Beautiful dreamer / wake unto me

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If you look in a Philadel­phia tele­phone book from 1968 you’ll find an entry for Ra, Sun. If dialled, a voice at 5626 Mor­ton Street- a com­mu­nal home in Ger­man­town where the for­mer Her­man Poole Blount and mem­bers of his Arkestra lived- would answer: “You have reached out­er space”.

So says Wax Poet­ics in its Feb­ru­ary issue, which grand­ly fea­tures Philly not only on its front cov­er but also on every page of the issue. You get a Ted­dy Pen­der­grast sto­ry (in which he humor­ous­ly nails the inter­view­er on a cou­ple of points of naivety), one on the leg­endary vibes-meis­ter, Vince Mon­tana, and a mul­ti-page inter­view with Gam­ble and Huff, who, as I’ve been known to say before repeat­ed­ly, are the own­ers and musi­cal mas­ter­minds behind Philadel­phia Inter­na­tion­al Records, per­haps the most impor­tant post-Motown soul label, bar none, and much more. It’s obses­sive.

$2 records

And that obses­sion was one of the more won­der­ful things that I came face to face with in NYC over the past weeks. I’d for­got­ten, or rather I’d found myself a lit­tle detached from such minu­ti­ae breath­ing musi­cal obses­sion in recent years, most­ly because I’m in a nation where if such a thing exists it’s in a lan­guage I don’t speak well and because the his­to­ry of this nation has meant lit­tle expo­sure to the edgi­er, more inter­est­ing gen­res that exist beyond it’s shores.

Across much of Asia, exclud­ing of course Japan – where they obsess about every­thing – lit­tle steps musi­cal­ly out­side what we would call painful­ly main­stream in the west. There are no record shops, that I’ve found at least, of any real worth in Indone­sia (although I found myself talk­ing myself into believ­ing Aksara in Jakar­ta is, but the real­i­ty is the shelves are rarely thrilling when put next to even a below aver­age indie record shop in NYC), Malaysia, Thai­land or Sin­ga­pore. There is, how­ev­er, a killer in Hong Kong, if you can actu­al­ly find it, but it’s the excep­tion.

But NY more that gave me hope, it thrilled me day and day again. The record stores (and the vinyl!) were bet­ter than I remem­ber and, most­ly, very busy and thor­ough­ly inspir­ing.

As an aside, there are two dif­fer­ent worlds in music retail in NY (and pret­ty much every­where else out­side Asia) and with the clo­sure of the last old school super­store it’s pret­ty clear that’s not who I mean. I actu­al­ly went to both the Vir­gin Stores in Man­hat­tan, a cou­ple of times (par­tial­ly because the one in Times Square has the only clean toi­lets that I could find in the area!). Nei­ther shop deserved to be open as they had shit­ty stock, most­ly uncar­ing and use­less staff and seemed topped up, ran­dom­ly and des­per­ate­ly, with tack being passed off as mer­chan­dis­ing and quirky nov­el­ty items – although I did buy a Snoop Dog bone for our dogs (who love it BTW) – like the dirty play­ing cards in there for Valen­tines Day. You have to ask what that sort of thing is doing in a so-called record shop.

It was the lit­tle stores, the pas­sion­ate ones who under­stand why peo­ple buy music, who ask if they can help and then rave inter­minably about that lost B side or the Japan­ese mix, who were doing well. The oth­er stores are just the retail front for the bean coun­ters who increas­ing­ly took over the music indus­try in recent decades and who now are mum­bling on about pira­cy – for­get­ting that the music indus­try was built by pirates and rogues and with­out peo­ple like that there is no indus­try.

You can fight pas­sion with law­suits all you like but you kill the pas­sion, you kill the indus­try.

I spent days wan­der­ing stores, buy­ing some, but most­ly just tak­ing in places like Rebel Rebel in the West Vil­lage (Do you know where every­thing is? I asked, look­ing at the box­es and piles. Yes, every­thing…) to Oth­er Music just off Broad­way (who extract­ed a bit of cash from me for a bunch of indie NY bands), to Turntable Lab, hip hop heav­en in the East Vil­lage, to Hal­cy­on with al the techy and dub­step bits (more cash spent) over in Brook­lyn, to the all vinyl Sound Library in Noli­ta (a copy of It’s Yours , which I had to have), to the base­ment of a junk store in Green­point, Brook­lyn, where the own­er had, in no order at all, stored some 200,000 12” bits of vinyl, all, if you have the time, for $2 each.

But the ulti­mate gold­mine was across in Myr­tle Ave, once again in Brook­lyn, where Dope Jams, behind an almost anony­mous façade, had a copy of every 12” I’ve ever want­ed to own – well almost – all beau­ti­ful­ly filed, by label and genre, from dis­co to funk to house to tech­no, under the biggest mutha­fuckin’ pair of bass heavy speak­er stacks I’ve ever seen in a store.

Dope Jams

It was, of course, far too much. I can’t car­ry vinyl across bor­ders, it weighs far too much and I’m in the trop­ics with­out a turntable. Instead I looked, touched soft­ly and cried a lit­tle inside.

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