Record Store Day
It’s unimaginable to me that Tower on lower Broadway, as well as the one on Sunset to be honest, are gone. The one in NYC had an upstairs, with wonderfully warped and creaky wooden floors that was filled with jazz and country music. And lots of catalog on the shelves. I used to manufacture reasons to be in that neighborhood just so I could swing in there and buy records I didn’t need. I would show up for dates with actual females with yellow bags protruding from my jackets pockets.
Across the street from Tower in those days was this snotty little indie store called Other Musicas in the shit that Tower wasn’t cool enough or hip enough to have. It was buyer against buyer, mono y mono and Other Music had the best of it most of the time. At one point the clerks there made the High Fidelity characters look polite. They saw themselves as snooty monuments to hipster edginessthey were so far ahead of you no matter what you asked about. Unstumpable they imagined themselves to be. But then Tower went out and being a gang that was founded on being against something elseDavid to a Goliath they lost much when their enemy vanished. I’m sure traffic in Other Music dropped by half at least when Tower went out. And then downloads appeared and now, their once icy demeanor has morphed into an eager chattiness. Ahh, the old passing of time game.
So there I am on a chilly Saturday morning, waiting in a line largely made up of geeks and some obvious eBay scum (buy it, take it home and slap it up on eBay at wildly inflated prices), everyone looking at their iPhones like they’re Lady Gaga’s manager, burdened by bags of treasures fetched outta J&R Records which opened earlier that morning. As Chelsea Clinton in a very funky outfit walked by, conversations about how Record Store Day was organized raged up and down the line. “Do you get more cool stuff if you’re a cool store?” went one line of questioning. “Yeah, they put on a good live show, but it’s weird you know, I don’t know if I really like them, my roommate knows their manager and so…,” went another talker who obviously crossed the big water from the cradle of vintagetennishoedtwentysomethingiphonedwonderfulness: Williamsburg. Discussions of carry-on bag fees, whether Oprah was going to sue Kitty Kelly and whether going to the gym was boring or not also perked along (many healthy looking gym rats continually walked past the decidedly unhealthy line). Focused, attentive eavesdropping is a particularly New York Citybased social skill that is as difficult as downhill skiing yet as fine as a feather. You can’t turn your head or move your eyes, lest you give yourself away and the conversation abruptly and awkwardly stops. If you then dare turn your head, your sheepish, guilty glance will be met by a shame, shame, yoursuchanamateur look from the offended, who were probably being narcissistic and talking too loudly to start with. The key is to never get caught. And always, always, act disinterested. Scrutinize your iPod or lean in on The New York Times anything that says. “I wasn’t listening.” Those same two moves also work as a disguise for looking down wellfilled blouses from above but that’s another story.
Record Store Day, a good idea by all accounts, is chaotically organized. It also has an element of what’s known in New York politics as the legendary “smokefilled back room” where deals are cut among a very few corrupt power brokers no matter what the masses or even the legislature says. A fairly large number of “limited edition” items appear on the RSD website, but there is no clue which store has what. You have to show up to get it. And maybe buy something. Only in Manhattan which still has a fair number of indie stores, does this translate to duos and trios of record geeks tearing around, jacked up on coffee, on pre-planned attack routes, hitting as many stores as their credit cards could sustain.
On the theory that the coolest, largest volume, best-located stores get the coolest stuff, I took 14 subways trains (it was a weekend after all) to cover the mile it is from my house to Other Music; the belly of the beast. I called them on Friday to see which items from the website list they had and they told me they had “dozens and dozens” of special goodies. When I asked about a couple specifically, Wilco and John Fahey for instance, they said they didn’t know.
Several things seem important at this juncture. I once worked in a record store. And also at a big one stop. Both brought in onesies and twosies of the coolest stuff. At the one stop, I remember African imports that never even made it out of the box and onto the shelves. Or an Australian reissue label that again, their entire shipment, which could not be replaced for months if ever, ended up entirely in the possession of the employees. Perhaps the greatest perk of working at a record store, when record stores existed, was snagging all the coolest stuff for yourself. It’s why, after the delusion faded that working in a record store would somehow help get you laid, that every music head wanted to work in one. It’s with that knowledge that I realized that Record Store Day could also be called “Working in a Record Store Day.” The employees did real well. I’m guessing that much of the coolest stuff, ended up coming out of their pay. When I asked about the Fahey and the R.E.M. blue vinyl 12” inch of their first record Chronic Townwhich in my opinion was perhaps the coolest artifact of Record Store Day 2010the counter dude at Other Music, where the sound of credit card printers were a constant, smiled and said “Yeah, we ordered like 20 and got like 5.” Of course I had to ask. “So they were here when you opened?” Again with the smile. At Other Music, that old superiority thing was back if only for a fleetling moment.