Words: April Greene Photos: Eilon Paz
aybe a year ago, a new identity popped up on the Dust & Grooves radar. A couple of our Philly digger friends made mention of a local young man with a very rare collecting focus: only Sesame Street records. And, they said, he digs hard for them.
We were of course intrigued, but with no other info to go on and being stationed a hundred miles north, we knew we couldn’t count on getting lucky and just running into the guy. On our last trip to Philly, we followed a couple of leads to try to cross paths with him, but came up dry each time. It wasn’t until an hour before our bus was due to pull out of Chinatown and take us back to NYC that we got an excited text from one of our record store moles: “He’s here!!” With that, we abandoned our bus tickets, hopped back on the subway, and high-tailed it to Beautiful World Syndicate on East Passyunk Ave.
We walked in and spotted our man immediately – easy enough, as he was the only guy in the store with a bag full of Big Bird albums on his arm. We introduced ourselves and finally put a name and face to the legend: this was Dante, 24 years old, born and raised in South Philly. He and his younger brother Christian, who was also there digging, entertained our request for a short interview in the back of the store. When we asked if we might be able to see more of Dante’s collection, the brothers immediately phoned their parents, who very kindly, and quickly, packed up all the LPs Dante had in his bedroom and drove them over to Beautiful World so we could stage an impromptu photo shoot on the sunny sidewalk.
All the colorful Muppet characters strewn about and what must have looked like some kind of quirky family photo shoot definitely attracted attention from passersby. Some made an obvious effort not to look at Bert dressed like Bruce Springsteen on the cover of Born to Add, some took the long way around on the sidewalk and paused to stare and smile at the mélange, and some stopped for a minute to talk shop. “Hey, do you guys have Larry Levan’s remix of Cookie Monster’s ‘C is for Cookie’?” a slim young man in a leather jacket and glasses asked me. “I’ve been looking all over for that.” Apparently Dante is not alone!
The nice guys at Beautiful World let us bring some chairs outside and Dante’s dad and I talked the Phillies’ season and books on Kindle while Eilon snapped shots of Dante with LPs like the 1979 dance floor-ready Sesame Disco and 1977’s Let Your Feelings Show!, featuring Bert and Ernie on the cover holding happy and sad comedy/tragedy masks. Then everyone got in on it, Mom and Dad and Christian all joining the scene and talking about their favorite songs and album covers and even breaking out Dante’s plastic Sesame Street rain poncho, still like new, folded up in the box!
The sun started to go down and the crates started to get packed and we had to get back to New York. We swapped contact info with everyone and waved goodbye as they rolled off in their minivan with Elmo, The Count, and Oscar the Grouch immortalized on wax. As you’ll see, Dante is often a man of few words, but his colorful collection spoke volumes to us.
Q: When did you start collecting?
A: When I was around 12 or 13. Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse records.
Q: What was the first record you bought?
A: Bert’s Blockbusters was one of the first.
Q: Why Sesame Street?
A: I’m a big fan of the show and the music – [songwriters] Joe Raposo, Jeff Moss…
Q: Why vinyl?
A: For the memories.
Q: How many days a week do you dig?
A: Two times a week, maybe. Record stores, flea markets, record shows, on eBay sometimes. And I find a lot of information on Muppet Central.
Q: Do you collect anything besides Sesame Street?
A: Sometimes Disney soundtracks, other Muppet music or memorabilia. The old View-Master Interactive Vision VHS video game system – I’m trying to find the Sesame Street games for that. And I like the Sesame Street “All My Homies Are From The Street” t-shirts. I find those at Target.
Q: How long has Sesame Street been going on now?
A: 42 years. They did 130 episodes a season for 21 years. They’re not as good anymore, though, like they were with Jim Henson. Some of the old characters are dead now, but not all.
Q: What tops your list of things to find right now?
A: Probably the Jack and the Beanstalk Parts 1 and 2 45 rpm single.
Q: Do you play the records, or just keep them to collect?
A: No, I play them.
Q: What’s the most money you’ve ever spent on a record?
A: About $15.
Q: Do you like any modern adaptations of Sesame Street music, like Smart E’s “Sesame’s Treet”?
A: Yeah, I like some of that stuff.
Q: Do you have a favorite Muppet? Or, if you were a Muppet, which one would you be?
A: Bert. He’s smart, like me, and yellow. Yellow is my favorite color.
Q: What’s your family’s reaction to your collecting?
A: They’re happy about it.
Q: Is your family into music?
A: Oh yeah. Mostly house and disco music – Heatwave, Donna Summer, Daft Punk…
Q: When will you stop collecting?
A: When I find everything.
Q: You seem pretty patient about that.
A: Oh yeah.
Many thanks again to him and his family for their generosity, and to D&G alum Tony Larson for the winning tip and his help with the interview. See you on Muppet Central!