Much has been made about the communal nature of music by both those who create it and those who consume it. Millions of words, from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” have been spelled out on the subject. Sometimes it takes time for us to grasp and appreciate their true meanings, but when we connect through song, it’s usually a wonderful thing.
This is usually the kind of thought that runs through my head as I walk into that beautiful, endangered ground they call a record store.
For most of my music-buying career, the record store didn’t have the kind of transitive power it may have had for some of you. Music was always a large part of the family – an uncle of mine who’d passed away almost too soon for me to really remember him had owned a record store of his own in New Jersey, after a stint working for RCA. (It wasn’t until later in life that I’d realize how formative having a relative so involved in the music business could be.)
Thanks to an incredibly photographic memory, I can recall where and when I obtained nearly every one of the albums I own, or the chain of events that led me to purchase them. But the journey never meant much to me back then. Chalk it up to youthful indifference, I guess, a problem that hit much of my generation hard in terms of music. Too much of my collection was obtained at Target, K-Mart, Sam Goody or FYE, and it seemed so convenient to get stuff there that I didn’t really consider alternative routes to buying my discs.
Thankfully for me (and for you, the reader), that would change before too long.
During high school, the constant changes in eyewear I had to endure at the time meant frequent trips to an eyeglass store in Summit, N.J. Before long I’d noticed a music store across the street, called Scotti’s. My curiosity soon got the better of me, and I’d found myself able to get things I’d never have dreamed to find in a department store. There was even a wide selection of vinyl – something that I’ve honestly not bought much of (my biggest vinyl purchase actually was made there – a near-mint copy of the original pressing of Billy Joel’s Cold Spring Harbor for $25), but a medium I’ve drawn inspiration from as far as dreaming up reissues.
Eventually, in college, my horizons broadened further. Going to a university so close to a train station meant I could find more outlets to satiate my love of recorded music. Whether it was Tunes in Hoboken or the departed Virgin Megastore in Times Square (a place I was freer to visit as a student), I bought up a storm. (That doesn’t even count the newfound ability to buy used discs on Amazon.) Eventually I settled on my more-or-less current digs for music sprees: Vintage Vinyl in Fords, which I’d known about for years but hadn’t known it was so close to my hometown, and the quarterly Greater NJ Record Shows in Springfield.
In each of those venues, I’ve discovered how important it is not only to patronize such businesses, but really pay attention to the inside as well. If I go to Vintage I know I’m going to come out with something that will challenge and broaden my love of the artists and genres I follow. And as reissue titles get harder and harder to find in the Targets and FYEs of the world (or at least more insanely expensive), I at least know I can buy them somewhere without having to resort to the Internet all the time.
Yes, Stevie sang that music is a world within itself, but it’s thanks to these portals on the outside – these small but determined record stores – that we have that language we all understand.
I hope this little screed gives you a fond memory of a store you visit to get your fix. Do feel free to share your favorites below.