Some records have legs. Not in the, "Boy, this record has a lasting impact on the history of music" sense — though that is certainly the case with Shuggie Otis' 1974 Epic Records LP Inspiration Information — but in the sense of, "Damn it, I think this record just wandered off of its own volition." This inexplicable mobility — this anthropomorphic anarchy — seems like a decent explanation for why I've had to repurchase the classic funk record four different times since it was reissued by David Byrne's Luaka Bop in 2001. Four times, I tell you. And I'll buy it a fifth time if need be, but I'd prefer if my current copy decided to stay put.
My first copy of Inspiration Information — the Luaka Bop reissue from the "World Psychedelic Classics" series, which also includes a stunning Os Mutantes best-of and the Love Is a Real Thing collection of African psych rarities — vanished into thin air somewhere in my second apartment. The apartment was an art-school flophouse that featured a rotating cast of strangers, weirdos and freaky-freakies, and while the perp who swiped my Inspiration CD is still unknown, it's hard to fault him or her — the cover art, with its striking post-mod design and Shuggie's imposing, mysterious visage glaring out at you, was worth swiping just to hang on your grimy basement wall. The fact that Shuggie was enshrined in the "eccentric, reclusive genius" mythos — Inspiration would be his last release until this year's Wings of Love — pretty much guaranteed that some art-school goon would grab it.
My second copy — the vinyl edition of the aforementioned reissue — was most certainly nicked because of the languid, dreamy funk it contained. I was DJing frequently at the time, hanging out with a lot of DJs, and Inspiration is the sort of record that DJs covet. Tracks like "Aht Uh Mi Hed," with its steady analog-drum-machine beat and wide-open sonic vistas, are secret weapons for a DJ — the sort of tracks that can be dropped on an unsuspecting crowd and wow the uninitiated on first listen. Give the dirty, deep funk of "Miss Pretty" a spin at just the right point in the night — the really drunk point — and you'll have a dance floor full of people doing deep, dirty things. Ethics aside, there's no reason not to steal this record if you're a DJ. It's also entirely possible that I just put my copy in some other DJ's crate. When you get to "just the right point in the night," things tend to get a little hazy.
My relationship with my third copy was a little less interesting: It was a used copy purchased and subsequently lost under banal circumstances — a stop at Mapco. Or maybe it was the carwash. Regardless, at some point it fell out of my car. Hopefully, like its brethren, it found a good home. The album we're talking about was recorded by Otis almost entirely on his own, when most folks his age were still figuring out whether they should drop out of college. Inspiration is a masterwork from a prodigy that should never find itself getting kicked around in a parking lot, unloved and unattended.
Copy 3.5 was a burned CD that I nicked from some unknown party — it served me well for years but eventually succumbed to the forces of entropy. It was a sad day when "Strawberry Letter 23" — the Otis tune that became a hit for pop-funk outfit The Brothers Johnson — started to stutter, skip and eventually stop working altogether.
My fourth and (fingers crossed) final copy will have a (hopefully) different fate: It's in the cloud! It's also on my laptop and my iPad, and I burned a copy for the car. Maybe I'll put it on my phone too. Because not only has Inspiration Information been re-reissued, but this time it's paired with Wings of Love — the first collection of previously unheard Shuggie tunes since Inspiration hit shelves almost 40 years ago. And Wings is a collection worth keeping — a virtual best-of from Otis' years in the wilderness, between record deals and out of the public eye. In an alternate universe, Wings of Love is a greatest-hits package for one of the biggest stars in the world. But in this universe, it's just one of the finest compilations of ultra-rare avant-funk released this year.
And it's probably worth it to buy three or four copies, just in case.
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