Today is Record Store Day. I’d go out to a record store if there were any near by. Guess I could go downtown and check out Other Music. I was surprised to see it’s still open. That was probably the last record store I actually visited on a regular basis. Before Tower Records closed, I would go downtown to check out the world music and classical music sections at Tower then go across the street and see what was new in Other Music’s experimental section. (Actually I think it was called “Out.”) I’d also check out the LPs they had up on their walls to see how much LPs I had in my own collection were going for. (Quite a bit, usually.) I visited there a couple of time since Tower closed, but then it just left my brain; mail order took over.
Record stores were such a huge part of my music self-education. In my teens, there was a local stationery store that had a great record dept. Sally, the record buyer, would always know when the next Zappa or Stevie Wonder album would be coming out. Then there was Sam Goodies just down the street. I picked up the early Columbia Records Conlon Nancarrow LP there when it first came out, only because the cover looked so cool. I had no idea what it sounded like and of course I was blown away when I got it home and listened to it. I still kick myself for not picking up the Portsmouth Sinphonia album I saw there, only to later learn what a collectors item it was. They also had all those great Nonesuch world music albums. I then “graduated” to Discophile on 8th St, where I would pick up all the early Philip Glass Ensemble Chatham Square LPs as soon as they came out, as well as more unusual world music and classical albums, not to mention all those great Opus One Records releases (Rzewski, Garland, etc). Then later there was the SoHo Music Gallery (not to be confused with the present Downtown Music Gallery), back when John Zorn worked there. (I think that’s where I picked up my first George Clinton album.)
There was something about record stores that made music buying exciting. In retrospect, it had a lot to do with the fact that music, and only music, came on those vinyl discs. No other kind of information was distributed that way. Vinyl = Music. Then CDs took over and for a short time CDs = Music. But for only a short time. My friend Foster Reed, who runs New Albion Records, said he knew the music business was in trouble when AOL started sending out all those free software CDs in the mid-’90s. For the first time ever, music started sharing it’s mode of distribution with other kinds of information. It was the beginning of the end for music as a purchasable object. Music listening is no longer associated with a specific physical object, and thus it no longer makes sense to buy it. What are we buying? Vibrating air! “I’m not paying for something I can’t touch,” is the way our brains work.
I’m really glad vinyl records are making a comeback, of sorts, even if it is now highly specialized. Vinyl will of course never again be the only way we listen to music, but at least we’re starting to have the choice. Although I guess we still have the choice to ride a horse into town, if we can find one.
(note: I can’t seem to add links to these posts anymore. Hmm.)