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Spinning round and round

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Hours, days, years were spent listening to records only to find tape cassettes more portable and Compact Discs closer to perfection. Hindsight, as it is, makes me regret so many life choices, but we’ll stick to recorded music formats. It is safer that way for everyone concerned, especially for me.

Tempted by the shiny disc, I spent less time in record/disc shops even though the frequency of my visits remained the same. There was no flipping in the bins, no intense scrutiny of album notes, just the reliance upon the words of friends and strangers. The first years for Compact Discs were crap shoots for the labels and a minefield for the consumer. Not sure that anybody early on got the handle on not just producing/engineering for the new format but the transfer of music from back-catalogs.

Sure, the discs were convenient, but the fun from shopping and hanging about in the shops was gone. We would wait until we were out of the store to extract our purchases from their shrink-wrap and only then read the fine print in the accompanying booklet. Adding insult to injury, we all had record racks and storage crates but nothing suitable for the silver disc. That was a real bummer as so many of us sold our souls and swapped our records for these new wonders of technology.

I grew up in New York city remembering fondly all the records shops I’d frequent in lower Manhattan: Greenwich Village, East Village, Bowery, West Village, SoHo, and Tribeca. Most of those shops are gone, the ones remaining having changed their locations numerous times. One of my favorite shops ever was/is Record Runner, then located on Cornelia Street, now to be found on Jones Street in Manhattan. Routinely I would go to the shop during my lunch period from school – Stuyvesant High School when it was still on the East Side, 15th Street and 1st Avenue. It was here that I would grab my copy of Trouser Press, the bible for everything Punk and New Wave, consistently making me late for whatever subject my 6th-period class would be that day.

I have called London, England home for some years and in my travels across that country I made it a point to frequent and explore record shops. Not having grown up in England I relied on the kindness of friends and strangers until I popped into JAM Records in Cornwall, picked up a book, requested a scone and ordered up a pot of tea. That book, Graham Jones’ Last Shop Standing, would change so much for me – it would become my travel guide to British record shops, much like Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys. I read the book from cover to cover in the space of a weekend, knowing full well that it would stay with me to this day.

A while back I interviewed Graham Jones about his book and the subsequent DVD of the same name. Here is the link to the piece: replete with photographs. I have multiple copies of the book as successive ones grew battered and dog-eared from much travel and use. I so wish Graham or someone like him could author/publish an American travel guide to record shops in all 50 states.

Just recently he published a follow-up to Last Shop Standing entitled The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made It Happen. The first book documented both the demise and the stubborn determination of those record shop owners to keep them open for business. This new book chronicles the revival, how it has come about, and how today’s shops, both old and surprisingly new ones, are adapting to this new “vinyl” world.

The independent record shop is at the very core of the revival. Hundreds of new shops have opened in the United Kingdom in the past decade, which is both stunning and most welcome news. This very revival across the pond and here in the States has opened the door to a burgeoning market for relatively affordable turntables at a much higher than expected level of quality.

Perhaps Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, the man responsible for some wondrous re-mastered recordings, has best put into words my feelings for records and record shops:

“The magical experience of a holding a vinyl record in my hands has always been inseparable from my broader love of music, and this wonderful and engaging book made me realize people who feel the same way are not living in the past, they have become the future.”

The past has indeed become both present and future. I can now visit any number of shops here in Columbus, Ohio: Spoonful Records, Records Per Minute, Used Kids Records, Lost Weekend Records, and while away the hours in deep vinyl contemplation surrounded by other like-minded individuals. In any one of these shops you can find me hunched over bins reminiscing about old times: concerts, tours, and album releases. It is always fun to remember where you were and what was going on in your life when a particular album was released. And how you had to be on your own for the first full listen so you could hear the music and read the liner notes without interruption.

I like that I can return to my record shop roots from 40 years ago when one’s age and generation meant everything. It’s not like that today with things being so much more fluid. The social stigmas of the past are gone, which has me conversing with kids less than half my age about not my music or their music, but our music.

Lastly, I told them about my New Album Releases project (, and they were gob-smacked. They messaged me: “That’s cray, you’re so old, and your music is F/R.” Apparently “F/R” in the new British teen slang is “for real.”


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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One Response to Spinning round and round

  1. Andy Goldstein says:

    Very nice piece. I grew up on Third Street across from NYU. I also scoured the local record stores for LPs and 45s. I still have all of them, and listen to them as much as time allows. And I also went to Stuyvesant HS! From ’71-’73.

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