Reactions to my desire for a record player have brought about a variety of responses.
My parents are thrilled, but no, I can’t get Mom’s first U.S.-released Beatles album just yet. I’ll have to wait.
Many are curious: “You can find records still nowadays? Where?”
Most are ecstatic, are even intent on helping me build my collection.
And some have commented on how “Brooklyn hipster” it is of me to want a record player in the first place. These are the people who know me the least.
I can’t listen to top 40 painlessly unless I’m driving or drinking (not at the same time, of course, because that’s illegal and dangerous). And even those rare moments while I do belt out “Call Me Maybe” while flying down Dixwell Avenue are rife with small shreds of guilt. I blame those brilliant marketing people.
I’ve been an oldies gal since I graduated from high school (this.). My heart belongs to ’50s, ’60s and ’70s music. Oh, there have been brief love affairs with current artists–Lady Gaga, pre-1989-Taylor Swift, HAIM, Michael Bublé. But I always find a way to justify these infatuations. Some of Lady Gaga’s songs remind me of early Madonna (because yes, ’80s music is now considered “oldies”). Taylor Swift’s music, particularly on Fearless and Speak Now, tell stories the same way many great old songs used to do. HAIM sounds like a revamp of Fleetwood Mac, and Michael Bublé…I don’t even have to explain that one.
I can’t listen to most current music again and again the way I do with oldies. I could listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors every day if I wanted to. Same goes for the Temptations and Diana and Curtis and Otis. When I listen to Isaac Hayes’s “Walk on By” I find myself wagging a 23 year-old fist at the cosmos and asking, “Why don’t you create music like you used to? As though the cosmos decide that kind of stuff. I mean, they might as well.
What will I do when I’m my parents’ age and I’m mourning music that’s 100 years old? I pity the thought.
Anyway, since this is going down a dark path, I will continue.
So far I’ve acquired six records from two different stores. The first two purchases happened somewhat on a whim. On my way home from work, I decided that I would get off my lazy butt a stop earlier and walk the twelve minutes or so from the G-train, rather than transfer from the G to the L (which requires an extra leg of travel but then leaves me with only a sixty second walk home). It wasn’t too cold, and I needed to get some produce from the grocery store that sits right off the G anyway. Why not stop at that vintage store, Olly Oxen Free, that I’d seen a few times and gone into maybe once?
So I did. Clutching my plastic bag filled with an onion, a pepper, garlic, and asparagus tips, I made my way down Montrose Avenue, heart beating ever so slightly, hoping that Olly Oxen Free still had that copy of Isaac Hayes’s Hot Buttered Soul I’d seen last summer.
I know I haven’t written this in awhile, but I feel like 90% of my posts on this blog revolve around my anxiety about going into new social situations–going up on stage to introduce a poet at a reading or frequenting a new and scary library, for instance. You’d think that with all of my experience behind a counter greeting hundreds and hundreds of strangers at the pie shop and, before that, an ice cream shop would render me confident in the role of “patron.” Yet for some reason I am always worried I am going to say something awkward. Because I usually do. But then it usually ends up being endearing.
My worries manifested themselves into my actual physical coordination when I marched up to what I believed to be the door of Olly Oxen Free. Twasn’t. The door I’d chosen, which obviously led down an entryway, obviously belonged to an apartment building. I backtracked and then fumbled for the right door and entered. Mind you, I’ve been to Olly Oxen Free before.
My worries immediately vanished I was greeted warmly by a completely empty store and a tall guy with a Crest-white smile. A few more steps in and a few lines of admittance from each party (“I just got a record player for Christmas and I’m building a record collection,” I said; “I’m just babysitting this store until my friend comes back,” he said), I was at ease.1
The vintage store, which is mostly really expensive clothing, had about four boxes of records. Many of them were around the range of $5, and many of them were Barbara Streisand. “Why would anyone give any of these away?” I remarked as I sifted through them. I said it half-sarcastically but I kind of meant it. Barbra Streisand is pretty darn awesome.
Then, I stumbled across this:
Yes, that is Liza Minnelli. But that is also Robert De Niro. Pre-Oscar-win for Raging Bull, post-Oscar-win for The Godfather, Pt. II…playing the saxophone. Now, I’m no film connoisseur, but I had no idea they did a film together. Neither did the dude behind the counter.
What’s more, it has a 6.7 rating on IMDb, which in my book puts it right up there with Gone With the Wind and The Godfather, Pt. I.
So we gave it a spin.
Which brings me to another one of the reasons why I think I’m gonna like record-shopping–the same reason why I was slightly anxious before: It can be so much more social than the more common way of buying or listening to music. I’ve only been in two different places to purchase albums, but both parties offered me the chance to listen to the records in the store before purchasing them. I know this was mostly so I could test out the quality of the albums, many of which were 50+ years old. But it also genuinely made me feel like I was transported back to a time when what mattered in the music listening process was less about quantity and more about quality.
The two albums I bought that day can’t be more than half an hour long each. Songs were short then. If you compare buying a record with buying the ability to listen to unlimited music on your computer, you don’t really get as much bang for your buck. Not on the surface, anyway.
As I ate some pieces of grapefruit that the Crest-white smile guy offered me2, he explained to me how some record players need to be used in tandem with a set of speakers, which are sold separately. He also told me about another record shop down the street called Human Head Records, which had many more albums than Olly Oxen Free and all the equipment I might possibly need to set up my own new system. I added it to my list of spots to check out.
I ended up leaving after forty-five minutes. Tucked beneath my arm were If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966) by the Mama’s and the Papa’s, and Up, Up and Away (1967) by The Fifth Dimension.
When I got home and I felt that I had Instagrammed this moment decently enough, I put The Mama’s and the Papa’s record on first. For some reason The Mama’s and the Papa’s and record players seem to go together like peas and carrots. As soon as “Monday, Monday” blared through the speakers (the sound from the built-in ones is great in my tiny shoe-box room so I don’t feel the need to purchase separate speakers after all), I knew I had made the right decision. Never before had the ba-daaa, ba-dadadas sounded so crisp. Never before had the cryin’ all of the times sounded so earnest.
It was great. So great that I got another Mama’s and Papa’s record from Norman’s Sound and Vision in Williamsburg, a place that easily has thousands of records and a loyalty system that I’ve proudly joined. I’m also proud to say I met Norman.
The greatest hits album has “I Saw Her Again” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.” It also has another one that I didn’t know, called “Safe in My Garden.”
The latter song is one of those kinds of songs from the ’60s that feels like it could have been made now, or should have been. I was sitting on my bed doing work, zoning out most of the words in the song, when suddenly the words, “Man, don’t they know the world’s on fire?” flew out of the record player and slapped me in the face.3
Safe in my garden,
(Could it be we were hot-wired late one night while very tired…)
An ancient flower blooms.
(They stole our minds and thought we’d never know it…)
And the scent from its nature
(With a bottle in each hand; too late to try to understand…)
Slowly squares my room.
(We don’t care where it lands – we just throw it…)
And it’s perfume being such
That it’s causing me to swoon.
When you go out in the street, (Safe in our garden…)
So many hassles with the heat;
No one there can fill your desire. (And the scent…)
Cops out with the megaphones,
Telling people stay inside their home.
Man, can’t they see the world’s on fire?
Something about this last line has stuck with me ever since I first heard it. It represents everything I’ve felt over the last couple of years, when I finally became aware–truly aware–of the world around me, and when I finally realized that there are people in this world who aren’t. “Man, can’t they see the world’s on fire?” is how I feel when I hear people dismiss Obama’s attempt to place any restrictions on guns. It’s how I feel when I read about people who are so hell-bent on telling women, or gay people, what they can and can’t do with their bodies, when there are so many other things in this world that need our attention. It’s how I feel when I discover a Facebook group full of members who don’t believe Sandy Hook actually happened. It’s how I feel when customers come into the pie shop and throw fits about having to put milk in their own coffee themselves, or about not getting the pie they want because someone else got there before them.
Most importantly, this record player has allowed me to tune out the current world, if only for a little bit at a time. I do still find myself Wikipedia-ing a lot (for instance, deep research of The Mama’s and Papa’s led me to discover that Michelle Phillips had an affair with one of The Byrds…of course she would cheat on her husband and lead singer of her folk-y band with another lead singer of another folk-y band.). But it keeps me from falling into the YouTube rabbit hole. I can’t really skip around with albums. I’m more or less set, stuck in the now of whatever I’m listening to, left to my own writing devices.
The Mama’s and the Papa’s, The Fifth Dimension, Simon and Garfunkel Live in Central Park (1981), George Benson’s Breezin’ (1976) and Diana Ross’s All the Greatest Hits have allowed me to take my time and enjoy whatever mood or song I’m in. The now. And I think that’s something everyone needs to experience, whether they’re 23 or 230.
1Looking back on this, this Crest-white smile guy could have totally been a bad guy who came into Olly Oxen Free, wooed whoever was behind the counter with his smile, and then poked said counter-person with a sleep syringe. (What’s a sleep syringe? Well, I imagine it’s a needle filled with a liquid that makes people fall asleep.) Then this Crest-white smile guy might have proceeded to do a bunch of malicious things around the shop–like try on some of the $400 clothing–as the counter-person lay passed out cold in the back. And then I entered, totally clueless.
2Again, this could have ended badly if Crest-white smile man had been wielding a sleep syringe.
3Ironically enough, someone mentioned this last night during the Republican debate. It might have been Carly Fiorina, but in one of her tirades she said something like, “the world is on fire.” Even though last night diminished any possible chance of me liking her at all, this still proves that this phrase has relevance.