. issue IV : v .
Vinyl Safari, Massachusetts: PART ONE
A few weeks ago, my wife and I travelled to The Bay State for her college class reunion. In the days before the trip, while she excitedly gathered old photos of her classmates in their youth to post on Facebook, I began researching the area for keen record stores to visit on what could only be called a vinyl safari. I considered decking myself out in a pith helmet, jodhpurs and an appropriate riding crop, but a tee shirt and shorts happened to do just fine. The point was to go to a completely unfamiliar place, find the local record shops and see what they had to offer. The first half of the week-long excursion, we were going to be in Boston, the second half in the Pioneer Valley; the east and west of Massachusetts.
Before beginning any such expedition, there are several tips for the journey that every record hunter should know. The first is to prepare for the trip and not get lost. This will be in foreign, potentially hostile territory, so check the online maps ahead of time, and plan the travel route to save more time for digging in the bins. Another one is to have a nice pair of shoes. Depending on how big the store is and the merchandise it contains, you could be standing a while, so be ready to be comfortable. A hygienically important tip is to never put your hands in your mouth or other face holes after flipping through musty records. I know the temptation to pick your nose, eat a sandwich or taste the vinyl dust on the digits is pretty huge, but wash your hands first, you don’t know where those records have been! Finally, and most obviously, have plenty of cash at the ready. Some stores may have sketchy, hack-able credit card readers, so just use the old school green when you can.
We left the downtown extravaganza that is Charles Street via the T, Boston’s efficient and comfortable mass transit subway system, for the Cambridge area. It was a dramatic transformation to go from the preppy district, with $2,000-per-month apartments and fashionable stampedes of joggers, to the more realistically urban area that is Massachusetts and Western Avenues. Much like Broad Street downtown, it is an interesting array of sketchy convenience stores and restaurants.
Something about subterranean transit that I’ve never gotten used to is recalibrating my internal GPS once above ground. I would be a terrible mole, really — probably squished in traffic immediately. As we tried to figure out which way was west, I noticed a record store that wasn’t on my map. I was not even really sure if it even had a name, as if I came upon a forgotten species long thought extinct. We had to dive in, of course, if only for a few minutes.
Unfortunately, that is all the time it really took. Probably an old hardware store 50 years ago, the store had a completely grey feel to it; from the walls with old ratty posters to the men behind the counter, it felt like being in a cloud nearly ready to break into rain. While the amount of vinyl was an amazing sight, probably in the thousands, it looked like those kind of collections that pile up at the thrift stores. The unwanted generic masses of classical and classic rock sections with split spines and mediocre grooves lived here. One could crate-dig for hours and only go away with a cramped neck and maybe settle on a Yes or Led Zeppelin album as to not feel bad about the time wasted. The distinct vibe that there was nothing here for me turned us around pretty quickly, and that was okay because I knew there were bigger vinyl fish to fry.
Arriving at our true destination felt like discovering that rare exotic antelope in the Serengeti. Among the herds of homeless and gentrified coffee-heads, we came upon the record store game I had been seeking. In the Boston area, the number one place to visit is Weirdo Records.
It’s a joint about half the size of the living room-like Deep Groove on Robinson here in town, and might have been a shoe cobbler’s store or alteration place in a past life. Today, Weirdo Records may well be the densest population of eccentric and eclectic vinyl per square foot you will find in Massachusetts, if not the East Coast.
As you walk into the front door and face left, you are in vinyl territory, floor to just above reach packed with new and used records. A tiny listening ledge lives by the front window, a place to perch while previewing used records on a modest record player and pair of headphones. Face right and you are in kooky CD heaven and a collection of album reference books, yes, reference books for your research needs. Digging through the appropriately alphabetized shelves, you will find a diverse range of afro-funk, psychedelia, sixties girl groups, as well as new releases such as Waaves and Beach House. The collection on sale never feels limited or uninteresting, and the chance of walking out of the door with something you will love is extremely high.
Behind the counter was the equally eccentric owner, Angela Sawyer, who was deep into a computer screen, perhaps finding new releases to acquire, or handling online ordering or even writing the store’s weekly newsletter. She knows her records and how to get them. From crazy Japanese minimalist new wave to 1960’s French dream pop, she gave me the vibe of a mad and brilliant professor as her hair and glasses peaked from behind the computer screen. We chatted a bit; I told her where I was from and how I came to this place at the recommendations of DJs Sean Lovelace and Studebaker Hawk. A number of Andrew Jacksons later and walking to dinner, I did not mind the rain at all.
THE SCORE: Tension: Spanish Experimental Underground 1980-1985 (2xlp), Andre Williams’ Bacon Fat: the Fortune Singles 1956-1957, Boogaloo Pow Wow: Dancefloor Rendez-Vous in Young Nuyorica (2xlp), and Suicide’s [First Record]. I really had to restrain myself here.
THE COST: $70.00
Look for Part 2: Westward Ho!
by Phil D