Much like my big ol’ thumbs up for Other Music the other day, I already wrote about how great the Rough Trade outlet in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is, but I went back there yesterday and was so pleased that I figured the message was worth reinforcing.
I’ve been mourning Manhattan’s withering network of record and disc shops for some time now. Oh sure, there is still a paltry handful of credible stores like the afore-cited Other Music, the uber-esoteric Downtown Music Gallery, the unwieldily stocked Rebel Rebel, the punkily stalwart Generation Records, the second-hand haven Academy and — if I’m feeling kind — the somewhat messy remains of Bleecker Street Records, but we’ve lost so many great, pivotal ones already. From Kim’s to NYCD to Rocks In Your Head to Footlights to Bleecker Bob’s to Lunch for Your Ears… well, it’s a heartbreaking (and long) list.
The point is this: Once upon a time, if you were looking for a specific, tactile artifact of recorded music and you couldn’t find it somewhere in Manhattan, there was a more than likely chance that said item simply DID NOT EXIST! We had everything here. Suffice to say, this is no longer the case … and hasn’t been for some time.
There are almost always albums that I’m looking to get ahold of. Sure, I can always acquire them online if need be, but honestly — where’s the fun in that? As I’ve said countless times before, if you’re a collector of these things, a big part of the fun is the chase! The sudden, unexpected joy of spotting the item you’re looking for right in front of you (or perched tantalizingly on a high shelf behind the counter)….well, ya just don’t get that same rush when you pull it out of an Amazon mailer, amiright?
Anyway, after paging through Slits guitarist Viv Albertine’s disarmingly candid memoir this past summer, “Clothes. Music. Boys,” I figured it was high time I owned Cut (their celebrated debut) on compact disc. Likewise, after watching Julien Temple’s robustly entertaining documentary on British proto-punk pub rock legends, Dr. Feelgood, “Oil City Confidential” last weekend, I felt entirely compelled to own a copy of one or more of their albums.
Now, I’d been scouring around for Cut since about July or so, but no one seemed to have it — even the likelier spots. I was told it was either long out of print (not entirely true) or that there wasn’t that much demand for it. Fair enough on the latter point (suffice to say, the Slits’ music isn’t entirely “user-friendly,” even in 2015), but with both Viv’s book making the rounds and garnering a lot of kudos and a new documentary about the Slits about to be released, one would think Cut would be back out there. Well, not as far as Manhattan is concerned.
Similarly, walk into a music shop here in Manhattan asking for Dr. Feelgood, and nine times out of ten, someone’s going to hand you a Motley Crue album. Even at the band’s height, Canvey Island’s Dr. Feelgood seemed to leave America largely befuddled. Honestly, my hopes for prizing one of their albums out of a shop here seemed laughably slim (which, of course, only made the challenge that much more interesting).
With the kids out of the house with our amazing sitter, I had the day to myself, so I hopped on the ol’ L train for the heroically short SINGLE STOP to the otherwise lamentably hipster-choked environs of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Actually, I should qualify that: I don’t know if Williamsburg is even “hipster-choked” anymore. I mean, sure … there still seemed to be a few milling about, but it almost seems like Williamsburg’s time as the “it” neighborhood has passed. Given the amount of priapic real estate development going on, that would certainly seem to be the case. Yes, the street art is still more captivating than in Manhattan, and it’s overall still a younger, cooler crowd, but I’m getting the feeling that the genuinely hip have moved elsewhere. I don’t know. Am I wrong?
Here’s the thing, though: I DON’T GIVE A GOOD GODDAMN ANYMORE. I’m now a silver-haired, 48-year-old father of two. I may still be preoccupied by silly, juvenile shit (like out of print albums by quasi-obscure punk bands), but I’m otherwise still a functioning adult with bigger fish to fry. Fuck do I care that the robustly-bearded no longer have a private enclave wherein to sup their microbrews?
But I digress.
Walking into Rough Trade gives me such joy. It’s like the arrival gate at an airport. I practically have to wipe the tears away. I’m back home in a place where people are excited about records and compact discs (and even goddamn cassettes) and absolutely NO ONE GIVES A DAMN THERE ABOUT KANYE OR TAYLOR SWIFT OR BEYONCE OR MILEY CYRUS. I wanted to hug the guy behind the counter.
I started perusing the aisles and BAM! there’s Cut by The Slits …for under ten goddamn bucks. I skim blissfully through another aisle and BOOM! there’s Down By the Jetty by Dr. Fucking Feelgood. They even have their own little section, as if more individuals like myself might come looking for them.
I skim further, checking out the sections. Not only does Killing Joke have their own section (as they bloody well should), but the card even lovingly replicates Raven’s signature font from the Fire Dances album. ROUGH TRADE HONORS THE FIRE!
But in case you don’t want to take my word for it…. and who could blame you? … check out this clip from 2014. Granted, the youthful clerk with the beanie is a bit cloying, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect.
Post script: Cut by the Slits is pretty much exactly how I remembered it. Exciting in bursts, but still maddening at points. Down By The Jetty, meanwhile, is ENTIRELY AMAZING, and I’m ashamed I’m only just hearing it in 2015.