Reunited with New York, but has the passion been killed by too much cheap vinyl in Chicago?
I arrive in New York feeling the repurcussions of a concerted hunt round Chicago's record stores. Records are heavy. They've also bled over from the shoulder bag into my main baggage, with some of the $1 records suffering the indignity of being wrapped in my jacket and packed in among my smalls. I am a pro.
Hostels are weird places. It's rare to sleep among strangers, with a massive bright light above your face. And it's weird to share that kind of intimate space without even saying hello to each other. I'm always the first person to generate some kind of connection. Well, 99% of the time. I'm looking at my phone when I notice out the corner of my eye that a girl has just got totally naked while changing next to her bunk. I promise I wasn't staring at her, that'd be weird. But as a substitute for the regular 'how's it going?' I have to give the move some respect. I should have given her a high-five, but didn't.
I leave five weeks-worth of hard-won vinyl sitting there on the bed, trusting in the honest nature of 99% of humanity – with good cause – and head out for my first bit of New York activity, heading to the Museum of Modern Art to meet Eilon Paz, the Israeli photographer behind the website Dust & Grooves, which chronicles amazing record collections round the world. He's just secured around $40k through a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full hardcover book of his photos and interviews, and he's kindly agreed to meet and chat through how the project came together. Full article on that to follow here soon.
It's energising to listen to Eilon's stories, connecting on the subject of the magic that happens when you engage in something you truly believe in. As for record stores he suggests I go to Tropicalia in Furs, a Brazilian store in the East Village that's run by a mate of his. I mention The Thing, a junk spot made known to me by Ethan back in Chicago, who'd described it as 'an experience'. Eilon seconds that opinion, but also warns that this doesn't necessarily equate to a good record store. My interest is piqued.
But to be honest I've kind of had my fill with records for a bit. The sense of excess that comes with buying tons of vinyl, even though most of it has been dirt cheap, is starting to make me feel a bit ill, and I'm in New York, so it becomes more about taking in the city, not just inhaling the dust coming off well-thumbed copies of Curtis Mayfield. I walk length of the High Line, this old disused elevated railway that's been made into a long walkway/park. It's pretty cool.
I pass a thrift store, and automatically pop in to thumb half-arsedly through the terrible vinyl. I'm suddenly back in the game when I see this:
If this record is as Ronseal as it seems, I never want to listen to the dude playing the organ.
I wind up on Bleecker Street, down in the Village, and seem to be haunted by record stores. There's small ones everywhere. Bleecker Street Records had been recommended. It's a lovely store, and clearly got a ton of stuff, but it's expensive, and now I'm getting really picky. Something will really have to kick me in the balls to make me want to buy it. I think this basically means I've hit the point where I'm walking around New York solely hunting the Cannonball Run soundtrack. It's promising: there are a load of soundtracks on the walls. I hunt through the soundtrack racks. No Cannonball Run.
Everywhere I walk there’s another store selling vinyl – and I’m not even looking now. Up the street from Bleecker Street is Bleecker Bob's, where I unearth this gem, one of the best things I've ever seen:
Rosemary Brown is a housewife who made an LP channelling deceased composers and playing new pieces they told her to play. AMAZING.
The evening is Freestyle Mondays, the late-night hip-hop jam that's like an American older cousin to our own Excursions night. A live band sits jamming in a tight alcove, while in front a singer and an MC host a mellow, friendly jam, with a slew of MCs lining up for short bursts on the mic. It's absolutely ace, and gives me a ton of ideas. The cool thing is that while it's been going 10 years to our six months, it seems we're not far off in terms of the elements we've assembled. We've got 90% of what they have here, and crucially a similar feel. And, I think, we bring something different too. What we don't have yet is the strength in depth of MCs. But that's coming.
I can't recommend this night enough. Standing there, in New York, head nodding, is one of those moments where I'm pinching myself just happy to be who I am, where I am. A collusion of the internal and the external, words and drums.
Still, one of the MCs suggests heading off to another party, so in the spirit of yessing the arse out of travel I concur. We get massively lost and it takes ages, and we eventually stumble in to find an almost entirely vacant, sterile bar playing bad house music. Not good. My new mate's mates are one of only two small groups here, sat around a small table. I sit on the end and wind up in a stilted chat with the woman next to me. Not good. It's all pretty awkward till I ask where she's from, and she tells me Long Island. I reveal how my knowledge of New York is limited to a massive string of place names drilled into my head by 20 years of listening to hip-hop. So I know Long Island, as that's the home of De La Soul and Public Enemy. She asks if I know Leaders of the New School, a band from the early 90s. Of course I do, I have their albums. "That's my husband's group. He's Dinco D." She points to her husband, sitting to her right.
Now, the name Dinco D probably won't mean a huge amount to a lot of people, but here he is riding a really long bike with one of his band mates, a 17-year-old Busta Rhymes:
After she insists on getting a photo, which involves her tapping repeatedly on the window of Dinco's Hummer while he's inside it getting lifted with his mates, I figure that randomly meeting one of the characters whose raps blared out of my teenage speakers 20 years ago is all I need from a night out. I get a cab home just marvelling at the maths involved in a head full of 90s rap trivia meeting reality and make occasions. Ridiculous.