To Soothe the Savage Beast

In college, hiding out in a record shop was the ultimate in recreational sports.  Give me a rickety stair way that led to a small upstairs shop filled with rows and rows of albums and I could spend hours studying record jackets, memorizing new band names, and getting into music the part-time sales clerk/devotee decided to throw onto the turntable.  It awakened the senses, taking me far away from the day-to-day problems and opened my imagination.  No one spoke long to each other.  We just moved our heads to the music and expressed appreciation and gratitude by buying something sure to be an undiscovered treasure, something to share or listen to later in your headphones.

Record Store Day didn’t sound promising.  The whole industry had changed and of the few stores remaining, I now drove past them.  I lost my devotion to the turntable years ago after Sony’s Walk Man, CD’s, the mail order music clubs, the downloads, and now the streaming.  I have tried to equate steaming with the feel of going through the aisles of records.  Instead of flipping each album one by one, I skip around playlists and charts, clicking on songs one by one.  But it is not the same, obviously.  No one is there to look up and nod with the beat.  I don’t buy a button when I leave.  I just know so many thousands of others have clicked on the same artist this month.

So, walking into the local used record shop was a little overwhelming.  Outside of the guys with beards touting an artificial aficionado demeanor and the obligatory head shop paraphernalia, I wasn’t prepared for all the other merchandise the shop had to invest in to help keep the bills paid – toys, figurines, comic books, rock t-shirts, used gaming equipment, entertainment antiques.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if a special room wasn’t hidden away somewhere just for Japanese anime. It would have been creepy to walk into the shop on my own but the place was packed.

Once I found a spot I felt comfortable in, I picked though some dusty cd’s.  I realized I owned most of them.  It also occurred to me that should my husband and I die together and someone had to clean out our house, our collective musical library would be worth more than my crystal.  Maybe.   Although most of the music I liked was probably worn out.   I contemplated the new Father John Misty, its solitude next to current bands I have no taste for.  It looked so sad and beaten up as if saying, “Unless this is vinyl, I don’t know why you would bother.”  I changed spots.  I changed spots again.

At the end of one aisle I spotted lunch bags with “Mystery CD’s – 10 for $5”.  They were labelled country, rock, classical, and jazz.  Great marketing, I thought.  Slow moving inventory, the music no one really wants to buy, wrapped up for the kid whose parent said they could get something and me.  Jazz was one genre I could probably take a chance I did not own.  With my “Mystery Bag” and an early Susan Tedeschi CD, I cashed out for a whopping $7.50.

I opened the bag and looked through the names.  Outside of Yo-Yo Ma and K.D. Lang, I wasn’t too familiar with anyone.  Are these really jazz artists?  I stashed the records in the computer room next to the phone charger.  At some point, I’ll get to them.  Maybe it was the scent of patchouli oil from the bag, maybe it was the flood of memories, but by the next morning, my record store instincts started to kick in and eventually took over.  I needed to listen.  I needed to read all of their liner notes, who was on the album, who they dedicated it to, what year was it made, what did they look like, what city were they from, and finally if they seemed like they would measure up to my taste.

I fired up the old CD player.  I pulled out the collection of music to sip coffee by.  It was a compilation which seemed to be created for commercial use at a Starbucks or Coffee Beanery.  One quartet covering multiple styles.  Good music to throw on at a brunch for family members of varying ages so they can talk while eating eggs.  Twenty second sampling ended around the fourth track.

Next up, an early EP by Joey De Francesco.  I could tell it was early since I had purchased his Christmas album as a gift for a family member last year and he was much younger in this photo.  I had an idea of what it may sound like and was happy to hear his swinging keyboard take over.  It was too early for a martini but when I am ready for one, I know he’ll come in handy.

The next two Cd’s must have been purchased originally by the artist’s family members.  The first woman’s voice over enunciated songs that must have been requested at weddings.  The second was an album out of a Manitoba, Canadian label.  The kid was trying his hardest to be anything – rock, blues, it didn’t matter – but his voice wasn’t catchy and the tunes fell flat.

Slowly, I could feel the urge to just skip to the K.D. Lang and Yo-Yo Ma but I picked up another and hoped for the best.

“The Immigrant’s Dilemma”.  The jacket looked interesting although I got lost a little on the liner notes.   The title was in Japanese on the side and, like a true serious musician, the notes were filled with descriptions for each of the numbers.  The expressionless photo of the ensemble made me wonder if this wasn’t another fusion jazz collection, of which I have never been a fan.  I popped it in.  Surprisingly, I kept listening and didn’t skip around.  Each track was beautiful.  Todd Garfinkle, where have you been?  I looked him up on Spotify.  Surely this was an artist that was big in circles I was not aware of.  But nothing came up.  I tried searching the other musicians on the album and two out of four had meager followings in Edinburgh, U.K, and Sofia, Bulgaria.  Strange and strange enough to Google.  Here was a guy who started his own record label, M*A which is Japanese for human, and traveled all over the world recording live music.  A total beardless audiophile, he has special microphones that are used to capture the closest sound you’ll ever hear outside of just being in the same room with the musician.  He records in churches, monasteries, and halls with phenomenal acoustics.  His life has been lived all over the world and is devoted to music of the truly talented.  YouTube even had his “Sonogo” available with only 720 views.  I had found a gem and I wanted the world to hear how great he was.

Inspired, I picked up my next selection.

Michael Feinstein singing “The Jerry Herman Songbook”.  When I saw the reference to “Hello Dolly” and “Mame” I was ready to pass.  But, I thought, I have heard of Michael Feinstein somewhere so he must have something.  Listening to “Just Go to the Movies” I realized he must have been the singer every Broadway show would have fought over.  Such a clear, effortless voice.  Another Google search and my suspicions were confirmed.  Grammy upon Grammy and considered to be an American Song Book treasure.  Not certain what I will do with this one but now I appreciate someone I would have only a vague knowledge of.

Sherri Roberts was up next.  Her “Dreamville” cd was sweet and perfect for jazz.  Out of San Francisco in 1998, her voice was incredible smooth.  Then I played K.D. Lang’s E.P. finally which wasn’t even close to jazz but, again the voice, is, well, K.D. Lang.  Not much more can be said.

By this time, I wasn’t sure Yo-Yo was even going to get played.  When I picked up the unopened KJ Denhert, my expectations were low.  Another unknown label, this time out of New York.  The music was recorded in 1999 and her face on the stark black, grey, and white jacket looked young.  She had even thanked her college roommate for believing in her.  My ears were ready for just about anything at this point.  And there she was – singer/song writer with a mellow, heartfelt voice and great rhythms in each tune.  This had been her first recording and as recently as 215, she had won an award from the Independent Music Awards.

My day had flown by.  I hadn’t eaten.  As I tucked Yo-Yo Ma away for driving enjoyment in a car that still had a CD player I recalled day I listened to The Who on my brother’s 8-track.  It really doesn’t matter the form, music is a central part of human experience and Music Store Day had reminded me of getting lost temporarily in that wonderful world.  It wasn’t spoon fed. The picks were not based on my past browsing history or what someone else wanted me to listen to.  It was random and wonderful.

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