Record Store Day or Demise?
Saturday is Record Store Day. I only learned of this in today’s Boston Globe, so I guess record stores, those few in operation anyway, could still stand a lesson in Marketing 101. As it happens, I’ve already made plans to be at Integrity’n Music tomorrow for another of its regular in-store jazz sessions. Store owner Ed Kresch will present the New Unity Quintet, which features the drummer Jonathan Barber and other emerging jazz players from Hartford. Meet me in Wethersfield around 2.
Speaking of record stores, Leon Wieseltier, Literary Editor of The New Republic, published the essay Going to Melody in February about the closing of Melody Records in Washington, D. C. Wieseltier paid tribute to the store as “one of the primary scenes of my personal cultivation. For thirty years, it stimulated me, and provided a sanctuary from sadness and sterility. Going to Melody was a reliable way of improving my mind’s weather.”
Anyone accustomed to whiling away an afternoon scouring the stacks of a record store and eavesdropping on the conversations between patrons and the presiding discophiles on staff will appreciate Leon asserting that “the motive of my visits to the store was not acquisitiveness, it was inquisitiveness. I went there to engage in the time-honored intellectual and cultural activity known as browsing,” which he added, “is a method of humanistic education.” Wieseltier cites Amazon's new app Price Check as "the immediate cause of [Melody's} demise."
Closer to home, For the Record in Amherst and Dynamite Records in Northampton, Pioneer Valley institutions that once seemed as essential to the culture as any civic body, are both long gone. (I might add that Netflix just isn’t sealing the gap that opened for this cinephile when Pleasant Street Video closed its doors last summer.) And Jack Woker, proprietor of the venerable Stereo Jack's, the favored haunt of collectors and assorted eccentrics on Mass Ave in Cambridge for over 30 years, announced last spring that the store was losing its lease. For now, Jack’s has been given an extension that will keep it in business until August (at least), but the handwriting’s on the wall: a pizzeria up the block needs to expand, and there’s more money in dough than in vinyl.
When I sent this news to my list last year, I wondered what would bring us to Mass Ave anymore? Once the store is shuttered, it’ll mark the closing of one of the last outposts of spontaneous social connection for music lovers and collectors. Where will we go to enjoy a bit of dialogue with fellow devotees of Joe Henderson, Irma Thomas, Richard Thompson, Bill Charlap or Charlie Rich? Or to get a tip on something we missed, whether it was released last month or a half-century ago?
Besides Fenway Park and the Boston Garden, it was record stores that drew me to the Hub over forty years ago when I'd hitchhike from Worcester on pilgrimages to Skippy White's in Roxbury, Discount Records on Boylston Street, Harry Chickles on Gainsborough, and Cheapo in Central Square. Long before the advent of jazz history classes on college campuses, liner notes were as informative as anything on a jazz reading list, so even if I could afford only a couple of LP’s, I would read the backs of a dozen more while I made my selection, all the while knowing there were in-house consultants nearby. Alas, it’s just not our world anymore.
One of my correspondants wrote last year to say, "No, it's not our world anymore and it's not fair because it's not as if we were hogging the rest of it, only hanging on to a small but civilized patch where so much came together and even more had its own integrity." As Wieseltier puts it, “The disappearance of our bookstores and record stores [and video stores] constitutes one of the great self-inflicted wounds of this wounding time.”
Drop me a line with your memories of shopping for records.