After a frankly grueling couple of days, I popped out earlier this evening to go get a much needed haircut at a neighborhood spot. I was early, though, so found myself with a little time on my hands. As such, I took a stroll down St. Mark's Place and discovered that St. Mark's Sounds was still open, so I decided to pay a visit.
I've spoken about Sounds a couple of times in recent months. It's a strange survivor in an otherwise dismal deluge of music shop closings. As I recently learned, the guy who owns Sounds also owns the building that houses it, so it's probably not going anywhere soon. That all said, as shopping experiences go, it's a little dispiriting.
The hallowed trappings of old are all still there. The walls are still adorned with age-old posters like the fabled "Hits From Hell" promo from the Misfits (purportedly bestowed upon the shop by Glenn Danzig himself) and the afore-cited Plasmatics poster. Business, however, is far from robust. I perused the aisles and thumbed through the bins, but didn't really spot anything of note until I glanced up. As I've mentioned before, the walls of Sounds are covered with compact discs, and all are more-or-less reasonably priced.
As I stood there surveying the offerings, I caught sight of two notable discs that made my heart race a bit. Inches away from each other were wrapped copies of two discs I've been passively searching for for some time, specifically Sonic Death by Sonic Youth and Kill the Child by SWANS (cheery titles, yes, I know). Perched high on a second tier close to the ceiling, both of these albums were priced under twenty bucks, which was surprising, being that both are presumably well out of print.
Two slabs of storied East Village skronk, Sonic Death and Kill the Child are both ferocious live documents from two of New York's most revered bands, both captured in pointedly less accessible incarnations. I've never actually heard Sonic Death, but have read loads about it, understanding that it finds Sonic Youth at the cacophonous apex of their most noisy, arty and weird phase (eons before becoming cuddly alt.rock darlings). I have heard Kill the Child before, and have longed to possess it after enduring the glacially paced rendition of "Sex, God, Sex" at its most punishingly pummeling. Stark, brutal and unapologetic, SWANS made Kill the Child even less user-friendly by condensing the onslaught onto a single track. You either take it in its unwieldy entirety and choke it down or you forfeit. There is no compromise.
In any case, with my day momentarily brightened by the prospect of attaining these two albums, I approached the counter to sheepishly ask if the gent behind the register if he wouldn't mind climbing up to the second tier to prize me these coveted items.
"If they're above the brown, they're empty," he said without looking up. I glanced back up at my would-be purchases and they were indeed -- tragically -- perched above a wide, brown-colored rim. "What do you mean they're empty?" I asked incredulously.
The guy proceeded to explain that all the discs displayed above that level were purely for show (despite being shrinkwrapped and stickered with price tags). It was purely cosmetic.
My heart sank.
By this point, another individual had entered the shop to inquire about selling some jazz CD's. I momentarily considered asking if it would be too much to simply check to see if maybe the discs were in fact in their jewel boxes, but figured it wasn't worth it.
I left to go get my hair cut.