JT In the Cut-Out Bin
By David "SuperD" Friedli

In the music retail business, they call them "cutouts". They are albums, compact discs (CD) and tapes which for one reason or another the manufacturer has decided to get rid of.

Perhaps the artist has changed recording labels and the former company doesn't want to stock the inventory any more. Perhaps the album was, in musical terms, "a dog". Perhaps the musicians had hopes for greatness which never materialized. Perhaps these were made for promotional purposes which never were used.

Cut-outs are the unwanted merchandise of the music industry. Rather than recycling plastic into the latest musical fad (the trends of music seem to have about the same shelf-life as a gallon of skim milk these days), music companies nick a corner of the album or CD case (the "cutout") and sell them for a fraction of their retail price. Cut-outs can be a good value in music, like finding a true antique in the middle of a table of junk at a garage sale.

My favorite music store carries a variety of cut-outs. They are mixed in with used recordings the store will take on trade for new music. A new CD costs an average of $15. Trading in an old CD, in good condition, unscratched and with some market appeal, will get you $3 off the price of the latest Billboard hit. The store turns a profit by selling the used CD for $7-8.

So the used and the cut-outs are placed together, in a back corner of the music store unlike the megamalls and yuppie shops. The signs here are handmade. You will find no laser UPC scanners, only bright orange price stickers on every item.

And there he was, in the cut-out bin, with the unwanted, unsold and used. There he was, my favorite artist, stuck between dozens of bands whose names I had never heard of.

James Taylor was in the cutout bin. Well, technically, not him--but one of his albums, "New Moon Shine." Taylor stared at me from an arm's length away, arms crossed on the cover as if to say, "Well, get me out of here, will you?"

"What are you doing in there?" I cried out, startling at least two other customers and bringing looks of wonder and disbelief to everyone in the store, much like the old "When E.F. Hutton talks..." commercial. "Sorry," I muttered, looking down again in disbelief.

My favorite artist does not belong in the cutout bin. Obviously, this was a used CD, and that made my sorrow even worse. Who could do such a thing as trade in a James Taylor CD? Admittedly, there are recordings which are less desirable than others, but 'New Moon Shine' is one of Taylor's better efforts.

The dilemma began. Do I buy it? Do I rescue my friend? (Heck, I am a stranger to him. I just love his music.) Can I bear to let him live for even a day among these, the unwanted souls? It would be wasteful to buy another copy of an album I own. I will buy it and give it to a friend. I will encourage others to buy it.

"Wow," I said to a customer who is standing nearby. "Great deal on this Taylor album...'New Moon Shine' for $6.99." I look for a reaction. A blank stare and a fist full of acid rock CD's in the left hand of someone half my age gives me no encouragement.

I try again five minutes later to a new prospect, a baby boomer like myself. "Got it at home. Nice album. Like his 'Sweet Baby James' album better," the boomer says nonchalantly.

My time is growing short. I have an appointment I must keep. I pull the CD from its place and for a moment I am going to adopt this album, creating twins on my music shelf, or find it a foster home.

But I can't. Instead, I move it to the front of the "T" cutout bin. There, James can at least breathe, and watch the world go by. I will leave it for someone who is looking for a bargain, but James Taylor--and everyone else for that matter--deserves better than a life in the cutout bin of Homer's Records.

Dave Friedli is Project Director for "Toward a Drug Free Nebraska", a prevention education program specializing in training for safe, disciplined, drug-free schools. A former teacher and coach, Dave lives in a rural community of northeast Nebraska, has been a Taylor Fan since 1970, and logs on to JTO as "SuperD".

This article originally appeared in the Lyons Mirror-Sun, the weekly newspaper published in Lyons, Nebraska (USA). David Friedli writes a weekly human interest column entitled "By the Dashboard Lights."

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