I remember it well – the first thing I ever bought in a record shop. Closing Time by Tom Waits, his debut album. On vinyl, no less. I’d like to be able to say that this was an impulsive purchase by someone who had been a fan of Waits since a toddler but it was not. One of the reasons I remember it was because as a twelve-year-old with notions, I bought it with half an eye on my legacy. So that one day, I would be interviewed on the Late Late about some – as yet unspecified – amazing achievement and I could reveal a further layer to my personality by telling Gay what a cool first record I bought. Everyone would say to me: “Weren’t you fierce clever for a young fella altogether to be buying Tom Waits. Here’s a biscuit.”
Who could have guessed that in the intervening years the Nostalgia for Naff would have become so popular. I would have been far better off buying Now That’s What I Called Music 14. Then I could have appeared as a host on ‘I Remember The 1980s’ TV shows and said things like: “Climie Fisher! What was THAT all about?” and “But seriously MC Hammer, how BIG were those trousers”
Whatever you buy, record stores have always been places to be cherished. There is the wistful pawing of an expensive box-set, the Easter Egg of records. It’s all about the packaging and suddenly you find you’ve paid a tenner for a booklet. It doesn’t matter. It’s a beautiful object.
Other joys include the little “Yip” sound you release having made up your mind to do the ‘three for €20’ deal and you find the Third Good One to complete the set. And then there’s the record shop owner.
In most shops you don’t meet the owner. Simon Fox CEO of HMV is unlikely to appear in the store and say “I’ll have a look to see if there’s any more but I think those are only Bob Dylan albums we have” (I namechecked Bob Dylan there so everyone will say “aren’t you fierce clever for a young fella..”)
The older the record shop the better, the more anoraky the owner the better. Even if he stares at you lugubriously and farts periodically as grit falls from the ceiling – in the case of one old Cork record shop which shall remain nameless. It’s all about the experience.
And then there’s vinyl. For a while I was a vinyl snob. I used to present a breakfast show on Cork Campus Radio in UCC and boy did I let everyone know when I was playing vinyl. It wasn’t your typical breakfast show. I wanted to educate the listeners musically. (I know. What a tool.) “Listen to the distinctive crackle of the vinyl” I’d order the listener as he/she dashed about on their morning routine. No LISTEN! It’s vinyl you philistine.
This attitude led me to play music that one would not describe as entirely suitable for half eight in the morning. “Now after the news and weather (and this will really get you going on a wet Monday morning) it’s Atmosphere from Joy Division. And by the way did I tell you, it’s on vinyl.”
Mind you, my stint on the Breakfast Show was at times an odd mix. On the anniversary of Che Guevara’s death, I thought it would be a light and fluffy feature to bring in someone from the UCC Socialist Workers Party to talk about his legacy. Socialists are not known for their brevity so the interview rapidly became bogged down in a diatribe on the ‘proto-fascist military-industrial complex’ and the four minute slot ended rather abruptly
Socialist: But if I can go on to talk for a few minutes about the horrendous campaign of financial and trade terrorism waged by the US against the fledgeling Cuban State…
Colm in cheery DJ voice: Unfortunately that’s all we have time for on that. Let’s take a track!
I haven’t bought any music in a record shop in some time. A lot of the music I listen to now is online which brings infinite choice but has its pitfalls such as the degradation of some basic human skills. Like trying to find a CD. For example, I was looking for Closing Time in my collection an hour ago. When I couldn’t find it, my first instinct was to google it. But you can’t google a shelf. Yet.
The other skill which seems to have gone by the wayside is patience. I seem to have lost the ability to listen to an album any more. If the next song doesn’t send me into paroxysm of delight, the ‘Next’ icon is unceremoniously clicked. So now I don’t allow songs to grow on me the way the lesser favoured songs used to. Even Best Of albums rarely get listened to until the end.
So I’ve resolved to go to a record shop and browse like the good old days, to experience the mixture of excitement at getting a new CD and the crippling fear that it’s only going to have one or two good songs on it. I’ll resist the temptation to buy online even though I won’t be in a shop for a while. It’ll be worth the Waits.