffee and bagels. And as the morning went on, he had this radiant look of bliss of his face that remained throughout the afternoon as we listened to all seven glorious CDs. But when the box set was over, I don't know, it was like a light switched off, because he realized that this was it.

All the searching and digging and hunting was over, but that meant all the searching and digging and hunting was over, and I think it hit him at that moment that the quest was just as important as the object. At the time I didn't understand what he was melancholy about: He wanted something and now he had it. But this was years before the internet would similarly diminish all such quests. Now, of course, I think we all understand.

I've been thinking about that box set all week, because I've been having a similar bittersweet experience with the newly released Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus: Volume One. Before going any further, a quick and hopefully relatively painless nerd infodump: During the '60, along with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby was the creative mind that reinvented and rewrote superhero comic books. He was directly responsible for a modern mythology that has gone on to transcend comicdom, including characters such as the Hulk, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. But during the '70s, Kirby started doing weird stuff: Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man, The Eternals, 2001: A Space Odyssey--it was psychedelic, trippy, scary reading. And the crown jewel of '70s Kirby is the Fourth World material.

Using four interlocked comic series, Kirby created a bombastic world filled with genetic manipulation, hippy communes in the sky inhabited by geniuses, Manichean cosmology of Good and Evil, and clones of 1940s-era kid adventurers. Plus it was batshit insane. So, of course, I love it, and through the years I've leisurely attempted to complete my collection with an issue of Mister Miracle here and a copy of The Forever People there. But now, with the first omnibus, I just don't feel the need the dig through garage sales or comic shops for the original issues anymore.

Obviously, my experience with the Fourth World collection isn't unique. Remember the heady days when eBay first appeared? It was like we all had something we were looking for and, all of a sudden, there it was! Hell, part of the reason I've been leisurely filling in my Fourth World stuff was because I got everything I was straight fiending for years ago, and I purposefully didn't buy some things so that I could enjoy the hunt. Even that delayed gratification was artificial, though. The only reason I went ahead and got the omnibus is because it was too beautiful to resist.

Since we now have access to everything, I don't think we really want anything. For instance, I've always wanted a copy of the out-of-print Criterion Collection DVD of John Woo's The Killer, but I haven't physically looked for one in years because I know they're always floating around online. But, since I know they're always floating around online, I don't feel the pressure to go ahead and get it. And the cycle continues. In retrospect, I kind of envy my old manager's hunt for Miles Davis' Plugged Nickel sessions. Because, as good as the band sounds on the box set, the stories around it sounded much better.

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