Record Store Day

Never did I think the day would come when I’d be standing in a line at 10:30 am on a chilly April Saturday to get into a record store. A record store mind you that is directly across the street from the now spacious, high-ceilinged NYU offices that were once the Tower Records on Broadway in downtown Manhattan.

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 Music—as 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 edginess—they 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 else—David 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 City–based 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, your–such–an–amateur 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 well–filled 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 “smoke–filled 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 one–sies and two–sies 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 Town—which in my opinion was perhaps the coolest artifact of Record Store Day 2010—the 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.

Trey's picture

And while you are at the record store, may I suggest you get a copy of Joe Pass' "Portraits Of Duke Ellington." The recording is smooth and warm, the playing spectacular, and I bet you can get the vinyl for $4 used.Joe plays several solo pieces, like only he could, and the rest are a trio. Wonderful Sunday morning music, but it will work well tonight as well.Trey

David's picture

I went and enjoyed record store day at my local record store and came home $100 poorer, but it was worth it because I got some vinyl that i'll enjoy for years to come. Maybe every day should be record store day?

Richard's picture

The return key is your friend. Really, it is.

Jrmandude's picture

Don't you listen to 'em. If you can't be Coltrane here, where can ya?

Fsonicsmith's picture

I can't believe how rude some folks are here. For my part, I think you incapsulated Record Store Day and NYC life beautifully. Enjoyed every word of it. I got the Fahey record, Yellow Princess, and listened to it for the first time last night. It's different, but I'm glad I got it. Very closely miked and somewhat hypnotic. It was fairly amazing how friendly our assembled shivering masses were at 9:30 am as we waited in low 40'ish weather, shocked in shorts and T-shirts by the fact that it had been in the 80s on Friday. One strawberry haired sexy waif showed up with her skinny hipster boyfriend wearing a miniskirt made of gray cotton a la Champion sweats with the most gorgeous set of long legs I had spied in some time, covered in goosebumps. I stared at those goosebumps huddled under the makeshift hood of Mickey Mouse blanket for a good half hour by my reckoning. I don't think she cared or particulary noticed. I just discoverd this site for some vinyl; Les Breastfeeders=fun.