Friday, January 06, 2012

Farewell To Another Great Record Shop

Soon-to-be-missed Melody. Pic: one
Not that anyone seems to have very high expectations any more when they verbally churn out the statutory New Year’s wishes, but this one’s already off to a bad start with the news that 34-year-old Melody Records in DC’s Dupont Circle will close before the end of the month. Since Tower and Olsson’s closed down, Melody – one of the few remaining independent record shops in the area - has been my sole browsing bolt hole on slow or melancholic days when I’ve needed a fix of new music to culturally invigorate my aging soul. Now I’m left with either waiting for the Amazon package, or taking a trip to the strip malls for the hit-and-miss experience of the second hand graveyard warehouse.

Well, that’s where CDs belong, isn’t it? One contributor to a DC chat forum told users to get over it, because going to a record shop was like hanging out under the trees on the village green with the smithy. Never mind that some of us would quite like to hang out under the trees on the village green, or under a tree anywhere. The presence of the smithy wouldn’t matter to me either way, but I’d not be against lutists, harpists and accordion players venturing out and sitting beneath the leaves to air their compositions.

In the same ole-fashioned way, I love to flick through rows of discs and find the one I’ve just read garnering a Grade A review in The Onion or on The Quietus. Or find that release by a band I’ve always loved but didn’t realise had brought out a new record. Or (and this, tellingly, has become my biggest thrill) discovering that my favourite LP from 30 years ago has been re-mastered, re-packaged, and re-released with two bonus discs of live versions, outtakes and acoustic re-imaginings. See, there are still some suckers out here prepared to support the music industry.

I was last in Melody just before Christmas, spending a $50 gift card that was burning a hole in my pocket. At that time I was receiving daily e-mails from the totally legal, Russia-based downloading site Legal Sounds, offering me $50 worth of free music if I put another $50 on my account. For that money, I could have downloaded around 120 new albums, most of which I’d never get around to hearing. In Melody I bought four CDs for that money. Of course it doesn’t make financial sense, and it illustrates exactly why such shops are closing their doors. But the 90 minutes I spent in there looking and listening, and ogling the boxed sets in their locked cases, and watching what other customers were buying, and fondling the new wave of vinyl, and getting out of the fucking house, were all part of what I paid for.

Market Rasen's top record shop with
 model customer, circa 1982
If you sink the price of something to the point where you’re almost giving it away, it has no value. If I download the entire back catalogue of Neil Young, it’s never going to mean anything to me except if I make getting to know his music into a controlled, academic exercise. It won’t be the same as catching one of his songs on the radio or in a bar and noticing that it’s something special, then hunting down the record and playing it several times. Music is losing its signifiers. From the vinyl LPs I bought in The Electrical Shop in Market Rasen as a teenager to the handful of superb CDs on the Six Degrees of Separation label I bought unheard at Rockville Tower’s closing down sale, the personal experience of the music I own is closely related to the time and place I bought it. When you only need to press a button to own a song, it’s just a song you got by pressing a button.

I’m sure that at least ten per cent of over-40s agree with me. In the meantime, a huge thanks to Melody Records for staying around so long, and the very best of luck to owners Suzy and Jack in whatever they do next. One of my fondest memories of your shop is being interviewed there one afternoon by a local cable TV company a few years back. The question they asked me was something along the lines of, What’s a middle-aged man doing in a record shop on a week day afternoon? My answer: Where else could I possibly want to be?


The Birdwatcher said...

Its very sad. We lost our independent record shop in Buxton a couple of years ago. There was no better way to spend an hour on a wet week day afternoon, apart form maybe in the independent bookshop, now also closed. Shame.

No Good Boyo said...

Well said, Pop. Some of my finest purchases - whether book or music - has come from browsing in independent or second-hand shops. It's how I discovered the music of Momus and the books of Lovecraft, which made me the ghoul-worshipping misanthrope I am today.

As for sneering about the village green, it amuses me - no, stop, it far from amuses me - that commentators who laud the vibrancy of urban living and denigrate rural/smalltown life always have two things in common:

1. By urban life they mean the couple of square miles of North London that approximate to a village, with boutiques and unthreateningly ethnic shops, not the homogenous high streets and strip malls of reality.

2. They themselves live in ersatz villages like Chipping Norton or the whole Cotswolds, where urbanites have used their trust funds to set up artisan cheese shops etc.

The locals have all moved to work in giant warehouse hives to ship out the cheap books and discs we all crave.