We Learned More From a 3 Minute Record…

Released on June 4, 1984 “Born In The U.S.A” is an interesting and pivotal point in Bruce Springsteen’s story.  This record took The Boss to the global stage.  Bruce said “goodbye” to the bars of the Jersey Shore and endless sets at The Bottom Line.  This was a calculated decision, one with which he wrestled and searched deep within himself to reconcile.  Here was a man who had sung for and about the common man, the working person, those on hard times with very little prospect for change and here he was experiencing significant success, worldwide fame and tangible wealth.  Would he accept this new responsibility and level of exposure?  From the beginning Bruce never minced words in admitting that he was not content to merely be the king of the sweaty seaside bar scene but fully intended to ascend, to succeed.  “The River” album was the springboard and the landing pad was “Born In The U.S.A.  There was a gorgeous piece of work in-between entitled “Nebraska” but that beauty deserves it’s own Rambling entirely.

The themes and integrity of what had launched the E Street Band were still in tact, there were just significantly more butts in the seats now as the rooms went from platform-stage clubs where Clarence might blow notes right into your face to multiple night stands (in NJ you could get as many as 10) in concrete coliseums generally reserved for the local football team.

“Born In The U.S.A.” also greeted it’s listeners with a new production style.  It would be a falsehood to deny that there are some very 1980’s nuances throughout the album but they don’t overwhelm the tracks.  In retrospect these are fantastically written and crafted songs, many of which of have only proven to age like fine wine.  Their full sound and impact, however, came to life on the tour to support the album, and frankly to this very day when the band plays any of these songs live.

The album is much greater than the sum of its radio and Mtv hits, but oh boy, were there hits!  7 of the album’s 12 tracks hit the Billboard Top 10 and the album itself would reach #1 and be certified 15x Platinum.  The album’s popularity and success though are not to imply it was some dulled version of Bruce’s previous work, crafted merely for radio friendly-ness.  It was simply where our artist found himself personally and professionally and when one looks at the precipice on which he stood in the early 80’s this was the only possible direction in which he could go…world domination.  

This is classic Boss though, songs of love lost, love unrequited.  People working far too hard for far too little.  “Bobby Jean” is impossible to listen to without chills dancing on your spine nor tears forming in your eyes as you arrive at the third verse.  The fictional story within will rip out your heart but it’s only when you later learn that the nonfictional basis for the song is the exit from the band of Little Steven Van Zandt, Bruce’s soul brother in arms, chief collaborator and sounding board, that you feel the ache in your bones.  “No Surrender” breaches similar territory and the fact alone that Bruce would allow two tracks regarding the subject onto the same album shows just how important and cathartic it was for him the expel those emotions.  Then we have the title track, written from a very different perspective than those who attempted to appropriate it for themselves were capable of hearing.  This is not a man grasping for the brass ring with no regard for content or quality or his audience.

It can be hard to separate “Born In The U.S.A.” from it’s chronological context, socially or personally for Springsteen, but that’s ultimately an unnecessary exercise.  This is an important album with a voice of it’s own and much to say and the fact that everyone owns a copy, the fact that it filled 55 thousand seat arenas or the fact that it made a video actor (and dancer) out of Bruce does not diminish it’s purpose or impact.  It’s exactly the album The Boss should have made in 1984 but it’s sound and intent ring just as true in 2019.

Give it a spin today to celebrate and may we suggest listening from beginning to end.  It really is an entirely different experience outside of Top 40/classic rock radio.

“…and I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it, but I probably will”

The Walrus Was Paul

The progression of The Beatles’ sound during their active years is seldom debated and while they advanced by leaps & bounds with nearly every release there are two very definitive lines in the sand where their evolution can be measured as profound and nearly extinguishing of the work that preceded it.  The sharp right turns are palpable 1. ) their decision to cease performing live following their 1966 tour and 2.) their trip to India in 1968.  The trip to Rishikesh in 1968 birthed their sprawling self-titled album (affectionately known to us as “The White Album”), amongst other things.  2018 marks the 50th anniversary of said trip and the resulting album and while it’s horribly cliche to mark these types of milestone anniversaries (George Carlin once claimed that “we [humans] like round numbers) there seems something apropos about marking this particular one as The White Album was, at once, very much a result of its time in the scope of the Beatles’ history (both musically and personally) but, simultaneously, sonically so far ahead of its time.  Even after 50 years the universe may still not have caught up.

The lads traveled to India to study transcendental meditation under the tutelage of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the spirit with which they returned from his teachings and the commune style under which they found themselves living varied significantly, from devotion (George), disillusionment (John), a casual acceptance with a readiness to return to the Western world (Paul) and simply not liking the food (Ringo).  While they were there they wrote songs, they couldn’t not write songs.  It’s what they did, whether they wanted to or not.  Many of those songs came to make up The White Album (with others being recorded for Abbey Road or as solo works throughout the 70’s) and the trip to India, the Maharishi, the community of pop stars and American starlets they lived with for many weeks, the Ganges River, mantras… it can all be heard in the grooves of that album.  There was direct reporting, analogous storytelling and even some bitterness at the India experience or perhaps some bitterness at simply being Beatles.  For better or worse, higher consciousness or not, they came back different people and the new music reflected all of it.  The same 4 men, the same set of instruments but an entirely new perspective and as artists it was impossible for it not to seep into he new songs. 

The Beatles’ breakup was a long one and it’s beginnings are here but the irony, the painful irony, is that even under these conditions the music was profound.  It was beautiful , fresh and important.  It lacked any retread or re-writing of “the hits”.  Their success had allowed them one significant luxury, they could make the album they wanted and nobody was in a position to tell them “no”.  There is unquestionably more separation.  The confines of a “band” were stretched and many of these tracks could be seen as individual songs with less input from the others than may have occurred on earlier works and while it’s sad to put it under the microscope and identify it that way it was somewhat inevitable considering the Beatles’ trajectory and other-worldly fame and attention.

George Harrison is finally allowed to stretch his legs a bit on The White Album and we are blessed with “Piggies”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the criminally overlooked “Long, Long, Long”.  Sir George Martin performed less studio trickery than he had on the previous few outings but his brush strokes are all over this record nonetheless.  The trip to India forced an introspection for each Beatle and those personal reviews were evident in the songs.  The collateral damage that accompanied it though was that they began to realize that perhaps they could be happier making music without the other 3.  In hindsight we now know that we would not have them as “The Beatles” for very much longer but even until the bitter end the music they produced was impeccable.  This was a very good rock n’ roll band ( see: “Yer Blues”) and when they plugged in it was magic, petty personal trivialities aside.

This is an album full of genius, despite being crafted under less than perfect conditions (a last minute rush to meet a release schedule, the first real signs of personal strain, etc.). That is a reason to celebrate it.  Another is that it sounds like nothing else, nothing else The Beatles ever did or that anyone ever did, really.  This isn’t a pop album, per se, and it’s not a “60’s album”.  Sure, it contains a number of pop songs and specifically it contains the track “Revolution” with it’s anti-Vietnam war stance which could be considered extremely “60’s”, but those songs individually and the album as a whole transcend those rather constricting labels  and sounds as unique and powerful as it did then, but not is some backward-looking context.  It’s an important album now, today!  It ushered in the final phase of the Beatles, one that would be less psychedelic in sound and would not resemble the mop top version of the band in any way.  It had only been 4 years since their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show but it may as well have been a whole other lifetime ago.

The 50th Anniversary of the year 1968 will undoubtedly be a consistent theme this year.  It was a tumultuous time and in many ways could be regarded as a reflection of our current state.  1968 did have some rays of beauty shine through and The White Album is, without question, one of them.  So, whether you know it intimately, are a casual listener or have never heard a note of it, we invite you to celebrate this milestone album.


Music triggers sense memory like few other things.  Certain tunes, phrases or melodies can take us right back to a specific place in time.  Often we can even smell or taste those memories.  How about, though, an immediate recall to the co-writer, percussionist or, and often times most importantly, the cover and layout artist?  That’s a deeper dig and may speak to a slightly more thorough audience (read: “obsessed and fanatic”) but I suspect that album art ties into music more deeply and more often than even the most casual music fan realizes.

The cover and/or jacket art can many times be an expression equal to that of the music contained therein and no format more than vinyl wax allows for this expression to be beautifully emblazoned for a grateful audience!  In so many cases the cover art is your first introduction to a piece of musical work.  Perhaps it’s a tried and true favorite of yours and that depiction on the front keys you in to exactly what you are in for or maybe it pulls you toward the unfamiliar, thinking “what music sounds like THIS?  I must know!”.  Album art and packaging is the proverbial first impression and it carries much weight.

Whether it’s art done by the musicians themselves or work commissioned from “professionals”, it’s another level and avenue of expression.  Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, The Smiths, Black Flag, Pink Floyd and countless others wear their art on their sleeves.  You can identify one of their albums across a crowded hazy room and the art is akin to the sounds you’ll find within the grooves.  Some expressions may be less straightforward but no less impactful.  The Beatles self-titled album (that’s “the White Album” to you and I) may be one of the most profound expressions in cover art.  Here was a band at the extreme height of it’s powers and they needed only to issue an album with a completely white cover with 2 simple words printed across the front…THE BEATLES.  It flew off the shelves.  It tells us a lot though, admittedly some of it in hindsight.  Let’s face it, the lads weren’t getting on that well at this point and burned a lot of calories to record a double album’s worth of material.  Exhaustion likely played a role and a sense of “we’re done and over it” but on an even more significant, if not subconscious level, it seems to say “the goods are inside”.  The music would do the talking.  Everything they had to say could easily be found inside (not to mention 4 sweet headshot photos).

How about the completist’s jackpot, the Box Set???!!!  Be carful not to get any drool on that 76 page hardbound book, the rare post cards or the limited edition album jacket found only in said set.  This is when the archives are scraped and the deep dive of artifacts and ephemera is shared with the fans.  Alternate art is abound, new interpretations as well as the unreleased original outtakes.  These are great because often times we get a historical and tutorial perspective on the art.  We get to spread our legs a bit and look at a work we may know very well in different perspectives.  It’s hard to imagine Sticky Fingers with any other cover, but it too was a work in progress.  Just when we thought we had all of the trivial facts memorized there’s a whole new batch we can impress our friends with.

Some covers and their accompanying packaging are events in and of themselves, a la Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, while others can be simpler but no less impactful (e.g. Joy Division’s sound waves on Unknown Pleasures).  How many times have we purchased an albums strictly on the cover art alone?  Anyone who has knows that it doesn’t always work out but, at minimum, the art did IT’S job, it got you through the door.

The digital download, while convenient, can’t bring us any of this fulfillment.  Plus, who said true musical experience was meant to be convenient?  Can one even possess a digital download?  Perhaps that’s a whole other conversation, but without being able to hold and pour over an album’s companion art I think it’s fair to say that a large and important portion of the experience is simply missed.  This is true art, just as we might hang on our walls or scatter across our coffee tables.  How lucky are we that while we listen to our artists play for us that we are able to embrace a physical counterpart designed specifically for that purpose.

Some of this may seem slightly heavy-handed but there are those of us that take these things deadly serious.  There are new music fans discovering tunes every day, old and new, and that’s what makes true art beautiful…timelessness.  A Black Sabbath album cover is as terrifying to someone who’s just seeing it for the first time as it was on the day it was released and just wait until they drop the needle and hear doom personified. withinIt must be held in one’s hand and engaged with.  Hitting the “download” button holds none of that romance.

A Splendid Time Is Guaranteed For All…

The concept began as an escape.  The title was a satire of the U.S. West Coast psychedelic long band name trend of the time and was designed to be a mask for a band that could no longer bear the thought of presenting themselves to ballparks full of screaming demanding fans.  Their desire to expand their musical horizons was being thwarted by audiences that were often louder than the music itself.  Unable to hear themselves play, they found their creativity hindered and improvement at their craft was nearly impossible.  This simply could not continue.  The studio began to look more and more like a refuge and not just a place to stop between tours to speedily record the latest batch of new tunes.  Their new ideas were more complex and would take time to lay to tape and were songs that could not necessarily even be played live, if such a desire even remained.

Retreat from the road, a deeper embrace of the recording studio and four young men who began to long to do more than just hold our hands helped birth one of the most important, revolutionary and mold-shattering records of all-time.  These circumstances brought us "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band".

At the Beatles’ disposal was a true genius, Sir George Martin.  Mr. Martin knew the studio like perhaps no other human that’s ever sat at the controls.  He understood that the studio itself could be used like an instrument.  It was something to be played and manipulated.  John, Paul, George and Ringo were brimming with ideas and desires to experiment and George Martin was the perfect conduit through which their ideas would come to fruition.  He would mold the clay of their aspirations into reality.  He would help them bridle the sounds they were hearing in their minds into music like the world had never heard before.  

The “theme” of Sgt. Pepper, Billy Shears, etc. ultimately was not one that ended up running through much of the album but the sheer concept of this imaginary band allowed them to step far enough away from the image they'd garnered up until that point.  The sharp departure from their earlier work and instrumentation was unmistakable.  Certainly "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" showed that the band had turned a corner and their abilities were maturing at lightning speed, but Pepper was an enormous leap into new territories.  Brass instruments were utilized to a greater extent than ever before, George Harrison’s Indian influence and sitar playing take center stage in the masterful “Within You, Without You”.  This was a pop band embracing very un-pop influences and using them to astounding results.  Through George Martin they continued to experiment with tape manipulation, sound effects and unique tunings and time signatures.

There would be no live performances.  The album would speak for itself.  The Beatles had gone on holiday and Sgt. Pepper and his band had taken over and the recordings would be the performance.  These songs demanded to be listened to, absorbed, dissected…not screamed over.  Studio trickery aside, these were beautifully written compositions.  These four young men were responsible for bestowing one of the most important collection of songs of the modern day unto the world.  "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" was the next logical evolutional step for the Beatles yet it was so far ahead of its time that we still may not have even caught up yet.

Even the artwork was revolutionary.  A brightly costumed band adorned the famous album cover as well as the beautiful gatefold sleeve.  Let’s also not forget, this was the very first album to have its song lyrics included.  A standard we take for granted today, the Beatles invented.

So, in it’s 50th year we celebrate the wonder and beauty that is Sgt. Pepper.  We thank the boys for the gift they've given us and we wait with bated breath as the next 50 years worth of music fans discover this treasure.

So Long, 2016...

Whenever writing, even a simple column like this, one is happy for any continued inspiration or fodder that might come while crafting.  Well, this one time, I would have been happy for a little less inspiration.  While preparing for this note to you, in which I crafting an epitaph to 2016, I learned of George Michael’s passing.  It hit like a ton of bricks in a year where we’d already lost so many heroes.  Any year that takes David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Prince and George Martin, to name but a few, is no friend to me and a year I just assume part company with ASAP.

There may, of course, be some inevitability to losing our inspirations.  As we grow older so do they but losing someone like George Michael at only 53 years of age hurts, a LOT!  We do have the music that will remain for the ages and in the long term that does heal the wounds but when the news arrives it knocks the wind out of me every time.

We’re a unique breed though, aren’t we.  We like our music just that little bit extra, we pour over the dialog from our favorite films with a borderline obsessiveness, we re-read sections of important books more than once.  So, when you hear that we’ve lost Prince it feels like a friend has passed, and passed much too soon.  This is not just a man that had some videos on Mtv a couple of decades ago, this is a man that reinvented rock n’ roll…more than once!

With this said, we did have some great music in 2016.  We had new tracks from Thee Oh Sees, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, American Football and the beautiful farewell gift David Bowie left us in the magnificent “Blackstar”.  There was also the Vivien Goldman and Kleenex/LiLiPUT compilation reissues that were both put together with great love and care and helped keep some very important music in the world.  That aside though, 2016 is poised to be remembered as the year we lost some of greatest, in we fact we specially lost “The Greatest Of All Tiiiiiiiimmmeee”.

I will continue to lament these losses personally but I’ll cease doing so here on the page.  Instead I’d rather take a moment to thank them.  From the very bottom of my heart I thank George Martin for reinventing what could be done in a recording studio and being the catalyst for helping The Beatles get the sounds out of their heads and onto tape where WE can all enjoy them for the next thousand generations.  Thanks to George Michael for inspiring us to dance, even those of us (your writer included) who have nothing even resembling rhythm.  Reflection on the losses of Prince and David Bowie can fill volumes and they simply can’t be given proper send off in just these few lines.  We know how far-reaching these losses are and all we can possibly do at this point is break out our copies of Diamond Dogs or Parade and thank the stars we had them at all!

There are simply too many to list everyone individually, but we all have our favorites, so let’s keep their music spinning because I’m not sure how much better 2017 is going to get and we’re going to need all of the Bowie we lay out hands on to remind us that it can be wonderful.  Happy New Year!

“Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld…”


All We Are Saying...

Whether its raging against the machine, Robert Zimmerman urging us people to “come gather round…” so that we might admit that things are not what they used to be or need to be or John Lennon calling for Power To The People, protest music or music bringing attention to social injustice and/or calling for changes to the status quo is an important expression of ones times and beliefs.  While said protest music speaks for us, it often speaks TO us.

This expressive music, in America anyway, can be tied all the way back to a time where our Southern fields were littered with humans in bondage, denied even the simplest of rights.  Singing songs of persecution and spirituality was often the only form of expression these imprisoned peoples had and it stood as their form of protest, protest to the inhuman situation that had been thwarted upon them.  Some protests are soft, some are loud.  Some are peaceful and some are less so, but ALL call for action.  The mighty Joe Strummer once said “An’ if I get aggression I give it to them two time back”.  Joe saw class struggle around him and, with rage brimming over, reported the situation while also urging that we, the listener, must change today while also paving the path for a better tomorrow and we must do it…NOW!

“Protest” needn’t strictly conjure images of violence or even physical reaction.  John & Yoko protested war and the revocation of human rights from their bed.  The most effective and far-reaching protests are those that make others think and take action.  They inspire and don’t merely dictate.  The poetry that dripped from Bob Dylan’s pen emboldened and inspired an entire generation to question the society around them and his words are just as true and profound this very day.  Mr. Dylan was often armed with nothing more than 6 strings, yet he wielded a magnificently powerful weapon, an amplified voice that fell upon ears yearning for real guidance and change.

We rightly draw many emotions and conclusions from music, feelings of love, laughter and anger.  There’s room for it all but those that cause us to take stock of society and our place in it have existed for many years and while always relevant, their words and inspirations can have a greater weight at times when our world is rollercoasting into frighteningly dark tunnels.

Our current times are no different.  We live in a present of extremely divided ideologies, morals and perceptions of the world in whole.  We will not get everyone on board to where we’re at but it won’t be for lack of inspiration or caloric burn.  To quote the puissant Chuck D (himself having a little fun with our beloved Beastie Boys) we must Party For Our Right To Fight.

Just Can’t Wait To Get Back…

The road stretching in front of you, lukewarm coffee acquired at the last stop by your side, crumpled maps strewn about (OK, I guess we all use GPS now but it’s a much less romantic notion) and the determination to hit one more sight before dark.  To me, road tripping is about taking in as much as you can on your journey and my list of sights and stops ALWAYS includes a healthy number of record stores.  No vinyl-phile’s vacation would be complete without these detours.  In fact, I hesitate to categorize them as “detours” and they’re very much part of the master itinerary.

I derive so much enjoyment from stepping into a record shop I’ve never been in before.  The deep dive into new bins is just intoxicating!  For that short period of time (and, let’s face it, it’s more likely to be several hours) we’re making new friends.  We’ve gone out of our way to visit and we’re so happy to be here.  It’s also a nice tool to take a temperature of what other shops are doing.  It’s important not to have blinders on and fall into the rut of how your shop is running.  It’s important to get out and see how the rest of the community is operating.  That aside, though, it’s mostly just about doing some shopping and adding to your own personal collection.  Road records bring a certain amount of extra and special fulfillment.

People take all forms of souvenirs as badges of vacation accomplishments, shot glasses, magnets and even the modern advent of the seflies and social media posts.  This writer’s favorite passport stamp is undeniably the collection of vinyl and records shop t-shirts acquired out in the territory (to borrow some phrasing from one Samuel Clemens).  Finding that extra space on that back floor of the car for your spoils or properly stowing your treasures under the airline seat in front of you is certain proof that you have traveled well!

Hit the road this summer and see some sights.  Eat well, experience new things and reconvene with nature and/or loved ones, but while you’re out there be sure to check out a record shop or two.  We all need to support our neighborhood shops, even those in our adopted vacation neighborhoods.  Happy trails!

Special thanks to the shops we visited on our most recent jaunt:

  • Angry Mom Records – Ithaca, NY

  • Phonopolis – Montreal, Quebec, Canada

  • Atom Heart Musique Alternative - Montreal, Quebec, Canada

  • Sonik Records - Montreal, Quebec, Canada

  • Beatnick Records - Montreal, Quebec, Canada

It’s Still Rock N’ Roll To Me

During the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Ice Cube, founding member of N.W.A., addressed accusations that hip-hop music doesn’t have a place in Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame during that group’s induction.  He was eloquently quoted as saying, “Rock and roll is not an instrument.  Rock and roll isn't even a style of music.  Rock and roll is a spirit that's been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock and, yes, hip-hop.  What connects us all is that spirit”.

Ice Cube’s sentiment is truly profound and really gets us to the heart of the matter.  Rock and roll is an attitude, it’s a position you take on issues and the world at large.  Rock and roll is a passion.  Two guitars, a drummer, a bass player and stacks of Marshalls makes not “rock and roll”.

Rock and roll is how you carry yourself, how you present yourself to the world.  That’s not to say it’s about fashion or posing.  Frankly, that’s quite un-rock and roll!  It’s a about attitude and outlook, it’s about soul…with perhaps a pinch of subversive-ness for added flavor.  Rock and roll is a voice.  It’s 3 ½ minutes where you have the room and you get to put forth your thoughts, your emotions.  It could be Brian Wilson challenging us to wonder “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five giving us a “Message”.  Whether you choose to do this with three chords and feedback or a turntable or a saxophone or a notebook and a stopwatch…it’s all rock and roll!

N.W.A. has every right to accept and bask in the accolade that is induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They took the circumstances surrounding them, the injustice, the violence, the inequality and likelihood of never rising beyond their neighborhood, and reported on it and pushed back against it in the process, not unlike the Sex Pistols did a decade before an entire continent away.  John Lydon & co. were “punk rock” but it’s all just rock and roll.  Punk rock too is an attitude, a credo of “we’re not going to take it anymore and we’re saying so NOW!”.  The original punkers forced their instruments to speak in their language, albeit sometimes crudely, and express their anger and ferocity.  N.W.A did precisely the same thing.  They used the streets as their inspiration, microphones to amplify their rhymed truths and the backbeat of looped and scratched disco and R&B records as their canvas.  N.W.A. used a turntable in much the same way Greg Ginn used guitar feedback to announce that Black Flag was in the building.  John Coltrane’s compositions may have been predominantly wordless but the emotion solicited when he blew his sax conjures the same passion and power N.W.A. did when they spit their rhymes.  Truth…power…feeling!   They weren’t Elvis or Led Zeppelin or even the Sex Pistols, but isn’t that what makes it so great?  Isn’t THAT what makes it rock and roll!?!

Rock and roll is in your heart and often, for many of us, it’s what keeps it beating.  So, when you visit your favorite record shop you can make a pass through the jazz section, pick up some blues, spruce up your punk rock collection…but it’s all ROCK N’ ROLL to me!

I Might Like You Better If We Bought Records Together

Record shopping is at once a communal and yet quite solitary experience.  There's nothing more exciting than walking into your favorite record shop or local record show/flea market and finding your brethren record hunters on their own respective missions.  Oh, it’s a warm and safe place full of like-minded and spirited pursuers. You wonder almost immediately though what they might be searching for, how much of a dent have they made to their “lists” and what their most sought after releases might be.  This mixes with a little bit of fear; what if they should locate and add to their pile the one record you've been waiting to find, and simply can’t go on living without, before you can get your sweaty little palms on it?  This is a risk we must face head-on because whoever finds it first gets to nestle it upon their shelf, but oh, it would look so good on yours!  It’s a risk we take and an accepted part of the dance.  If nothing else, it extends your journey a bit further up the road as, frankly, a good amount of the fun is in the chase anyway. 

As enjoyable and welcoming as the communal component of record shopping is the true crate diggers descend into their own little individual worlds shortly after crossing the shop’s threshold.  A group of shoppers (read: music snobs and obsessives) on similar yet divergent journeys.  They’re best observed from the other side of reinforced glass or at least some sort of cage structure.  Be sure not to reach your hand in or disrupt them in any way.

One person's holy grail might be another's bargain bin filler. That's what makes it all so exciting. The art of record shopping really is quite a paradox. It's a relaxing Zen-like exercise while, at the very same time, stress and anxiety inducing. You're excited to be elbow to elbow with your compatriots but ultimately you're there to fulfill your record-buying fantasies and list fulfillment (OK, a little pun intended). It's understood and accepted though and that's why we keep going back for more. So, get out there and support your local record store. In fact, go to more than one. It's guaranteed to be the most exciting, frustrating, liberating, wallet-crunching and exhilarating thing you'll do all day!

Let’s Get Physical

For me, it’s not enough to simply listen to music.  I must possess it.  In multiple color and pressing variants, states of remastering and deluxe-ing.  I want to shop for it, hold it, open it, study it, place the needle upon it and enjoy the rock n’ roll goodness and then when the ride is over we find it’s home on a shelf amongst it’s fellow record brethren.  Then…I want to do it all over again.

In this, the digital age, there is quite a divide in the physical vs. digital camps.  Many have a very definite opinion on the matter and many more simply don’t care.  For this writer though, there is no substitute for the physical.  Partially because it’s how I learned to listen to and collect music from an early age but mostly it stems from an enjoyment for the art of cataloging and from the empty feeling I get from “owning” a file of a song/album.  How can one possess a file?  Zeroes and ones!?!?!  Even more importantly, there is the matter of fidelity.  Vinyl spinning through even the most standard speakers and stereo system will make mincemeat of an MP3.  There is also something to be said for being physically involved in the process, hands-on.  I’m happy to get up and flip the record.  It's just that sort of engagement that heightens the experience for me.

Then there’s the communal event of going to your favorite local record shop and seeking out your next musical adventures.  Frankly, the immediacy of downloading often feels too easy and less than satisfying.  I love the hunt for music.  “What will I find today?”.  Don’t get me wrong, I was an early adopter of the iPod and think it’s a great companion to one’s collection.  It allows me to take literally thousands of songs from my collection on the road with me but I see it as just that, a tool for portability and one that has its limitations, not to mention a lack of romantic interaction with said tunes.

Likely you have an opinion on this matter and lean heavily one way or the other.  There tends not to be a lot of middle ground in this argument.  The tide, however, continues to turn and not only are physical music sales on an incline (specifically, vinyl sales) but statistics show that young people are beginning to consume physical music again, at an astounding rate.  They want their copy of London Calling as a double album gatefold thing of beauty, and who can blame them?!  Each generation is destined to rebel against that which was favored by the previous one.  It’s the natural order. 

If the next generation of music lovers, the ones that will be running the show in the very near future, are record buyers, I think we’re going to be just fine!

What Was Your First Concert?

Mine was the Rolling Stones. October 28, 1989, Shea stadium. The band, they're still kicking. Shea Stadium, sadly, is gone. My little cousin Johnny's second concert was AC/DC and I was lucky enough to be along on a recent beautiful New Jersey evening for that show (not to be outdone by Van Halen, who he saw just a few weeks earlier).  It made me think back to my second concert, New Kids On The Block. While I have no regrets, there certainly was a decline in the "cool factor" that hardly stacks up against Van Halen / AC/DC.  My track record has admittedly improved substantially since then.  Live music, though, in any and all of its form is about as good as it gets.  I’ve seen shows in everything from a basement to your local megadome, and everything in-between and in those moments there’s nowhere on Earth I’d rather be.  It’s a religious conversion every time.

First concerts are a significant rite of passage.  One that will be discussed, reminisced about and romanticized for many years to come.  It’s very often (as it was for me) a gateway to your next and then your next and then even yet another show.  Many of the rituals have changed.  The price for parking is bordering on ludicrous and securing tickets isn’t as fun or easy as it once had been but when you get through all of that and you’re in a room with your favorite band and that first chord rings out, that first crack of the snare drum resonates, you’re in it and the hair on the back of your neck isn’t coming back down for another few hours.

Spinning the records of your favorite band is crucial and the most accessible avenue to your most beloved rock gods, but seeing them do their thing live is what it’s all about.  Whether your belly is up against the stage and Keith Morris is sweating directly on you or you’re sharing airspace with Newark Airport as you rock to AC/DC from the nosebleeds (as I recently did), there is nothing quite as intoxicating, quite as adrenaline inducing or, simply put, quite as much fun as being witness to the beauty and spectacle that is live music.

The moment the lights go down and just before the band begins is often unbearable for me.  I just can’t take it anymore and I need the ride to begin.  My eyes are wide, goosebumps are formed and my stomach’s in knots.  It happens every time…and I hope it never stops!