. issue V : v .
Vinyl Safari, Massachusetts: PART TWO
A few days and one hundred miles later, I began my second adventure, a solo excursion, in western Massachusetts. While my wife was reminiscing her classmates, I would be doing a looping drive around the Pioneer Valley. The first place, Platterpus, was in Easthampton. This is a cozy medium-sized record store with a well-rounded and deep collection. I told the owner, a guy in his mid-fifties who had been doing this for twenty plus years, where I was from and that I would be here awhile. At once he felt totally relaxed with me and went out back to walk his dog. When he came back from dog duty, he told me he had been to Richmond and even visited a few stores here in town: Deep Groove and Plan 9.
There was a real browse-able feel to the joint, with a number of locals that came in and made small talk. It’s just great to not feel any awkwardness when you are digging in bins for two hours. Another record store owner from New York City came in, and the two store owners got to chatting.
To eavesdrop on this conversation was a delight; two perspectives on the woes of consignment, wacky clientele and recent rare scores made for amusing entertainment while rifling through the selections. There was a real sense of the past and present worlds of record collecting. Platterpus guy came from a school that has seen the death and rebirth of vinyl while NYC guy came from the new world venture of records.
Neither seemed to act as if he was better than the other. Both were sharp witted and clever as well as knowledgeable, just two record shop owners comparing notes, way beyond my meager collecting skills. But that’s the difference; I’m just a guy coming in looking for my specific little realms of wax, while these guys have to know it all, or at least what they know they want their stores to be known for. A sweet spot for a little bit of everything, but mostly those lost gems of the 80’s and 90’s rock and punk, with some great funk and soul selections as well.
THE SCORE: The fancy pull-out arty edition of Torche’s Meanderthal, a Mark Kramer experimental train-wreck on Shimmy Disc called Krackhouse, World Crunch from engagingly dense off-kilter tribal post-punk band Saqqara Dogs, 80’s discordant grrrl punk from Children in Adult Jails’ Man Overcome by Waffle Iron, and the crazy Little Richard album The Second Coming.
THE COST: $50.00
A quick car ride north brought me to a town called Northampton. Northhampton is where all the hipsters live. My wife and I had lost sight of them while in Boston, briefly spotting some near Harvard, and we were beginning to wonder if they even existed north of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Well, I had to look no further. This was the place. The shopping district square was a glorified Carytown with unique boutiques and specialty stores. Also, this is where the tattooed, ear-gauged, and panhandlers thrived. On any given block you can see pretty much every class and style of people. It’s a beautiful thing and I started to feel a little homesick.
At the recommendation of Mr. Platterpus, I hit a local place first before heading to a chain store called Newbury Comics. Turn it Up! is a fitting name for a shop located in the basement of a musical instrument store. I was optimistic that this store was going to be incredible, based on not only the recommendation but also the font of the sign, reminiscent of The Who’s Maximum Rock and Roll show poster from the early sixties. Stepping down further, there were flyers all over the place, a dollar bin, a new releases section — it all felt so right. Too bad I was astoundingly disappointed with the selection. There was a lot of classic rock in the rows of vinyl and the warning bells started to go off in my head. Was this going to be like the store we dipped into in Cambridge? Well, it got worse. There was a drop of the needle through the air; the snap, crackle and pop, the blank moments of the first song on an album getting ready to be played over the sound system. What would it be? Those kids working looked pretty young, maybe something fresh and new that would send me pushing the old guy away at the new section so I could buy it.
Then Foreigner happened. Oh no. Now, I will grant anyone that there is certainly a time and place for Foreigner — I can sing the chorus to “Juke Box Hero” with the best of them — but when I started to see the employees and older customers bond by singing along to it as if this happened every week, my heart sunk a little lower at the possibility that my odd tastes would be satiated here. Any record store that has a big and marked section dedicated to Foghat immediately gets docked a grade in my book. Anyway, you can’t fault them for what they do, it really is a swell little record shop, and it just turned out to be not so much up my alley. The one saving grace record I managed to find was a sealed copy of the reissued limited edition of The Meters album Fire on the Bayou for fourteen bucks.
After the sobering realization that I have weird tastes, it was across the street to Newbury Comics, a regional chain, much like Tower Records in that it has a lot of other stuff beside music, but on a smaller scale. I knew they had remainders of the last Record Store Day feast, so that was reason enough to go. One region’s treasure would be another’s remainder, I figured. I dove in, grabbing some I knew I wanted, as well as some dramatically discounted 90’s new wave and then meandered around the store, thinking whether or not I should buy the three year old RSD box of Wax Stax singles for 40 bucks, originally priced at 80 when it first came out. If only it were ten dollars cheaper … yes I am that cheap! As I moseyed around, mulling over this decision, one of the employees approached me. He was a short tattooed kid, much like your RVA element, and we struck up a conversation. At first, I was hoping that I could talk him down to $30 on the box set, but it IS a chain store, so it probably was not going to happen. After some punk rock talk and sharing the common interest in the band Nomeansno, the smart salesman talked me into a regional hardcore punk compilation, claiming he knew guys in some of the bands. That was more of a deterrent for me, because big whoop, you know them.
Still, he was very passionate about the compilation, even though we kind of faltered in our dialog when I asked him if all the vocals were just screaming, because I hated that sh-t. He said only the bands that his friends were in did that. Oh. Well, he sold me on it anyway, because I am always willing to try a local compilation of punk rock.
THE SCORE: An RSD copy of Sonny & The Sunsets’ Tomorrow is Alright, Servotron’s Entertainment Program for Humans (Second Variety), and local punk compilation from Rhode Island You Can’t Kill Me…I Am Already Dead.
THE COST: $30.00
Vinyl Safari Massachusetts was a grand success! The most rewarding thing about going to all of these strange places in strange lands, besides discovering elusive and interesting vinyl, is learning that the culture of record stores has a universal charm. Whether it be the thrill of scoring something you’ve never seen before, or listening to a whole store sing along to a familiar overplayed tune, or even a couple of record nerds waxing philosophical about, well, wax, it is not only the music that binds us together, but also the medium.
by Phil D.