Notes From A Time When Every Day Was Record Store Day

<strong>The Birdman of 1st Avenue, Rainbow Music shop</strong>
The Birdman of 1st Avenue, Rainbow Music shop

Herewith, one man’s idiosyncratic anecdotes about the people, places and things that made a few record stores what they uniquely were to him, during another time in New York City.

When it comes to self-medication by vinyl therapy, every record junkie has her or his own favorite spots and ritual walks; I used the same stealthy route, fearful that interrupting my trusted routine would create a parallel universe, wherein some other punter beats me to an existence-justifying score.Despite the fact that I go to fewer shops these days, record stores have given my pathetic life meaning; from my first experience of Pop-perfection, through my anguished, post-adolescence, to my present continuation of same – or, as the always timely, now most lamentably late David Bowie put it: “It’s strange to be 19 forever.” Maybe, wise Uncle Davie, gone to us at age 69, but it beats living for “Just these twenty years” and dying “For the fifty more”...can I get an “Aaaaaawal night!?” You can watch “Legends: David Bowie” a documentary I co-wrote for VH1 HERE

In my primary terrain for record safaris – downtown Manhattan, specifically The Village and East Village – I’ve seen a lot of record stores come and go. Some losses hit harder than others, like some deaths. Some deaths you don’t see coming, some are long slow painful deaths, with the decimated store on life support, like the once-relishable St. Mark’s Sounds, where I snapped this chronicle of a death foretold on a day in February 2014.

It looked like a shop ready to do business, yet, it was completely empty; “stock” was negligible: bins once LP-jammed , now trifled by space-holding filler CDs. Seeing all the hallmarks, yet none of the former vitality was like seeing an old friend after she’d or he’d had a stroke. Sounds died two months later.

ST. MARK’S SOUNDS
20 St. Mark’s Place
Est. 1979
Died. 2014

<strong>The Silence of Sounds</strong>
The Silence of Sounds

In the 80s and 90s, Sounds on good ole’ St. Mark’s Place boasted some of the savviest vinyl cut-outs buyers in the biz. Cut-outs – which you don’t see too often these days, since vinyl is generally pressed in limited runs – are surplus or returned albums, uglified by literally cutting corners and/or punching a hole in the barcode, then re-sold at a cut-rate (as it were). I always considered Sounds a kind way station, vouchsafing a little good karma in the chain of supply and The Man, by way of rescue and adoption of maimed future classics and classic sleepers which are given a forever home by us consumers, who for once, got haggle-free discounts on new, shrink-wrapped records and some terrific promos that we felt cool for being privy to, and could lie about the origins of, to impress friends.

This is where I built my beloved collection of cutout-shmutout Brian Eno records, making for many a musical launchpad (literally, on the Apollo recordings), some intense meditations, and better sleep. And since Eno, I think, owned EG Records, I didn’t feel like he was losing any royalties. And if you’re an atists whose cut-out I bought, take heart. Viewed from the present, Sounds seems one of the very best (small) shops for those last days when, in a way, we were all on the same (non-web) page, pre-Internet. I say this with no ingratitude towards our digital present.

I recall paydays when, after (hopefully) buying a few worthwhile albums, I would (this is before I stopped eating all animals) get a whole chicken and a bag of fries from BBQ or more likely a knockwurst and knish from Katz’s on East Houston, where I would proudly speak Spanish with the guys at the grill, who would give me an extra knockwurst and slices of rye for free, writing-up only one knockwurst and knish on my ticket. I would fill up and tightly lid a paper coffee cup full of sauerkraut from the self-serve steam table and they would ply me with free drafts, recruited into the restaurant’s small water fountain glasses, from which I would usually quaff down two, maybe three beers, and tip them a buck. It was our routine, and this boho’s idea of a happy hour.

And if I were lucky enough to be in possession of an extra $10, and to have scored a dime bag of weed on 2nd Avenue & 9th street, or the bodega-fronted cheeba house on East Houston, or the Reggae record store on Eldridge that is now a Domino’s, I’d be pretty set for the weekend, as I walked back to my $575 ground-floor L.E.S. studio-with-a-loft on Norfolk St., nicely buzzed, the hyper-alive Friday night sounds of the last of a dying Lower East side, circa 1987 – ‘92 profoundly reminding me of where I was, where I’d come from.

And that maybe, now that I was done with college, it wasn’t so bad to live an anarcho-individualistic life of dedicating myself to bad writing in solitude, alternated with meeting some fascinating European babes at the uber-cool rock poster-slash-gallery-slash-postcard museums I managed on St. Mark’s and on Bleecker street, and guiding them out of the East Village and through the semi-dangerous and thrilling (for a down tourist, and a native New Yorker) Alphabet City, where we would hear the words “Works, Works” (as in heroin needle works; oddly I’ve never tried this drug) bringing them back to my rooftop from which we would gaze at the Twin Towers, scary close, enigmatically reminding us of a world, a way of being we were tainted by, yet inchoately trying to opt out of, or at least forestall joining, as we retreated into each other’s company, both of us already aware that these nights were fated to become merely and legendarily some of the loveliest youthful memories in our soon-to-be-irrevocably-adult lives, and thusly we determined to make these times memorable. And we did, even if names and faces are long-forgotten.

I also recall, as things began to change, the night my usual after-work walk from St. Mark’s to Avenue A was detoured by police, as tanks (well, a tank) rolled in the East Village, when the battle between squatters and police for Tompkins Square and a few occupied buildings began, and though I was a party to neither camp (though I’d spent a lovely night in a squat with an Australian artists who painted bras) I knew who’d already won, and that we’d all lose.

I’d forgotten about Sounds for a long time, and now, facing the entrance one final time, I savored the slide of my sullen steps softly sandpapering Sounds’ stairs; the store’s entrance, elevated above the heart of St. Mark’s, made every arrival and exit noteworthy, and the floor-to-ceiling outward opening windows tendered up to pedestrians a view right into the store, making it for a time, a kind of living diorama of late 20th century subcultural lifeforms buying physical music in the old that fishbowl known as St. Mark’s.

And so, half a lifetime later, my heart both fuller and emptier than I ever expected it to be at this age, I walked the empty aisles of Sounds and looked at the empty bins, in a state of bewilderment perhaps akin to that of an animal trying to comprehend the death of its human companion. I took my time, knowing that when I left this store, I would never come back, and I wondered when, how soon, it would die, and what the space would become, and how much older I might be, or feel, if/when I found myself in the new establishment reminiscing about how I used to buy records here, and about my fun job across the street, at French Kisses.

I hit the street, took a quick look around, fixed my gaze hard on the pavement and walked away, crying a little, behind my shades.

 

BLEECKER BOB’S
118 West 3rd Street
Est. 1967
Died. 2013
 
Haggling goes a variety of ways; on any given Sunday, one of the selectors on opposing sides of the cash register will determine if the customer or the house is going to get or give up the better deal, during the studied yet improvised establishment of an equitable wax-to-dollar ratio.

I recall arguing with Bleecker Bob’s stalwart Chris, after deciding not to trade a William Burroughs CD, even though he’d given me my price. He was right to be annoyed, and I was used to the occasional combatant energy of horse-traders, but he went off on me a little too much that day, and I bitchily told him that just because he was still working there and would be his entire life, he didn’t have to be so grouchy, and I left. I felt really bad for saying this.

Surprisingly, the next time I walked in to the store, we were instantly and totally cool with each other, and it felt healthy to have said snotty things that in a way, bonded us (though I was not a regular regular). Interestingly, though not related, he told me offhandedly that he needed to, and was spending more time with his girlfriend on the west coast – or did he say it was the Bleecker Bob’s store on west coast he was spending more time at? In any case, he seemed a lot less stressed, and though unlikely, I like to think I contributed in a small popcorn way, to his liberation.

Walking by after it closed, I noticed a The The button that was left just at the entrance, and put it in my pocket; another consecrated object from my old NYC, and maybe the very last transaction ever conducted here. Although my sentimentality compelled me to take the button, I also considered how, since someone else would eventually take it, I might as well, subsequently realizing that in a macro-micro sense, this same reasoning is what raises rents. I should have left it there; a recursive double-adverb negating presumption, and a gloriously impotent token against the succumbing to greed.

 

ROCKS IN YOUR HEAD
157 Prince Street
Est. 1978
Died. 2006

The last time I visited this store, I was trading a Gerard Malanga CD, and when I was leaving, the dude I had been speaking with gave me a 45 (well, technically, a 7” 33 1/3) from his band, Love Is All, whose confetti goofiness dually belies and authenticates their immediacy. This was the last I time I ever saw the store alive, the last time I and this store)spoke, until the day my best friend emailed me to let me know that some record bins were being given away on CL. She told me the address, and I didn’t register it. When I got there, I felt like a paramedic, or more aptly, a coroner, responding to a call, only to arrive at the house of an old friend who had just died.

There they were: seemingly lying in state at their own wake in the starkly empty, Hopper-still SoHo space, the black, coffin-long record bins, finally unburdened from sound payloads, completely empty atop their formerly hip, now somber black columns. As soon as I have enough space to take my records out of storage, I plan to put those bins to work again, and enjoy the benefits of not having to bend to the floor to dig, mid-mix.

Living up to its name, Rocks In Your Head’s space was to be converted into, interestingly – and again, by way of real-world(ly) cruel poetics – drumroll...anti-climax: a real estate office! Which is an even greater statistical inevitability than a sushi joint, though not as likely as a nail salon.The guy from the real estate office and I begin to talk, as he helps me carry out the bins, and he tells me that his cousin is Taki 183, and though I would normally find this fascinating, I blankly engage in rote conversation; I am trying to avoid actually telling myself what this dead store symbolizes from my youth.

And so, after surviving the high-fatality Rock and Roll age of 27, at 28 years old, this store – where Sonic Youth posted an ad for, and found their drummer, and which The Gothamist team credit for buying their Morrissey catalog, the proceeds of which helped support their founding of the website – wasn’t able to pay its Manhattan rent...and so it moved to Brooklyn.

 

GENERATION RECORDS
210 Thompson Street
Est. 1992 (still open)

Just two streets over from Bleecker Bob’s, relative newcomer Generation Records on Thompson has, over the past twenty-five years, become the go-to spot that Bleecker Bob’s once was, for dedicated sets of varyingly uniformed tribes from the boroughs and burbs, keen to get their sub-culture on IRL.

Featuring an upstairs and downstairs, there are a always a few good vinyl bargains to be found here, the last record store in the immediate Washington Square area east of Sixth avenue, west of Broadway, below the arches and above Houston. The book store on LaGuardia has some records, but it’s a quick dig (albeit, worth it for a few haggleable soundtracks) and the other record store on Bleecker Street seems straight mercenary and never seems to hold my attention very long.

And so, long lives the tradition of exuberant overbuys from enthralled arrivals, just off the W 4th stop or from the PATH on 8th street or the LIRR at Penn station, feeling rewarded, heartened by this oasis, far from their native subdivisions sprawling on the fringes of the city in geometric order...

 

SECOND COMING RECORDS
235 Sullivan Street
Est. 1984
Died. 2006

Second Coming Records was always a personal favorite for me; perhaps because it occupied a sweet spot in a Village walk that might take me through the acquisition of hopefully a book, some vintage threads, a few hits of mescaline, and a bag of weed and maybe more records at another spot, usually Rocks In Your Head.

The epic music discovery connotations its name lauds, and their movie marquee outside seemed to prime one for a robust, fruitful dig. And it was here that I found Jandek’s “Six And Six”, which was one of many life-dig highlights; one man’s Found Art bootleg of his ad-libbing ID, pressed on wax, slipped into a thick cardboard sleeve, affixed with a grainy B&W photobooth portrait; it was pure No-Fi DIY homegrown, and it sounded as starkly subversive as the Hip Hop 12”s of my youth in the late 70s and early 80s. He just had the nervy, bootleg rawness.

And so, I was shocked to hear that Second Coming had been raided by Secret Service and FBI for allegedly selling bootlegs and counterfeits (not of Jandek, whose production value would likely have been upgraded by a knock-off). Within the relativism of my subterranean calculus, a store satisfying demand for fanatics and completists making ‘Village pilgrimages was less egregious than selling purple food-color-dyed pastini to unsuspecting kids visiting Washington Square Park to buy mesc. That said, counterfeting is different from selling bootlegs because bootleg audio and videos are one of the things that made, and continue to make (albeit, less so in the age of youtube) many stores unique.

Anyhoo, they survived getting nailed, faced judgment day (as it were), did time, and even opened another store, but the, well, second coming of Second Coming was not a resurrection, and so they closed.

 

FAT BEATS
406 6th Avenue
Est. 1993
Died. 2010

Like that The The street-button at Bleecker Bob’s, I also found, placed at the former entrance to the old site of Fat Beats. a copy of a CD by the gravel-coated-with-honey-throated rapper Sensational, whose stilted, free-range I always enjoyed. And this quiet sidewalk heirloom reminded me of how, back in the day, cats would be outside of the store hitting passersby off with the old, “Here, check out my mixtape” trick, forcing their wares onto folks, asking for a “donation”, and then reclaiming their property, eliciting, to a varying degree, bemusement, call-outs or acquiescence.

More often than not, it was sage to pay attention to whom was self-promoting, given how many future legends passed through that unique arena, just around the corner from the (also now-gone) Washington Square cyphers of the early 90s. Anyway, breaking it down SAT-style, Fat Beats is to retail what Stretch and Bobbito’s show was to radio: a discerning and dedicated cultural hub, particle-accelerator and essential live forum that established legends and also-rans, one bar, one zigga-zigga at a time.

Opened in 1994, the shop quickly expanded to Tokyo, Atlanta and Los Angeles, in addition to its NYC flagship. Fat Beats lived to see its quinceñera, closing in 2010. These days, it’s a label that also does distro. At their website, one can also find new cassettes, like this “Radio That Changed Lives: Stretch and Bobbito” mix from ’95 for $9.99.

Fat Beats are presently looking for interns to help with everything from shipping to A&R, and though they’re requiring that applicants be enrolled in college, if you see this as a life-opportunity because it’s where your heart is, then you must email them a piece of your heart and make your case heard. Or start your own whatever, if you haven’t already.

 

REBEL REBEL
319 West Bleecker Street
Est. 1988
Died. 2016

Monikered after Bowie’s three-minute piece of teen psychology-cum-sociology that might as well be a manifesto by way of an invite to a night out (and about which the late Tony Wilson was, I believe, incorrect in reductively citing the Smiths’ brilliant “Hand In Glove” as fully derivative of) this sole proprietorship is not just a juvenile success, though it was nonetheless, perhaps too cool to live to see thirty years on dull old West Bleecker.

Nor did it ever see Bowie glide through its portals, gangsta lean on the cash register and ask for his licensing fee for use of the song title, however: you can bet that, he no doubt ― indeed by way of existential statistical inevitability ― must have taken heart in the existence of this store, in moments both measurable and not.

During the final days of writing this piece, I call and ask if they are closing or relocating; I know the answer, but I guess I don’t want to acknowledge the reality by expressing it, without a contingency to lessen the drop.

“The first one”, says the owner, not speaking directly of the reality, either. The voice surprisingly, is instantly familiar, from a time when every day really was like Sunday, and shops like this made Sundays musical. For this consumer of the Post-Punk and Post-Modern Folk that made the Eighties great, I could always find import singles here early. It’s also where I built my entire cherished Chameleons collection.

As these sounds became mainstream, Rebel Rebel was nicely positioned for the “Alternative” boom of the ‘90s, and also knew from dance music 12”s and compilations, advising clientele during the home-bedroom DJ boom of the 90s. They’d also play any record you asked them to, hence the not necessarily virginal condition of their vinyl; they were apt at spinning new arrivals that people in varying degrees of embarrassment (why?) about having to ask, would buy on the spot; the owner was kind of a less hyphy version of the record store chameleonesque sales clerk who would Zelig with genre-tribal DJ clientele, affirming how “wiiiikid” a Jungle track was, how raw a Hip-Hop joint, or how deep a House cut was, in the 90s flick Human Traffic.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with this store, being an occasional haggler that I am, however, I appreciated the promo items that were all for sale, in addition to months-old music mags that were deeply discounted, and so one could absorb a lot from the leftover copies of NME, The Face, Q, Melody Maker, et, al. I never bought “expired” mags, cuz it just seemed uncool, though that was probably dumb of me. I did acquire one extra curricular item: a Pet Shop Boys “Introspective” plastic shopping bag.

I gotta say, as I was writing this, something occurred to me – and no sooner than you could say: “How the fuck is this spot still in business?”, it was announced (no, really, as I was writing all of this) that Rebel Rebel was a goner goner.

“Will that be happening soon?” I’m still not saying he word closing.

“Uh, more like a week from today.” He doesn’t say the final date.

I do the math: 6/25. My ex girlfriend’s birthday. And like a counterweight snapping me from the present and sending me through a cortex vortex à la The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, I am, in a parallel universe, making my most recent purchase here: It’s the holidays, and I’m running around town with that pre-celebration energy, looking for the Marie Antoinette soundtrack, which I really wanted to give as a gift for the now-lost love of my life. Rebel was my last chance, and they came through for me.

And I very clearly remember saying to him when I picked it up – and I’m paraphrasing (albeit with near-total accuracy):

“Thanks for always being here all this time and being the kind of store that I know I can call and find something like this at.”

This store was, for a time, a signature store in my late teens and early twenties, even though I no longer shopped there with any regularity. Thanks again, man, for keeping around a copy of the soundtrack, which is the most devastatingly personal musical memory I have of my ex. I daresay our relationship’s early days and also some lovely beach days and nights enjoyed a certain sustained level of ebullience with this on repeat, with her skipping over certain songs, or playing a song twice.

Post-our-break-up, I found the Marie Antoinette soundtrack CD I bought her in a box of my stuff...in my new apartment; it had somehow returned to my possession, and (perhaps due to territorial male tendencies) the thought of her no longer having the physical CD I gave her – a thought to which I’ll add a redundancy: in her possession anymore was, and is mildly devastating.

I barely entertain and certainly don’t meditate on the idea that she returned it to me; ‘too painful. I am sufficiently pained by the reality that this actual physical CD is no longer with her, because it is, within the rapidly eroding half-life of memory, a permanent step removed from our prior reality, like the once-lovers in The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind I endure inchoate pangs, bittersweet half-truths, and lost certainties, lost human company, lost LOVE. We’ll always have the playlist of our time together, won’t we? Quien Sabe.

And so, she may one day play this soundtrack on her iPod or share it with someone, and no longer remember (and thus, no longer care) where this playlist ever even came from, or how she got this music, and the existential facticty of who, what, when, where, and how it was brought it to her life.

By way of self-comfort, I posit a question that answers itself: is not the best love a selfless love? And a selfless love is that amidst which one is most grateful for having given, irrespective of reward or enduring credit, and even with the possibility of being, well, forgotten?

After all, I now have many records that I don’t remember where I bought them. And I thought I would never forget such things that were once so important to me.

HOUSE OF OLDIES
30 Carmine Street
Est. 1969 (47 years and counting)

Established in 1969, this little store that could (and still does) may not be on anybody’s “Ten Best Record Stores in New York” lists, because it’s kind of easy to take such a stalwart for granted, especially on Carmine Street where there once were, what? Four, five stores, including Techno OGs’ Heart, Bones and X’s Sonic Groove, Three Bean Records, Rockit Scientist, and the great Evergreen Video store, relocated to little West 12th, before shuttering a few years ago, creating a major disturbance in The Force.

By definition, vintage stock this deep makes House of Oldies a wax museum, given the rich time-capsule experiences that a dig through the crates of old Soul, Rock and Roll, Rockabilly and Jazz LPs and 45s (and 78s) makes for. In-the-know overseas visitors beeline it here to plunk down their ducats, irrespective of the exchange rate. My entire collection of Phillies 45s (some re-issues, some originals) came from here; they’ve never let me down. Again.

 

ACADEMY RECORDS
12 West 18th St. & 415 Est 12th St.
Est. 1977 (still open)

<strong>Spin Cycle, Academy Records</strong>
Spin Cycle, Academy Records

I remember Academy when it was more of a book shop that I first stopped into after dropping off my typewritten story (an interview-slash-mini-oral-history with CBGB soundman Norm; alas, Legs McNeil lost the original and only copy) at SPIN magazine. It’s maybe 1987 and I’m twenty-one and I’m home from school and back in the city, with a vengeance, talking my way into interviewing Bret Ellis, Johnny Marr, and I would soon meet this cool singer from Iceland at a club called The World and we’d keep in touch and team-up to bring over the first wave of bands fro Iceland after The Sugarcubes: Bless Reptile and HAM. One of these musos became the mayor of Rekyavik twenty years later.

Anyway, I leave SPIN and stop in the street, reading the magazine, after which I pop into a book store that, long story short, would soon move next door, be bought out entirely by one of the partners, a goatee-sporting OG Beatnik (now-)septegenarian who rode out the good and bad times, and now owns three wisely located, genuinely appreciated and reliably stocked stores. Thanks to a steady (erm) stream of Classical, Jazz, Opera and Show Tunes purchases by Julliard students, as well as moderate but steady DVD (yes, DVD) sales this spot on 18th St. funded the opening of two locations, creating a veritable (relativism prevailing) Starbuck’s, albeit with different wares and clientele at each store.

 

SECOND HAND ROSE
48 East 12th St.
Est. 1969 (still open)

Footlights Records, a mecca for soundtracks is gone; however, this soundtrack, Folk and Jazz-heavy store near Flight Cub, the Strand and gives lit-nerds, sneakerheads and sample-hunters another good reason to stop. After watching Lost Horizon (the original and the remake) during Hurricane Sandy, I came here seeking, but not expecting to find the soundtrack, and instead, this elusive barely noticeable vinyl-haven shangri-la on East 12th Street had two copies – one brand new. ‘Nice one. Spend some time here, and it will be impossible to not find something you want to buy.

RAINBOW MUSIC
130 1st. Avenue
Est. 1998
Died. 2015

As vacant as Sounds had become, Rainbow Music was equally orgiastic in its teetering stockpiles of major label CDs, box sets/re-issues. A patient person could save a lot, haggling with “The Birdman”, a true character who was literally up to his neck in music, whilst playing the market as a day trader. The loss of this store is really about one less quirk in the East Village, gone the way of the bagpiping ‘Nam vet who drove us all mad, then scared us shitless when confronted, holding his reed like a M16, and making eerie beatboxer-accurate shooting sounds with his mouth, or the suit and tie wearing skateboarder and his girlfriend, who would bring me their change after he’d jump over a dozen garbage cans in Washington Square, nailing the landing on a second skateboard; or the guy with his own dog pack of about fifteen (rumored to be inbred) behemoths that followed him through the streets.

Thankfully, the very old, monkishly silent Chinese gentleman walking around in wrinkled garbage bags and newspaper hats (no doubt copied by SoHo haberdashers) is still alive and thriving, in his own mystic way. He actually spoke to me on a day when I most needed heartening from this universe, as I removed my things, including thousands of albums, from our apartment, when my girlfriend and I split up. Thanks, man, I really needed that. Safe travels.

The Colony
1618 Broadway
Est. 1948 (64 years)
Died. 2012

In this store’s final home, The Brill building, many a Pop record was writ, including, “I Got You Babe”, which boasted a line about makin’ the rent, that could be The Colony’s epithet. This shop sold a lot of sheet music ― which might sound square, but it actually made for a fascinating mix of customers, all entering temporarily disoriented by the midtown mayhem outside: Metal guitarists, Jazz musos, chin-scratchers , Show Tune lovers alike, buying sheet music; as well as tourists from the midwest to the Pyrenees. They win the award for the best record store bag, with a poodle-skirted, sweatered and scarved women exclaiming: “I found it at the Colony!”

The Colony closed after 64 years, just before it would have been old enough to get social security. There would be no more of their famous in-store karaoke, as the last musical element to The Brill Building exits the stage.

The Wiz

Some stores, like some people, are so magical, you wonder if they ever really existed at all. For me The Wiz is such a shop. I’m not talking about the Gloria Estefan-fronted “Nobody beats The Wiz” jungles as seen on TV, when it was a major electronics seller; I’m talking about a single store in the Bronx, where you would tell ‘em what you wanted, or sing, or mimic a break you heard, and they would know exactly what you were looking for on the wall of tautly shrink-wrapped 12”s, and like a carneys at Coney, give you your prize. I can’t think of a store I was keener to rush through the doors of in my life. I had to rush, since my twelve year-old self would visit this store at the conclusion of rare visits to my father post-divorce, who would gimme a twenty spot (which got me four to six records) and wait in his car outside.

The initial anti-climax of the usually ultra-plain, no-frills labels and monochromatic sleeves (that had, albeit bigger, holes in them like 45s sleeves, whoa!) was an early challenge to my young and filigree-expectant consumerist mindset, my first experience with DIY. Of course, there was design-rich packaging on some 12” labels: Sugar Hill Records’ Candyland-esque, logo and design, in addition to being one of my first experiences with Con Art was to my young mind, still familiar with that simple board game and the delight it brought my young family-member self, now experiencing its aesthetic in my less certain, less family-oriented early adolescence-slash-wonder years, on a subversive par with The Grateful Dead’s sublime Trippy Teddy Bear.

Sugar Hill’s logo also seemed to churn and chug along like some whatchamahoozit straight outta Dr. Seuss, or better yet, like tracks for the chugging Sooooooooooooul Train of Solaris Records. T.K. Disco’s beach-view sleeves and banana colored labels always made me think of percussion and remains one of the most recognized logos of the disco era, as do Casablanca’s; Prelude’s sleeves which, though black, were, like the black painted walls of a club, perfectly offset by the actual label’s up-lit dancefloor graphic that just put you on the decks in the disco; Jellybean Benitez-produced Mantis release of “Dance (Freestyle Rhythm)” featured an achingly gorgeous dream-babe in stereo whose image was as poignant as pictures of Lily, cuz you knew she just got to be somebody’s baby, but she sure wasn’t yours.

For me the most subversively lo-fi (both metaphorically and literally), powerfully branded labels were on the mix-medley records. I mean, you knew one when you saw one, and you always bought it, sometimes even if you already had a copy. Those labels had the nano-second branding impact/recognition of finding money on the street; I cannot impart to you how radical the idea of DJ mixes (albeit, of varying quality and skill) on vinyl was in the 70s.

<strong>Now, That&rsquo;s What I Call Music, Vol. 1</strong>
Now, That’s What I Call Music, Vol. 1


RANDOM HEAD SHOP

South Bronx, circa 1972

You never forget your first. Mine was on Ogden Avenue in the Bronx, in my neighborhood, but not on my block (big difference, requiring a new level of courage). And like a benign prostitute who, amidst a rough and tumble demimonde, kens your innocence, the lady clerk at this store which primarily sold weed, but also had records, blacklights and posters, was bemused by, and gracious to, a lil’ kid buying his very first album.

Anyway, I remember they had a poster that was emblematic of the times, and an update to Duchamp’s R. Mutt and its challenge to the processes and mindsets that confer meaning, identity and validity, by way of Women’s Lib: a pissoir with a longhaired dude, a business man, and a woman hitching up her skirt, pissing upright, whilst the businessman gawks. This was my first experience of the commercial frontline and the potential for polemics within the Pop Cult: the record store. And one of my last experiences of the fading 60s (my Vietnam POW/MIA bracelet notwithstanding).

EPILOGUE: All Sales Vinyl?

What the survival of some, thriving of others and death of many more record shops perhaps makes manifest, albeit, not obvious, is that there is no Extinction-Level Event, and community endures, and the “fractured marketplace” is just another evolution of sorts, and provides ample opportunity to satisfy the timeless need for peer groups, real-world validation and places we consecrate with our individuals and collective quests for, well, beauty and intellectual, sub-cultural empathy.

(Not much more) simply put, I daresay the enduring and inherent personal satisfaction and, well, life-value that finding and celebrating the work of another, apexed in physical form IRL for one to meditate on, as the sound frequencies enable one’s escape into the world, will like water, always find its level.

SCIENCE & ETYMOLOGY OF VINYL

−CH=CH 2 Vinyl derives from vinum from Latin for wine. Chemistry of or denoting the unsaturated hydrocarbon radical −CH=CH 2, derived from ethylene by removal of a hydrogen atom: : a vinyl group.

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-yl suffix, Chemistry, forming names of radicals

 

FINALLY, FILE UNDER: “It’s not a turntable; it’s a carousel...”

 


 

 

CONVERSATIONS