Last Collector Standing: Jaime Lees on Cyndi Lauper, Music Blogs and the Rarest Vinyl LP She Covets

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The number of chain record stores nationwide has dwindled. However, St. Louis has become an unlikely safe haven for indie record shops as well as for DJs who prefer to spin the black circle instead of scrolling their iPods. In this weekly column, we'll focus on personal portraits of St. Louis' record aficionados and the rooms where they store their treasures. Meet the last collectors standing. (Know a collector who deserves the spotlight? E-mail us. Miss any previous ones? Read 'em all here!)

COURTESY OF JAIME LEES
  • courtesy of Jaime Lees

Visual artist, music blogger and former RFT freelancer Jaime Lees (a.k.a. Jaime Sleaze) is a lifelong music fan. In fact, she's been listening to Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual on vinyl since she was two years old. We caught up with Jaime at the Bleeding Deacon, detouring from her home because of a sick poodle. There we discussed her retail record display rack, the practice of hugging her records and her ongoing love for Cyndi Lauper.

Last Collector Standing: Since your blog alias is Jaime Sleaze, what do you think is the sleaziest record you own? Jaime Lees: Probably something by the Cramps. That's proper sleaze, right? (Laughs) My friend has this thing where she always says, "Take it Sleazy." I love that. I wish it was mine.

How did you first get into music? My dad. Apparently, my first word was radio. My first musical memories were driving around in the car with him and listening to the Beach Boys. [He would] explain songs to me and history I wouldn't understand. Songs that kids don't get, like "American Pie," that had a story. That was daddy-daughter time; always [listening to] the Beach Boys.

My dad would buy me Wilson Phillips, because that was [one of] the Beach Boy's daughter and I'm his daughter. Mostly I would just play his records. The first time I remember buying [music] was Violent Femmes' self-titled [album]. That's the first CD I remember going to get. I had to plan a trip to get there. Then I had to sing a song to the guy at the record store for him to know which song I was talking about.

I always had vinyl around. My first real record I had when I was a kid, I have no idea how I got it because I was two, was Cyndi Lauper She's So Unusual. That's my favorite record still. I would play it on my Fisher Price record player. It broke after a while and was playing too fast. I figured out that if I put my finger under the record on the wheel I could slow it down to the right speed. So I would have to sit there with my finger on it, which is awkward because Cyndi Lauper is fast and high anyway.

Do you have a favorite record in your collection now? (Short pause) It's gotta be the Cyndi. I've been listening to her since I was two. I still listen to the whole album at least once a month. That's my record.

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That's dedication! I have a decent amount [of local bands]. The new Sex Robots album came out on vinyl. I love it. Bunnygrunt. The Humanoids. I like that local bands are [releasing vinyl]. It's not like they have a lot of money, but they figure out a way to do it. I get really happy when I see it around. I'm like, "Yeah, it's my big Humanoids record. I love you!" I spend a lot of time hugging them.

As a music blogger, how do you think music blogs have affected music journalism? I'm sort of punk rock in thinking about things like that. I don't think that it's important that things are always good but that you do them. I read a lot of music blogs that are crappy and I like them because they're crappy. I like that everyone can say something without having to find a publisher.

Do you think independent music blogs have helped create a renewed interest in vinyl? Definitely. I love what's happening with vinyl. For me, I'd rather buy the vinyl. I've tried to avoid being a vinyl collector my whole life, but it's catching up to me. I buy a little bit here and there. I got a really awesome record rack about a year and a half ago. Now I have a place to put my new records. I really like the vinyl records that you can buy with a digital download. That's optimal. I just don't care about CDs. They just sit there.

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I like how blogs encourage all of that. When they post a picture they post a big album picture on the website, and you go and get it. Here's the whole thing. This is what it looks like. When you open up the gate this is what it looks like on the inside. The people who post videos of opening up a box set, I always go and watch those. They seem to be more encouraging of records lately, which I think is great.

What's an album you've heard about from a blog that has excited you and you might not have heard about otherwise? I like when a blog gets an advanced [copy], and I can read about it before I can hear it. A lot of people don't like that. They think it taints their listening, but it just gets me hyped. I read a lot about the Felice Brothers album before it came out.

There are some things that I don't want to read about before they comic out because I want to experience them for myself. I don't want to know what anyone says about any Radiohead album before I've heard it or shortly after I've heard it. [I don't want to hear about] stuff that is a big deal.

So you would want to know less about bigger bands that are already going to get airplay than little bands that you might not already know? Exactly. Even though it's on the internet, you still have to seek out the stuff about the little bands that you love. Whenever LCD Soundsystem has a new album out, I'm very interested in seeing what other people have to say about it. I love them, but there is always one song on their albums that I think is the worst thing ever and want to take off. I like to go see if anyone else said the same thing. "Did anyone else say 'Pow Pow' really sucked, because it gets on my nerves!" (Laughs)

Where did you find your record rack that you display your records on? I was hitting up Value Village, like I have since I was a tot, avoiding the record section. You don't have to be a freaky record collector to collect records. You don't have to have a wall. I was walking through the furniture and at first I didn't know what it was, because that's a record store set up. Is it a record rack, or is it a magazine rack? It was only twenty bucks. I got it home and dropped a record in and it fit perfect. I was like, "Oh no, I love this thing so much, and now I have a place to put all my stupid records. I'm going to buy a million of them because now they have a home!" Having them all there on display helps a lot with my art, because I'll get inspired and want to paint them.

As an artist, do you have a favorite album cover? The Cyndi Lauper album. The back of the album, I'm obsessed with that picture. It has Starry Night on her shoes at Coney Island. It's an Annie Leibovitz picture. I like a lot of the old classic rock albums where you just know that picture, like Patti Smith's Horses. That's what I base a lot of my paintings off of. I like to stick to the pictures that people know, like the picture of Johnny Cash giving the finger.

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What would be a classic now? I don't know. Back in the day, you just had the one amazing record cover that you had to stare at. It was big and you would hold it. You couldn't look at a million pictures of David Bowie on the Internet back then - whereas now, you can look at every picture of David Bowie ever, and I do (Laughs). You had the one thing to go on that set the mood and feeling. If they changed their image, you'd see that in the next album.

If you could use your blog to tell a kid who's never listened to a vinyl record before to pick one up, which would it be? It would have to be one of my favorite albums as a whole. The Velvet Underground's self-titled, with the black and white picture. It's all moody and you're like, "What are they doing? Are they on drugs? Are they rock stars? Are they hippies?" That's one of the records I gave my little sister when she was growing up.

As far as gorgeous album art, there is only one album I look for when I am in a record store. I want The Cardigans' Gran Turismo. I love, love that album. The picture on it is so gorgeous. I've seen it on eBay, and it goes for like three-hundred dollars. I'll never pay three-hundred dollars, but my friends that work at record stores know that if it ever comes in, I want to buy it. I would be okay with giving Vintage Vinyl three-hundred dollars, but I don't want to give it to some jerk on eBay. It want it so bad. It makes me swoon. I want to give a copy to everyone! (Laughs)

Not only is it the music that you want, but you actually want the physical copy. Could you get as excited about an MP3 where it makes you swoon and you want to give a copy to everyone? Rarely. [Vinyl] hits all your senses in the right way. The smell. The "pretty" factor. There are a few MP3s that I've thought were fabulous, and I'll e-mail to people. You'll get one e-mailed back. That's rad, but can you smell it? (Laughs) There is definitely something more special.

For more on Jaime Sleaze check out her blog at www.Jaimeville.com and her visual art at www.projecttwinkle.com.

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