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Faded pop stars at the last-dance saloon

A few years ago a friend of mine was hitch-hiking near Stellenbosch and got a lift with Heinz “Idol” Winckler. She said that he was listening to his own album in the car. Someone actually bought the album then, in other words.

I ran into a copy the other day at a second-hand record shop. I felt a mixture of guilt and sadness as I picked the CD up for a closer look. Somewhere, someone had obviously decided to part with this album. Who would do such a thing? How many times had they listened to it? When was the last time the album was played and at what point did a moment of clarity arrive, when the listener finally went, “Enough is enough!” and pressed the stop button and carted the poor thing off to this second-hand record shop, never to be listened to again? How much did they get for it?

Probably less than the cost of the price of petrol to get there, judging by the for-sale price.

I sometimes get a peculiar thrill at scanning the stock at second-hand record shops to see what’s happened to yesterday’s thrills.

These shops beat to a different drum than your average franchise or download outlet. It’s largely frequented by people who actually take pride in record-collecting and have a good taste in music. Which is what makes running into these Winckler-type albums — ones that surely no serious record collector would ever want — all the more jarring. Distressing, even.

Thrown away by their fickle fans, in these shops the artists now face an uncertain future in their journey to a new home, sometimes in stale sale bins that have an orphanage feel about them and where the albums cost less than washing pegs.

You come back weeks later and there they still are, former chart-toppers like Rick Astley slowly fading away on a life-support system, gathering dust without the security of a marketing campaign, delegated to ashes.

On a good day, it’s a bit like going to a Madame Tussauds of rejects: faces without a home, songs without an audience. It’s the last-dance saloon, the place where all the songs end up that no one wants to hear again. Ever.

In some cases, no one even heard the songs in their first incarnation, but the same grinding fate awaits, an album’s shelf life brutally extended.

But now, instead of the main act, it’s a few coins more for the begging circus dwarf.

A prime example of this awkward phenomenon is an album I see around all too often in the orphanage bins. It’s probably never been listened to in its entirety by anyone living on this planet — Andrew Ridgeley’s Son of Albert.

Son of what? Well, it was an ill-fated solo album by the bloke who used to mime along to the lyrics with George Michael in Wham!, smiling and jumping around with his guitar. He had a nice peroxided fringe and was a hit with the ladies. But his debut album wasn’t much of a hit with record buyers. The bad reviews piled in fast and the singer soon sought refuge in his life as a semi-glamour racing-car driver.

But his album has endured, mercilessly so.

Albert. It’s one of pop music’s unsolved mysteries. Who the hell is Albert? And would you want to live next door to his son?

The other day, strange sentiments almost got the better of me and I came perilously close to buying a David Hasselhoff Christmas album. Apparently it was a top-10 hit in Germany. That in itself almost became a twisted excuse for buying the album. Do a search on Amazon.com and you tap into a sub-culture of Hasselhoff heads who say things like: “This CD is one of the greatest music albums I have ever heard.” He’s some sort of an icon to them. They like his hair.

But then you run into albums like The Bold and the Beautiful Duets, featuring Macy and Thorne from the TV series, and things really start getting weird. You start looking over your shoulder and wondering: Could Ronn “Ridge Forrester” Moss’s debut album be somewhere in this shop? You start getting tiny shivers as you think that, yes, it actually could be, man …

Then strange bachelor notions hit you, like building an entire evening around listening to his I’m Your Man album — one where he looks like a cross between Michael Jackson and Sylvester Stallone on the cover — and you get carried away in the sad recesses of your mind. You see the evening progressing well as you recklessly open a long-kept bottle of red wine, light candles and burn the pasta sauce on your journey toward Ronny’s sex album and yes, finally, after a long and decently fuelled vintage wine build-up, you actually put the record on in a haze and hear Ronn Moss come to life in the living room on your optimum stereo-positioned speakers and …

No, hell. Stop. There are some places man was never meant to go.

Yes, let’s move on, get a grip on things, see who else is in the shop …

Ah, here’s one by Britney before she became Whitney. And who do we have here? It’s Michael “Hairdryer” Bolton. “How am I supposed to liiiive without you?” The previous owner obviously felt she could.

But wait, this might be the crème de la crème …

It’s an album recorded in English by Steve Hofmeyr. That’s not something you see every day. It’s made its way here, a new resting place, quietly ending up at the last-dance saloon.

But how could it not? Surely it had to arrive eventually. It’s called Desert Bound and has a very rugged and moody-looking Steve contemplating a permanent move to the desert on the front cover.

Someone should have convinced him that it wasn’t such a bad idea, while we still had a chance …