Wednesday, November 02, 2005

With A Bullet

As every good Philadelphian knows, the hip strip in downtown Philadelphia is South Street, made famous by The Orlons as the place where the hippies meet and now flush with tattoo parlors, condom emporiums, and alternative record stores.

Although the creeping Mallism of America has not left it unscathed. There’s some fancy expensive clothing store where the used book store used to be and a Gap, for god’s sake, facing it on the opposite corner.

You used to be able to kill a good couple of hours in the bookstore, poring through stacks of old sci-fi pulps or the used vinyl in the back. You knew it was a hip store because all the clerks ignored you until you shot them a look of hipper-than-thou ennui that made you look like you were even less interested in them than they were in you.

Oh, and they were all in bands.

From such tidal ponds were obsessive collectors created, that specimen of humanity that lived for the asterisks of history: you may have had the new Screaming Riboflavins CD, but they had the promo copy with the “Not For Sale” stamp on it plus the Japanese version with the extra track.

You bought the latest from Veeblefetzer Agony right away because of the limited free poster? They already had a version of it that was only sent to radio stations and that was signed by the band.

I’m not saying these people don’t exist any more; of course they do. But it was a different game then, B.E. (Before Ebay). To keep up, you had to painstakingly comb through the ads in the back of Goldmine, ruining your eyesight as you skimmed the tiny print for the words “rare” and “promo”. You had to haunt the promo bins at the hip record store, using your elbows to keep other poachers at bay. You had to be there when they opened up in the morning to make sure you got the new import LP with the free single.

Sooner or later, this unholy fraternity began to identify who did and didn’t belong to their ranks of the damned. They saw each other at record shows on the weekends. Their names started crossing over into each other’s conversations. Soon, a sort of hierarchy was established. It included the casual but dedicated collector, the obsessive and, on top of the heap, the truly mad.

I have known some of the truly mad. I’ve been good friends with one or two. I cannot condemn them because their blood runs through my veins. The only thing that separated us, I fear, was my sheer laziness.

Some of them are gone now. But those of us who are still here from that time and place seem to stick close together, speaking a language that we fear no one else will understand. We’ve tried to adapt to the whole computer thing, some more successfully than others. And we visit when we can.

Which is how the wife and I came to visit Noise Contraction the other day, a small record store just around the corner from South Street. Its owner and operator, Shark, though younger than us, was still part and parcel of that era and understands the mindset.

Back in the heyday of the record show, Shark sported a truly impressive blond Mohawk, the kind that looked like it could take off a hand. These days he cuts it short and looks more like Kiefer Sutherland halfway through a season of 24.

We’d gone down to pick up the new Fall import vinyl single, which he’d ordered and put aside for me. Yeah, I could have bought it off the ‘net, but it’s nice to renew the ancient custom of the face-to-face transaction once in a while, as if in tribute to a bygone era.

When Shark found out about the wife’s plans to visit England next month, he whipped out his photos from a recent trip dedicated to visiting Beatle Landmarks: here he was crossing Abbey Road, here he was at 3 Saville Row, here he was at The Cavern Club.

He would not brook any teasing about his pilgrimage, even the gentle kind. “I’m not talking to you anymore,” he told me half-seriously after I’d kidded him about it. These were The Beatles, goddammit. You don’t kid about stuff like that.

Ultimately, we can kid each other about these things because we know we all feel the same way. It comforts us to know that there are others like us. But there were never two like the two I am going to tell you about.

They lived for music. And, possibly, died for it.

Next: The Two Steves


Anonymous PM in the PM said...

Hey Linda just gave me the old Mott The Hoople short back n' sides routine and a fresh pair of black trousers so I guess what I'm saying is how can you kill me if I'm already dead? You'll be hearing from my undertaker. PM

Wednesday, November 02, 2005 11:59:00 PM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

Ah, not for a very long time yet.

By the way, I've begun to see the newsboxes for Philly Edge around here. There's even one at our train station. Very snazzy!


Friday, November 04, 2005 2:51:00 PM  

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