My first encounter with Bleecker Bob's was probably around 1982, or so. My friend Walt had just moved out of his mom's place on the Upper East Side (the neighborhood where he and I had grown up and went to school) and into his dad's place down on Cornelia Street in the Village, just off 6th Avenue (the tall, triangular building that currently hosts Crazy Fantasy Video and Papaya Dog on its ground floor). He showed up at my place back uptown brandishing a record-sized paper bag. He wasn't in my front door for more than a minute before he revealed the bag's contents. There, sheathed in a protective translucent envelope, was our Holy Grail. Walt had finally managed to put his hand to the fabled "B Stiff" 12" by Devo on Stiff Records from 1978 -- a fabled artifact that, as committed Devotees, we'd been obsessed with finding. I was flabbergasted. "W-w-w-w-where did you find it? " I gasped. "You have got to come down and see this shop," said Walt. "it's going to blow you away."
Walt was talking about Bleecker Bob's, the already-old-and-dusty stronghold of underground vinyl that was, oddly, not actually on Bleecker Street itself (I'm sure there's a backstory there) but on West 3rd Street between MacDougal Street and 6th Avenue, just a stone's throw from Walt's new home (there was also another outlet, briefly on MacDougal just off 8th Street, which you can see evidence of in the video on this post). There were scores of other amazing record shops around there as well -- notably Subterranean Records right across from Walt's new front door on Cornelia Street, 99 Records further down on MacDougal Street, Record Runner over on Jones Street and a host of great places like Venus Records and It's Only Rock n' Roll over on West 8th Street (You can read all about those joints here, sadly). For budding music geeks like Walt and I, we had discovered the promised land. But Bleecker Bob's was our first.
I immediately began making regular pilgrimages to Bleecker Bob's and its surrounding network of music shops. Between the vintage vinyl that hung on the walls to the ever-present music that came blasting out of the soundsytem to the every-changing array of rarified t-shirts and posters and other ephemera, at the time I would have been happy to spend the rest of my life inside Bleecker Bob's. I remember prizing some crucial stuff there in my day, notably both the Turn to Red e.p. and the Act is Done bootleg by Killing Joke, the Now We Are Six single by the Happy Flowers, the warthog-shaped picture disc of Motorhead's "Killed By Death" single, the "Where's Captain Kirk?" 45 by Spizzenergi. The list goes on and on. I can remember thumbing through the bins there and suddenly spotting Vinnie Stigma and Roger Miret from Agnostic Front come trudging in. I remember standing in the t-shirt section in the back on some snowy afternoon and catching Marc Almond of Soft Cell perusing the vinyl. I didn't take the amazing shot at the top of this post, but that's, of course, Billy Idol exiting Bleecker Bob's (wearing the same t-shirt he sports, I believe, on the cover of Generation X's eponymous debut). That was snapped one by Chris Egan (you can check out his other photos by clicking here).
Behind the counter were some stars as well. I first met Kris Needs while he was toiling behind the til there. Craig Flanagin, one of the founders of maverick queercore pioneers God Is My Co-Pilot, also manned Bleecker Bob's register (and was tirelessly patient with my endless requests to see stuff pinned on the back wall). There was also this dude we referred to as Ringo, given his striking resemblance to the renowned Beatle, although I believe his actual name was John. John was incredibly informed and always happy to play things for curious customers. Those guys were all great.
Bleecker Bob Plotnik himself, meanwhile, was a bit of a wild card. When he was in the store, the atmosphere was charged and, frankly, unrestful. He was prone to screaming at employees and customers alike, and was all too happy to throw people out and/or ban them from the premises (I believe the Beastie Boys boast about the latter in their "Open Letter to New York"). Bob had a way of rubbing a lot of folks the wrong way. I think he's actually called out by name on the back of We're the Meatmen ...And You Suck by the Meatmen. And when the Meatmen are calling you a dick, you know you're reached a new depth.
In later years, Bleecker Bob's was sort of overshadowed by its competitors. I started finding better stuff (in better condition, for better prices and for far less verbal hassle from Bob) at other outlets. Upkeep at Bleecker Bob's went downhill as well. Everything in the place seemed coated in a patina of slimy dust, which didn't make for the greatest browsing experience. Ringo/John stayed on for a long while, but Craig and Kris had run screaming from the place (almost literally) ages earlier. Basically, after a while, Bleecker Bob's became kinda moot.
I kept going in for old time's sake and to peruse their stuff, but actual purchases became exceptionally rare. I want to say that in recent years, Bob has been confined to a wheelchair. I'm not sure of the circumstances, but I remember being really depressed when I noticed that. But, the shop soldiered on. In a way, Bleecker Bob's became the record shop equivalent of CBGB. Sure, you were glad it was still there as a landmark of things you held dear, but your reasons for actually darkening its door were becoming fewer and further between.
So, why am I writing about all this now? Well, my friend Jeremiah Moss wrote up a post on Vanishing New York yesterday, and dropped it onto my Facebook timeline with the question, "Is your heart still beating?" According to Jeremiah's piece, Bleecker Bob's is soon to become a --- WAIT FOR IT -- Starbuck's.
I was dependably chastised earlier this week by my friend Rob K. (who has a bit of a history of doing same) for too often invoking the phrase "Is nothing sacred?" In typically learned fashion, Rob pointed out that "them who rep for punk rock and many other formerly transgressive idioms should take a step back and think for a second whenever the phrase 'is nothing sacred' or something similar comes to mind." I love Rob for the precise reason that he's prone at check-mating me like this. It makes for spirited debates. In the instance of the demise of Bleecker Bob's, I'm not about to exclaim "Is nothing sacred?" (although I do believe I hyperventilated and shouted "Oh for fuck's sake!"), but the closing of the place will indeed make me very sad. Another part of my youth and another storied slice of downtown NYC's character will vanish with it.
Enjoy your grande frappuccinos, you fuckers.
ADDENDUM: This just spotted on Bleecker Bob's Facebook page....
please email us at Bleeckerbobs@yahoo.com if you see available retail space for rent. Bleecker Bobs is not planning to close, heck we just bought a bunch of metal cds yesterday and a lp collection including lots of Beatles/Bruce/Dylan and other classic rock favorites!!!