The Entry Level #3
As sleep slowly withdrew from my coiled body, I noticed the strange words Don't disturb me while I'm dreaming playing over and over in my mind. Where had these words come from? I wondered. I had little time to ponder their origin before they were gone with the retreating night, and I was left with the sudden sting of loneliness. There are days when I feel a million miles away from everyone I've ever cared about or loved. My younger brothers and sisters, ex-girlfriends, teachers, old classmates, roommates, bandmates, even casual acquaintancesI miss and long for them all. This, a cold, gray Saturday, promised to be one of those days, perfect for steeping in melancholy. But I had too much work to do and could not allow myself to dwell on silly inner things. A vacant pillow laid pointlessly beside me coerced me from bed.
As I prepared for the day ahead, I cued up Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen's For the Ghosts Within, this issue's "Recording of the Month," and was soon smiling with the happy-sad sounds of Ros Stephen's syrupy strings, Gilad Atzmon's honeyed clarinet, and Robert Wyatt's special voice. Once showered and dressed, I did a little dance to "Where Are They Now?," then sealed myself under many layers of warmth, picked up my keys, and left my old apartment, locking the music inside with the cracked walls and the drafty windows.
When feeling especially alone, I like to spend time in used-record shops, where something good always happens. I don't even have to buy anythingsometimes it's enough to simply flip through the covers, open the gatefolds, read the liner notes, smell the past, dirty my fingers with the memories embedded in the records' spines. With this in mind, I walked the 287 steps from my front door to the green gates of Iris Records at 114 Brunswick Street, Jersey City, New Jersey. Along the way, six complete strangers wished me a good morning. What luck! Was the universe looking out for me, leading the way, scattering kindnesses along my path? I could only assume that these gentle neighbors could see in my eyes the sweetness of Robert Wyatt's music, and so felt compelled to greet me. What a wonderful world, indeed. When I arrived at Iris Records, I softly knocked three times. The store's owner, Steve Gritzan, opened the door and welcomed me with a great smile. "Come in! Look at the floors!" Behind the counter, Christine shook her head and laughed.
Gritzan had just reopened his little shop after a few months of selling his used LPs, CDs, and books exclusively at street fairs and over the Internet. He'd cleaned the place up quite a bit. I was appreciative: "The floorsthey're beautiful!" Before it became Iris Records, the shop had been an apothecary, and Gritzan has kept many of that store's charms: Old beakers and faded bottles of Coca-Cola are displayed alongside Sonic Youth posters, Technics turntables, books of poetry, torn-out pages of the New York Daily News, headlines about the New York Mets. I feel at home here.
I chatted with Steve and Christine a bit before burying my head in the New Arrivals section. Roky Erickson sang something about love and pain.
Because I'd been on such a Robert Wyatt trip, I was hoping to find records by Wyatt's first band, the Soft Machineresearch, I told myselfand, to my great delight, there among the other New Arrivals was Soft Machine's Volume Two. The jacket had a small tear along its spine but was otherwise in fine condition. The inner sleeve was yellowed and frayed, the vinyl itself dusty but unscratched. It would be mine. A few records later I came across another album that captured my curiosity, Unrest, from a band I'd never encountered, Henry Cow. I pulled the very clean jacket from its outer sleeve, opened the gatefold, and read the liner notes: Tim Hodgkinson on organ, alto sax, clarinet, and piano; Fred Frith on stereo guitar, violin, xylophone, and piano; John Greaves on bass, piano, and voice; Chris Cutler on drums; and Lindsay Cooper on bassoon, oboe, recorder, and voice. Recording engineers: Phil Becque with Andy Morris; parts of "Ruins" by Mike Oldfield. And finally, the most important bit: "Produced by Henry Cow and dedicated to Robert Wyatt and Uli Trepte." Obviously, this was a sign: This album, too, would be mine.
In all, I spent two hours and $100 in Iris Records that morning. In addition to the Soft Machine and Henry Cow discs I picked up old, dirty copies of Moondog's second disc, 2: Madrigals: Rounds and Canons, Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, the soundtrack to the Jamaican crime film, The Harder They Come, Leo Kottke's live 12-String Blues, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg's Je T'aime (Beautiful Love), John Prine's self-titled debut, and a few gifts for friends. I said goodbye to Steve and Christine and walked out of Iris, feeling both lighter and heavier than when I'd walked in.