The Village people
New York's boutique stores seem pricey and elitist. Can you be down if you don't know your stuff?
Despite my hefty levels of guilt over vinyl excess, I feel a sense of commitment to this task I've started. I can't be in New York and not look at tunes. Not least because I feel there's some unfinished business here. When I came through for one day on the way to Chicago, six weeks ago, I was fairly intimidated by the exclusivity of the records here. It may have been paranoia, but it seems these boutique stores carry with them not just high prices but an air of superiority – you can only be down if you show you know your shit.
But I've since found my groove a bit – I've been able to do things on my terms, and realised what I like. The things I love come with a story, whether that's being in a dusty old family-run den of chaos, or acting on a whim based on a cover, following a string of recommendations or just the feeling of unearthing something totally weird from the darkest corner of a dingy basement. So I want to revisit these spots from that point of view – I know what I like, can New York deliver?
I head back to the East Village, home of the boutique vinyl stores. Turntable Lab on East 7th St are hugely friendly and helpful, sorting me out loads of addresses of other stores in the area. They don't have the requisite levels of dirt or weirdness for what I need right now, but I pick up a copy of Fela Soul, just to thank them for being so helpful.
I go to A1 Records round the corner. There's tons of stuff here, but I don't like the vibe. The guys behind the counter slag off two punters while I'm there – one for accidentally going behind the DJ area to store his bag while he shopped, and another for being disappointed he'd travelled in for something they said they'd have in stock but didn't. They're harsh to people. I leave a bit hacked off with all this.
Down the street is Eilon's recommendation, Tropicalia in Furs, which by contrast just gives off this really lovely vibe. There's nothing for me here right now either, but it's a nice gaff. It's also full of prints from Eilon's recent Dust & Grooves exhibition, which shows a more beautiful side of this weird quest I've found myself on: ie. It's not just about arsey record store people.
Next I summon the motivation to return to Big City – a tiny specialist store which is in fact closing down this week. It's 30% off everything, which is a great help in making the leap towards being enthused.
The dude behind the counter – Teddy – is helpful too. I decide to keep pulling records off the wall and testing them against my own specific criteria: it has to either blow my balls off for being ace, or for being absolutely mental. I find one of each.
Everything about this second one is absolutely ridiculous. All it took was two needle-drops: 1. "Yep, it's funky." 2. "Yep, there's narration on here about the apocalypse and sand."
Big City is great, which makes it a shame that it's closing.
On the way to not doing this any more I pass Academy Records, and pop in just to have a look. The owner turns out to be massively chatty and enthusiastic about everything, which I hadn't expected. He's also called Woody, which is amusing. I describe some of my experiences, and he replies with a sigh. 'That's the typical New York record store attitude,' he says. He points out this old Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman try to flog an old man's record collection and get nothing but attitude back – a storyline actually set in Bleecker Bob's.
Woody's had his own experiences of Bleecker Bob. The old man would sometimes kick punters out of his store if they wander in carrying a bag from a rival shop. And when Woody complained that a record was marked and was full of noise, as was evident in what he could actually hear with his own ears as he played it at the listening post, Bob argued that he didn't know what he was talking about – while turning the treble down on the amp, to disguise the abundant hiss.
I pop up the street to Rose Records. This is a nice-looking old store. They've just taken delivery of 3,000 soundtrack albums. Surely they must have Cannonball Run? I hunt through the C's: nothing. The old man asks if I need any help.
'Do you have the soundtrack to Cannonball Run?' I ask.
'It's upstairs,' he says. 'But it'll be $30.'
He trudges off up the old wooden stairs. Wow. Is this the moment I finally find this record, one for which I've entirely pointlessly been searching for years? I can't believe this is actually happening. And what will happen when I get my hands on it? I can't escape the thought that the hunt is more powerful than the having, and that it may actually be better to look at the record for a minute and then decline it, in order that I can start looking for it again. That's a very weird thing to be true.
He comes back down the stairs. 'Sorry, I was thinking of something else.'