Monday, January 30, 2012

Making Peace With A Record Store

I made a long overdue visit to the soon-to-be defunct Bleecker Bob's record shop this past weekend. You can read more about the closing HERE.

Friends had been sharing stories of this legendary hangout and I felt a bit left out. Most of their stories had been positive, yet all of mine had been terrorizing.  One of the most memorable days of humiliation, though in retrospect, I probably deserved it, was when I had asked for the 12" remix of Nena's 80's novelty "99 Luftballoons." I had been DJing the Circle Line booze cruises at the time, and well, you needed the hits. Bob himself sold it to me, but not before shouting out in front of a packed house:

"Could we get a 99 Luftballoons 12 inch so this guy can put it up his ass?"

Really. I kid you not.

Another visit, less humiliating, but more aggravating, was when I had come in search of both LPs by East L.A. punkers The Plugz. Those records had gone out of print very quickly, and were not that easy to come by. Bob had both, on his wall, priced at $50 a pop. This was 1986. I wanted them, and you know when you want something....

I asked if he would take $80 for both and he agreed without incident. I left happy and continued east for more record shopping. I hit Sounds on St. Mark's Place, where I found both Plugz LPs priced at $5.99 and also at Free Being, around the block on Second Avenue, for $7.99. Of course, I stormed back to Bob's, and I was barely ackowledged, nevermind the price discrepancy.

The trip on Saturday was nothing like those days at all. Chris, the manager featured in the New York Times article, was alone behind the counter, and couldn't have been more helpful or pleasant with both regulars and tourists alike. I was suddenly shaken by the thought that still one more slice of the New York I once loved, will now be lost to yet another Starbucks.  Not to mention, another record shop biting the dust.

I found a few gems, including a Split Enz record, the first Rickie Lee Jones, a lost soul classic that had been on my want list for ages by Tommy Hunt and a 1998 reissue of John's Children, Marc Bolan's pre-T. Rex band of psychos. All were reasonably priced, and Chris entertained me with very short stories on each, as he wrote me up. A lost art if you ask me.

It was a good visit. I never thought I'd say this but, I just might miss Bleecker Bob's.

In the meantime, this John's Children's album is amazing! Always loved the nugget "Midsummers Night's Scene," but I had no idea just how kooky and melodic the rest of it was. 


buzzbabyjesus said...

Bleeker Bob's is where Jimmy Page, while still in the Yardbirds, bought the 1967 album "The Above Ground Sound Of Jake Holmes". The night before he'd seen Jake perform his song "Dazed And Confused". You know the rest.

jeff k said...

I was in and out of there a lot. It was never my favorite record store. the worst experience was when a friend told me she wanted a copy of "The Big Chill" soundtrack. In her defense, it's not a bad collection (better than the movie, I thought, but I'm not going to get into politics). It was at night, and places like J and R were closed, so since I was right near by BB's, I went in, and indeed he had a copy. I brought it up to the counter, and in a really loud, nasty voice, he said sarcastically, "Yeah, this is what we're about."

With a mixture of humiliation, defiance and contempt, I paid and walked out.

At least at Sal's place,he and his partners had the class to silently smirk at my taste and wait until I left the store before expressing their disdain.

FD13NYC said...

God, I first started shopping there in the late 60's as a young teen. The place was first on Bleecker St, close to Laguardia Place and a few doors down from the Bitter End. You climbed the long stairs and made a left.

Bob was always a quirky condescending wise ass. But if you were lucky, and he kind of liked you a little you were safe. He'd actually talk to you and kid around somewhat.

I knew him a long time and bought some neat stuff early on. After his stroke it seemed he didn't know anyone anymore, a shame. One of the first real record stores that made a big name for itself.

Oh well, as they say, all things come to an end.

Robin said...

I've heard a lot of horror stories about Bob's so never even went in. If you're not going to be respectful you don't deserve my business no matter how good you are or how much depth and breadth your inventory has. I love the anonymity of the internet to tell the truth, my music taste is sacred to me and I don't need condescension or nastiness, thank you! And honestly someone smirking about someone's else music taste actually says a lot more about the smirker than the taste of the person buying. No offense Sal if you did actually smirk at Jeff! ;)

I'm glad you made peace with the place. I used to be really sad when things changed, places closed, now it's like, "well thanks for the memories, can't wait to see what the future brings" even if it is a Starbucks.

PS Pugwash has another fan.

soundsource said...

don;t go all nostalgic on em.. They were elitist assholes of the worst kind and the only reason they are partially nice now is cause they're on the balls of their collective asses and your older and for some reason they probably are giving you more respect. It was an overpriced, inflated ego trip and if you really wanted something i always found that it was more fun to dig to find it the deal with a bunch of overpriced ego inflated rock nerds.
I was much sorrier to see the demise of NYCD where the guys behind the counter may have been assholes sometimes but they were nice assholes and usually had a reason to be assholey and they dealt fair and
ya think i have an opinion about this

and in the ongoing word verification sweepstakes todays' word is flameria a word that may have been invented to describe the guys behind the counter at Bleeker Bob's in spanish.....flameria assholerias

Anything Should Happen said...

Ha ha, great post Sal.

I think we both set up places that allow anyone to say that they like something without it being "uncool" and to debate the choice.

However, there's still a Music snob in all of us, much as though we'd like to disagree, be it X Factor or Bon Jovi.

I tried to bring my two up to appreciate all tastes and not fawn on some of the stuff that they were listening to.

Tried to work on a theory that I wasn't bothered what they were listening to as long as they were listening to something.

But it was hard and in some cases still is, boy was it hard.

Anything Should Happen said...

In word verification terms, I got deringa, which could very well be the Megaupload replacement.

Anything Should Happen said...

That Don fellow is going for three in a row.

I've enjoyed this post because I've been on both sides of the fence as the biter in a notorious Liverpool Record Shop and the bit.

I have to say I did enjoy the biting and it was part of the job description, but if you are bit you feel it more.

One store in my hometown did it to me, I floored the owner with my knowledge on stuff he specialised in and have never been back since.

Brainglo is the verification by the way and I have that so I'm off to bed.

cmealha said...

I half agree with FD13NYC. Nuff said.

Sal Nunziato said...

Hey! Did no one like the John's Children tune?

steves said...

Bleecker Bob's (in its latter location) was my local record store for a few decades. I never got into with Bob, but I heard many an outburst over the years. I used to love to look through the $2 records outside and try to find the most beat-up one in the bunch (always a tough feat).

Good times! West 3rd won't ever look the same to me without it.

A walk in the woods said...

Nice piece here. (and great song by John's Children.) When I'd come up to NYC from ATL, I went to every shop up there.

This included my favorite, just for the perverse insanity of its premise - the nutty "Accidental Records" store which was located on Avenue A in East Village, a bit away from the hubbub, but it was open 24 hours god bless it and was the size of a large closet.

And of course I visited Bleecker Bob's. But man... overpriced, kinda grimy, a mite bit snobby yes... I never saw much to love.

But it made its mark just by hanging around and attracting some big names. Still, I'll lament Subterranean Records (I don't hear people refer to that store much but WOW what a place -- almost every record in the shop with a little note on it by the workers telling why it's great) or even crazy Accidental Records any day over Bleecker Bob's.

But still - a salute, and respect for hanging in there. There aren't many left!

buzzbabyjesus said...

Before now the only song I knew by John's Children was "Desdemona", from Nuggets 2, which I like. This one compares favorably.

FD13NYC said...

Oh yeah, the song, band of psychos is right indeed. I vaguely remember listening to this LP long ago, not my cup of tea, too spacey psych for me. If I were freaking out after having some bad/or too strong weed and I listened to this, I'd be in the hospital on a valium drip.

It's good that Bolan went on to do more groovy down to earth rock later on.

Marcia said...

You always write at least one line, (more often several), that makes me laugh out loud. This post was no exception. Loved it as always, Sal.
I remember when I was your distributor sales rep, asking you about Bleeker Bob's, because I was trying to acquire them as a new account, and couldn't get Bob on the phone. Your stories dissuaded me, and I eventually gave up, humored, but at the same time, borderline-terrified.
Anyway, sad to see yet another of the last hold-outs go, but it must be that time of year. I know of others that are barely hanging in - and one in particular, in Jersey City, which has had everything marked down for weeks, and is finally closing its doors today. :(

Leon said...

buzzbabyjesus, this song (Midsummer) is on that same Nuggets 2 box set. I hadn't realized it until last night when I read this post and checked to verify it's on there! :) (I have it but had never noticed this song)

buzzbabyjesus said...

I made a one disc version of Nuggets 2 not long after purchase, and haven't revisited.
Guess I'll need to. Thanks for the reminder.

steve simels said...

Bleecker Bob stocked my crappy 70s band's indie 45 and actually paid us. Something. If memory serves.

So I will brook no criticism.

William Repsher said...

Never had a hard time with Bob, then again, rarely shopped there, as I moved to NYC as vinyl was in the process of being killed by cassette, and CDs were just starting to appear in long boxes. Let's face it, shopping any record store in the Village in the 80s was a dice roll in terms of owner/clerk etiquette, and you could always go to Tower if you felt like being treated like an asshole by a fashion victim. (Then again, I got to know a few of the buyers and managers at Tower and was humbled by their musical breadth and knowledge.)

Only place I ever recall actively disliking but still shopping there was Midnight Records on 23rd and 8th ... either felt like I was invisible there, or being a annoying prick for wanting to give them my money. Generally speaking, back then, you got treated poorly in any record store you could scratch if off your list and still have a few dozen choices around town.

And I'll never understand the concept of record store owners/clerks having contempt for product they're selling or the customers buying said product. Even if you think it's dogshit, it's still putting roof over head and food on the table. I would never make a customer feel like an asshole for buying anything. A comparatively small but nonetheless important issue in the long downward spiral of the recording industry.

Hats off to Bob for lasting as long as he did!

oldkdawg said...

Worked in a record store back in the early 80's (just wondering, how many of your readers worked in record stores) and I had the same opinion as William, about treating the customers. However, when talking with other employees or friends about some of the customers, well . . . Never having been to New York the closest metropolis to me was Minneapolis. They still have a great record store called The Electric Fetus. Well worth checking them out if you are ever in this neck of the wilderness.

Sal Nunziato said...

@oldkdawg and belatedly, William Repsher

I have certainly voiced my opinions during my retail run. But in my defense, and only my defense, the same policies I try to stand by here at Burning Wood, were the same policies I tried to stand by at NYCD.

I don't like music snobbery. NYCD carried XTC, Britney Spears, Ornette Coleman and the B'way cast recording of "Follies." Most of the ruckus came about when I tried to defend it all.

Sure, I'd smirk, as Jeff K mentioned, at the taste of some customers, but it usually came after some lunkhead insulted the Bee Gees while purchasing Sisters Of Mercy.

And Oldkdawg...been to MPLS and Fetus. Great city and great store. Still have my t-shirt.