Given the laborious amount of time I spend here lamenting the demise of Manhattan's once-thriving circuit of independent, mom'n'pop record and compact disc shops, there's always someone quick to point out that there are still a few choice locales worth checking out over the river in the borough of Kings. I realize that, and -- as I've said before -- I've made a vow to always buy something at Park Slope's Music Matters whenever I'm in that neighborhood. But, y'know, I don't live in Brooklyn. Not yet, at least. I'm a native, dyed-in-the-wool Manhattan snob, and always will be, even if I eventually re-locate.
In any case, ever since the long-fabled opening of Brooklyn's first Rough Trade outlet in Williamsburg, I've wanted to go make a pilgrimage to the place to check it out first hand. So, this past weekend, with my little boy Oliver in tow, I did just that.
I used to frequent the byways of Williamsburg back in the early-to-mid`90s, when I had a few friends living in that neck of the woods. Back in those days, it wasn't quite the hipster Mecca it is today (although gentrification was still well already underway, I assure you). That said, it used to sort of resemble Belfast during the troubles more than a haven for ironic sunglasses, bushy beards and artisinal microbrews.
Beyond live music venues like Northsix and Galapagos (both since-vanished, if I'm not mistaken, or at least entirely re-christened), my other regular stop in Williamsburg back then was a little record shop called Earwax. Earwax wasn't especially distinctive (beyond the fact that they didn't have a phone at the time for some reason), but it was a solid little stand-by where you were bound to find something to catch your eye and, er, ear.
Earwax held court on Bedford Avenue for quite a few years (you can catch a fleeting glimpse of its old interior on this post). More recently, it moved to a new spot off that now ridiculously well-traveled strip. It's now tucked neatly on the eastern side of North 9th Street.
I first stopped into the new Earwax back in October, when I came to Williamsburg for the US premiere of “The Death & Resurrection Show,” the fabled Killing Joke movie, at the strenuously douchey Wythe Hotel. While I wasn’t looking for anything particular, I’d noticed Earwax had a copy of the now-super-rare 1990 edition of Filth by SWANS, notable for its inclusion of the four tracks from their eponymous 1982 e.p. Fearing I was late for the movie, though, I foolishly didn’t snag it. As it turned out, the movie itself never happened. The CBGB festival -– who were “curating” the event -– never received the DHL package containing the print of the film. I was immeasurably bummed. But, I digress.
Though we’d come to Brooklyn specifically to check out Rough Trade, I couldn’t resist popping into Earwax again. Unfortunately, that copy of Filth was no longer in the racks, somewhat unsurprisingly. As such, Oliver and I repaired back out into the vast sea of hipsters to find our way to Rough Trade.
Despite what Morrissey has to venomously say about founder Geoff Travis in his recent “Autobiography” (an illuminating read, if something of a chore to page through), I’ve always admired Rough Trade as both a record label and a chain of shops. I vividly recall stepping into the Rough Trade on Talbot Road in the Notting Hill section of London back in the early 90’s and feeling like I was walking into a shrine. As such, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from its Brooklyn incarnation, beyond the fact that it made the t-shirt I’d procured at the London shop feel not quite so special anymore.
As the East River slowly came into view, Oliver began to get skeptical that this big record store Daddy was excited about actually existed, until we spotted the massive sign.
Once inside, all doubts I’d been harboring vanished. Regardless of the hipster patina, Rough Trade NYC is nothing short of a godsend. If that Talbot Road shop in London was a shrine, this place is a cathedral. Lovingly presented vinyl and compact discs – painstakingly subdivided by genre specificity --- rule the sprawling main floor, an area I immediately started to peruse. Wanting to expedite the mission, little Oliver immediately sought out Devo and SWANS amidst the racks, while I assured him that we were in absolutely no rush. Pretty much all of my favorites were well represented and dutifully stocked. After circumnavigating the room, I settled on a copy of Crazy Rhythms by the Feelies (an album I’d only ever owned on cassette) and a criminally cheap re-release of Squeezing Out Sparks by Graham Parker & the Rumor.
We ambled further about the big building, checking out the live music area in the back, the ping pong tables (!!!) up on the second tier, the book section and a chamber dubbed “The Room,” which featured an exhibit of old moog synthesizers and theremins (which proved to be a bit too loud for my little boy).
All in all, I was pretty wowed, but I fear for Earwax. Not sure how it’s going to compete with such a behemoth just down the street.
Hop on the L train and check it out. Tell’em Oliver and I sent ya!