Mike Kostek has migratory bird habits. Every year in September, he leaves his summer home in Florida behind and flies to Europe. The 12,000 vinyls that he keeps in a warehouse await him there, almost all of them first American editions in perfect condition. He loads them into his van and spends several weeks traveling the European roads with them, from fair to fair. This year he has passed through Milan, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona. He calls this ritual that has been a part of his life for more than 30 years “going on tour.” It allows him to stay connected to the rock scene and lead a lifestyle that, he tells us, consists of “spending more than half a year on vacation.”
He welcomes us in the adjoining room of the Estació del Nord a few hours before the opening Barcelona International Record Fair, in which he hopes to raise “about $ 10,000”, more than enough to cover his expenses and those of his team of helpers and not go home with empty pockets. Their stop, dubbed The Velvet Underground Records, is usually the busiest at the fair. There are a couple of (modest) museum pieces in it, like the copy of the original edition of Buffalo Springfield’s first album that he hopes to sell for 350 euros, but what predominates is “good music in the best of possible formats, vinyl, at a fair price ”.
Kostek remembers listening to music “since the summer of 1967, when the Sgt. Pepper’s…, of the Beatles, and Frank Zappa, Ravi Shankar, the Rolling Stones or the Velvet were leading an unprecedented cultural revolution ”. He was 16 years old and lived in southern Massachusetts, at the heart of the East Coast music scene. Velvet became his fetish band: “I was fascinated by their aesthetics, their murky and avant-garde sound, the intelligence of their lyrics.”
In 1973, Kostek and his college roommate founded the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society, an enlightened fan club that grew to more than 5,000 members. In 1989 he collaborated in the production of Life in Exile After Abdication, solo album by Moe Tucker, drummer of the Velvet. Soon after, Kostek began to frequent Europe. In particular, Spain, a country for which he feels a special affinity: “You are kind and generous, you value friendship, you enjoy music, good wine and a good table, you are capable of constructive and civil conversation”. The United States seems to him “a democracy in danger.” What saddens him the most is that among the handful of “false patriots” who stormed Congress last January there were rock fans, maybe even Velvet fans: “Has music taught you nothing?” he wonders. “As I understand it, rock is the culture of ‘us’ versus narcissism of’ me.” Continuing to tour to sell vinyl is, at 69, his personal contribution to ensuring that this splendid legacy is not lost.
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