Some people tell me they’re “not music people.” And that makes me sad. Because music isn’t a thing to be into. It’s a heartbeat, a rhythm, a feeling — It’s that steadfast pulsation beating out of this world, which set us back on track and help us feel a part of something bigger.
Having said that, I get why people feel inept in the music department. Music is, in a sense, a “thing.” You can guess what music the guy with Birkenstocks is bobbing his head to in the grocery line and won’t be surprised to hear Grandpa’s radio selection when he gets into the car (Metallica and Danny Brown, of course.) People take their relationships with music personally. And that “What kind of music are you into?” question can suck when you know you’re getting judged on it.
My dad, my brother, my mom, my friends and essentially all of my relatives are music fanatics. We’re the kind of people that will emphatically hook someone up with some new tunage. Michael Chabon and his made-up characters in this book also revolve around music as a temperature check on the evolution of their heritage.
In a scene between Gibson Goode, the former Super Bowl star-turned-corporate, and Archy Stallings, our hapless protagonist, Goode describes the state of the music scene (signifying the state of the times) as follows:
“‘The world of black music has undergone in many ways a kind of apocalypse, you follow me? You look at the landscape of the black idiom in music now, it is post-apocalyptic. Jumbled-up mess of broken pieces. Shards and samples. Gangsters running in tribes…I love it…Black music is innovation. At the same time, we got a continuity to the traditions…'” (Gibson Goode, 130).
Goode seems to have talked himself into trying to take over the little guy with a commercialized, super-sized mega music store. To him, the Golden Age is over. It’s a musical free-for-all, so start capitalizing.
When Chabon talks about music performed by the book’s wise elder figure Conchise Jones, however, we’re reminded of all the nuances and familiarities that music gives us; how those little moments in a song can ignite our souls:
“Conchise Jones always liked to play against your expectations of a song, to light the gloomy heart of a ballad with a Latin tempo and sheen of vibrato, root out the hidden mournfulness, the ache of longing, in an up-tempo pop time.” (Chabon, 278, on Jones’ cover of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ, Super Star.)
Brokeland Records is the stage for Chabon to flesh out his colorful characters in Telegraph Avenue. Record stores — a sadly deteriorating center of community life to some and a dying species to others — mean a lot to my Dad. I asked him to weigh in on music and their keepers — record stores — in an interview below.
Q: What hidden gems have you found at the record store?
A: The first Velvet Underground album with the real peel off banana sticker on the Andy Warhol designed cover. Lou Reed’s very rare first solo album. The soundtrack to Jubilee Cert. X, a very obscure Brit punk S&M film with music by Adam and the Ants, Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, Suzi Pinns, and Brian Eno.
Q: How do you know when you’ve walked into a really good record store?
A: I always look at the staff picks which are typically right at the front of the store. If the staff has good taste, it will be a good store. If I see Fleetwood Mac in the staff picks bin, I’m out the door in a flash. I don’t care how ironic they’re trying to me.
Q: What’s the best record store in town and why?
A: Lakeshore Records on Park Avenue. Knowledgeable and friendly staff and no poseurs. You can also listen to anything in the store before you buy it which is a nice feature. The CD Exchange in Henrietta is very good also for the same reasons.
Q: Have you seen any record stores operate as community spaces?
A: The Record Archive has art openings and in-store appearances by bands which opens it up as a community space. Most of my favorite record stores don’t have the space to be community spaces.
Q: What might lead you stop at a mega-record store?
A: Strange circumstances. The only one I can think I’ve ever had a good experience at was the (now defunct) Virgin Records superstore on the Champs Elysess in Paris. Now that was a cool mega-store.
Record Store Day is April 20. Why are/aren’t you participating?