Sunday, February 14, 2016

How Buying a Lovin' Spoonful Album Relates to the Jazz Record Mart

Yesterday I made a late afternoon pilgrimage to Jerry's Records. My main reason was to see my bandmate Mike, but of course you can't simply pop into Jerry's and pop back out (unless you're picking up stuff you won in a recent auction). I wandered over to the jazz section, poked around, grabbed a few things and made my way back out to the main room.

I asked Mike if Lovin' Spoonful's first album, Do You Believe in Magic, ever came in. The band's other albums are fairly common in that store, and I have all of them. The myriad compilations (there exist about two for every proper Spoonful album, more than most bands I think) are a dime a dozen. Mike insisted that there should be a copy of Magic in the band's section. When there wasn't, he strolled to the back stock wall and found two copies up there. I bought one and he put the other one out in the section.

A quick search on this blog will tell you I'm a champion of the band. Some people might dismiss them as lightweight, but musically they had a lot going on. Lyrically too, for that matter (check out the third verse of "Darling Be Home Soon," or all the internal rhyming of "Jug Band Music). For some reason, during my heavy Spoonful/'60s days, I never owned their first album. I've heard most of it through compilations that I've owned. But it's good to have it all in order, the way these 20-year-olds wanted it to be heard back then.

But this isn't going to be another appreciation of the Lovin' Spoonful. This is about record stores. As I was getting ready to head outside into single-digit weather, something took my mind back in time, to about 35 years ago. That would place me back in 8th grade, and that was the time when I made my first trips to Record Graveyard, a long-gone used record store that used to be on Forbes Avenue in Oakland, just down the street from the Carnegie Museum and library. (Some will remember it from its later locale on Craig Street.)

Like Jerry's Records, it was a second floor walk-up and, possibly around this time, it was owned partially by Jerry Weber. (Within a year or so, he sold his half of the business and opened Garbage Records, which he later rechristened with his name.) Now I had loved records since the time I could crawl, but this was my first real experience with a used record store. Unlike Heads Together and National Record Mart - where I used to go weekly and flip through same stuff - there was new stuff here every week. Crazy covers. Records I'd read about but never thought I'd see. And I could afford them! When I started delivering the Post-Gazette, that opened up the buying opportunities even further. Of course, there would be other used stores I'd discover in town, but for me, this is where it all started.

And I feel especially wistful thinking about that, juxtaposed with the impending closing of the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago. Part of the whole experience of buying music (not just records, but music in any format) is being able to flip through a rack of covers and stop at one of them, give it an inquisitive look and have one of three things possibly happen:
a. you ask somebody who works there what they know about this album
b. somebody next to you offers their unsolicited opinion on the record, which in this circumstance might be a good thing
c. you hold onto it, thinking you might buy it or at the very least, play it on the store turntable.

There's so much music out there now, that how the hell are we supposed to find out if we like it? A band name? An email? Radio? I hate to break it to you p.r. folks out there, but I get so many damn emails a day that it takes a lot to get me to open them. I remember going into Paul's CDs and having Paul treat me the way a neighborhood butcher treats a regular customer: He just got something in that he knows I would like. And he'd pull something out from behind the counter.

I loved that. People knew what you'd like, and finding things for you. That was a great way to build a customer base and for commerce to exist. And for a community to grow.

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