Saturday, September 24, 2016

College Tour = Record Store, Part 2

The No Judgment Zone at Turn It Up
Since part one of this series we've been on several tours that did not equal a record store for one reason or another. Middlebury in Vermont has no record stores for one, preferring to outsource its music shopping to Burlington, at least an hour to the north. Our trip to Connecticut College was tightly scheduled before an important family occasion so I admit to not even Googling the situation. Brunswick, Maine, the town that contains Bowdoin, had an intriguing looking store on the main drag that had a sign saying "Vinyl," but we had to get on the road after indulging over at Gelato Fiasco, a sacrifice I don't regret one bit. 

But this past weekend was Amherst, which not only boasts membership in the Five College Consortium but also proximity to at least as many music emporia. Most of the pins on the map fell just to the west of Amherst, in Northampton and Florence, but the town itself has one store of its own, Mystery Train, which is inexplicably closed on Saturdays, even when school is in session. "Small business fail," my wife remarked as we tucked into the marvelous Tea Rolls at Fresh Side, and I'm inclined to agree, although they are open on Sundays.

So after lunch we drove the six miles to Northampton, which is also a bit of a drive down memory lane for me. My parents both had chronic musculoskeletal issues, especially my father who was nearly crippled by them at times. Somehow they discovered an amazing chiropractor in Northampton, which is about an hour from our country house. I never minded being dragged along to see Dr. Kemper because Northampton was such a great town, even for a kid, and there was a serious ice cream shop in walking distance from his office. Dr. Kemper even worked on me once - and he was everything he was cracked up to be (sorry). 

But it wasn't long before ice cream took second fiddle to a record store I found just down the street. I bought some of my first used records there, including a beautiful-sounding copy of Dylan's Desire that I still treasure. While I can't remember the name or exact location of that store, I am heartened to discover that Turn It Up is holding it down just off the main street and down a few steps. On the map I was a little confused about whether Turn It Up was a nickname for a branch of Newbury Comics, but it turned out they were just across the street from each other. It's a testament to Northampton's record-buying culture that the two stores can coexist in such close proximity. 

They are distinctly different experiences in any case, with Turn It Up being a great example of a classic record store with a ratio of probably 85% used stock (on vinyl, CD and cassette) to 15% new releases. They also had movies on DVD and BlueRay. Newbury Comics on the other hand has records, movies, geeky toys and accessories, and, of course, comics. 

When I entered Turn It Up I didn't really have anything particular in mind at first so I was pleased to discover a robust New Arrivals section which was mostly cross-genre, with supplements for Blues, Soul, Country, etc. I began flipping, happily noting that most everything was reasonably priced. The few exceptions were those "limited edition" colored vinyl releases that were in many cases merely lipstick on a pig. But if you love a pig, you'll pay the premium to make it pretty, I guess. 

I quickly found an intriguing compilation called simply Electronic Music, which looked to be from the early 60's and featured an early work by Walter Carlos - before he became Wendy and had international success with Switched On Bach and the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also found a double album compilation of songs by Black Roots, one of the key bands in the Bristol Sound of British reggae. Both albums went on the pile for the moment. 

When I was nearly done, there was a woman who was just starting to flip. "Let me know if you find any Hot Tuna," she whispered loudly to her friend across the room. "What?" he responded, "Why are you whispering?" "Yeah," I interjected, "no need to whisper, no judgment here!" After all, Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits was playing. "Besides, Papa John Creach rules!" "Oh my god, I love him," she responded. I told her how my sister was a huge Hot Tuna fan and had all the albums, including the violinist's solo record. "That was the only one I really liked," I related, "but I hope you find something today." Guess what - she did, and for just $3.00. The only thing better than finding your joy in the record store is finding it cheap!

The new arrivals skimmed, I wandered around a little bit, seeing what caught my eye. While checking out the box sets I overheard one of the guys behind the counter rhapsodizing over a Montreaux appearance by Rahsaan Roland Kirk as he rang up a sale of a CD by the avant garde jazz reed player. "By the way," I mentioned, "Something came into my inbox about a new documentary about Kirk. I didn't get a chance to follow up yet but it might be worth checking out. Pretty sure it's the first film about him." "Wow, cool," said the happy customer, "I'll definitely look into that!" Sure, you might have this kind of interaction on a listserv or in a Facebook group - but it feels different face-to-face. 

One last circuit and I spotted a Bill Nelson section in the CD's. I used to literally be in his fan club (I have the marvelous exclusive singles and EP's to prove it) but I don't actually have any of his stuff on CD and his music is only patchily represented on Spotify. This made What Now, What Next, a 1998 two-CD set compiling songs from his own Cocteau label, mighty attractive at $8.00. I'm glad I got it, too, as many of these songs are old friends for me while some of them are brand new, having never been released elsewhere. It could be argued, however, that Nelson may have been at times too enthusiastic in his embrace of 80's electronics - and that some of his Be-Bop Deluxe stuff sounds better than ever.

My meter was running low and my wife and daughter had transitioned from the hunt for second-hand clothes to the hunt for caffeine. This meant it was time to finalize my choices. A quick check of Spotify and I saw that most if not all of the Black Roots songs were on there so I put that album to the side. I inspected the Electronic Music album and it had some worrying discoloration on the vinyl. Not to worry - there was a turntable and headphones in the corner so I gave it a preview and it sounded great. Sold. A complete listen when I got home revealed a beautiful series of sounds occupying a nearly perfect middle ground between Edgard Varese's Poeme Electronique and some of Eno's Ambient work, a dotted line that needed to be drawn.

While I was paying I suddenly remembered the new Light In The Attic Betty Davis release, featuring a lost session produced by Miles Davis. They didn't have it, but they did have a loyalty card which gets stamped for every $10 you spend. Ten stamps and you get $10 off your next purchase. I think I'll definitely get back to Turn It Up, even if my daughter doesn't go to Amherst! I'm also delighted to discover that Turn It Up has a handful of branches, if far fewer than Newbury Comics, so I might have another opportunity to get a stamp sooner than I thought.

I had a little more time so I dashed across the street to Newbury Comics for a Betty Davis surgical strike. The guy at the counter seemed vaguely aware of the album when I asked if they had it, saying "We should," and punching numbers into an inventory terminal. First he led me to the CD's and started looking. I indicated that I wanted to get the vinyl version so he brought me deeper into the store and started looking through the rock vinyl, unsuccessfully. "If you have a funk and soul section it might be in there," I offered. They did! Done. There's no loyalty card at Newbury but they did add my email to their mailing list, which is another way to try to continue the relationship. And isn't that what it's all about - relationships?

You may also enjoy:
College Tour = Record Store, Pt. 1
Vinyl And Grit: RSD 16
Everybody Get In Line: RSD 2015
RSD 2014
Scenes From A Record Fair
Working In Nashville

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