Thursday, April 30, 2020

"Touch Me, Baby"

In my latest for The Normal School: A Literary Magazine, I write about the nearness of record buying, rock and roll shows, and other physical intimacies that have been taken from us.

Opening graphs:
Reckless Records, Wicker Park, Chicago. I’m sitting on the floor, wrist-deep in crates of 45s. Folks walk past, chatting; I overhear one couple rehashing an odd dinner party from the other night, three kids exclaiming over finding a record that their dad likes. They move past me, knees at my eye-line, sometimes pausing and standing inches away from me, rifling through a bin of LPs, in a tableau that’s very difficult to imagine now. 
As I write, vast swaths of the country are under stay-at-home orders. Social distancing has become the surreal norm. Streets and grocery stores in my small town are quiet, semi-filled. My local record store, Green Tangerine, closed a few weeks ago. The last time I’d visited, a couple of days before the Coronavirus fears and a new way of living settled upon us, the employee at the register offered the use of a hand sanitizer and disposable plastic gloves moments after I’d entered. “My boss says we have to,” she explained from the opposite end of the store.
Weeks earlier, I’d been engaged in a favorite pastime at a few record stores in Chicagoland and up in Rockford, regular joints that I hit every couple of months as new crops of used 45s and LPs arrive. What the last couple of weeks have illustrated to me in stark clarity is the thinginess of crate diving, and how badly I miss the pursuit, the presence of hands that have held these records before me—from the original owner to the scores of others who may have owned them, played them, loved them, lost them, to the record store proprietors themselves. (Somehow, it had never occurred to me how rough of a time a germaphobe must have in a used record store or thrift shop.) I’m prohibited now from leisurely flipping through a box of 45s or a bin of LPs at my favorite stores or somewhere out on the road, looking for that long-sought b-side or rare mono pressing, alert to the surprises that any motley assortment of vinyl might deliver me on a lucky day. I might come upon a record I hadn’t seen in decades, say, or a picture sleeve unique to a U.K. release, maybe a dare purchase of a beat-up, scratched single, or a record issued on that subsidiary label that I think was based in Memphis (I think) or which design or mod colors on the label I just really dig. I deeply miss this poor-man’s treasure hunting, where fifty cents might land me a seven-inch that I’ll cherish forever. I find myself pausing in the middle of the afternoon, sniffing the air for the musty scent of thrift shops, eyeing my boxes of records unhappily, wishing I could toss in a few more records to keep the party going....
You can read the full essay here.

For an appropriate soundtrack, check out my recent visit with Michael Newman on Hinky Dinky Time with Uncle Michael on WFMU's Give the Drummer Radio, where I spun and talked about my recent 7-inch vinyl finds before the lockdown.

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