Just recently someone said that the city where I live has more record shops per capita than anywhere else. The claim may not be factual, of course; there are always hollow boastful claims being made about something or other. But I want it to be true because that is what I call a liveable city.
Some are dedicated second-hand stores selling CDs, singles, CD singles, maybe a small rack of cassettes and a larger one of DVDs (both music related and general), sometimes some audio equipment, always some dubious product for cleaning records… Oddly, it is not uncommon to find a section for New Vinyl (note capital letters) in second-hand music stores. Some of the more comforting stores also have books. Was it a small section of music-related publications that somehow evolved via other biographies or arts related reads? Who knows or cares? Books make a room civilized and that is enough.
The core, however, is always sound. If music has been produced on it, someone will collect it. You want 3” CD singles? That glass case over there. Picture discs? The bin next to the 12” singles. Yes, of course we’ll buy your 8-track cartridges and give you a great price for them (that we’ll then triple for our new 8-track display section). Perhaps that sounds jaundiced – it’s not meant to be. Stores are businesses, there to meet the demands of a restless and relentless market powered by music in all her multi-hued costumes: nostalgia, obsession, romance, curiosity, habit, entertainment; the endless quest for a fulfilment that never eventuates.
Other stores where vinyl can be found have vague and alluring descriptions frequently including the words ‘retro’, ‘vintage’ or, more scarily for someone with limited funds, ‘collectibles’. Here the records are an extra, an embellishment to the main game of fashion, furniture or frippery, with prices designed more for the casual punter than a paid-up vinyl-tribe foot-soldier. It often seems that these stores are not really interested in selling the records – certainly the prices suggest limited knowledge of the field – but more in having them there to add a certain musty lustre to the emporium. I’ve rarely purchased from trendy second-hand shops, but that doesn’t stop me sniffing out the plastic boxes – or old-growth-recovered-wood hand-made crates – because maybe, just maybe I will find that long-sought treasure… As Brett Milano writes in his entertaining book Vinyl Junkies, the “thrill of imminent consummation hits when you walk in the door”. Makes one think of less salubrious enterprises, doesn’t it?
But it is not only shops where you can search out a vinyl hit: there are week-end markets, garage sales, Op Shops. Some mainstream audio-visual stores have a selection of new vinyl LPs. And when you are tucked up at home but still craving that browsing experience, there are always on-line markets and never-sleep internet retailers to keep you active through the night.
Yet getting out and about is fun, especially if you have a friend to browse with in convivial isolation. In Melbourne you can get a ripper little paper map showing where the treasure might be buried and plan a full day powered by your search engine of choice. (Mine is an old Mazda)
If you visit record stores often enough you develop favourites. Maybe it is past success in finding treasures, perhaps the knowledge or friendliness of the staff. Or something less definable such as simply feeling comfortable there amongst the racks and shelves. There is a wonderful German word that nails it: gemütlich.
Time may be the unarguable flow of life towards decay but one thing is certain: time stops when you are browsing. Unless, of course, there appears nearby a competitor who might be interested in the same stuff as you. Then comrade, forget comfort; you better get your fingers into top gear.
In subsequent offerings there will be store stories. We’ll also venture into the arcane world of Record Fairs and paddle in the endless oceans of vinyl obsessiveness. But for now, good hunting.
Milano, Brett (2003) Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting. St Martins Press, NY.