In a New York State of Mind

by Dann Gaymer

14 Mar 2010


Musical musings from a used record shop that could exist almost anywhere…

Jim rubbed his temple with his left hand, squeezing the cardboard coffee cup. The acrid smell of the cheap black coffee rose into his nostrils, the rising and falling inside the cup as he applied a tiny amount of pressure and then slowly released. The coffee pulsed like the throbbing pain inside of his skull, as if someone had smacked him upside the head with a two by four. In fact the truth was much worse, as the night prior Jim made the fatal mistake of attempting to be sociable.

Sid, a middle-aged quasi-hippy, had convinced Jim to join him at the working man’s club for a “few quiet ones”. This had translated into pint after pint of real ale, turbulent storms in a glass and later in Jim’s stomach. Sid managed to spend the whole evening rambling on about the Ozric Tentacles and their contributions to the British slap bass scene. Jim personally felt that particular group was on par with leprosy as far as its contributions to humanity went, but he couldn’t really be bothered to start an argument and so he allowed Sid to ramble the night away. Now he wished he had excused himself and returned with a hand grenade to put the both of them out of their misery.

Jim stroked his unshaven cheek as he gazed upon rack after rack of vinyl records that lay in front of him, enclosed within Black Coffee, Black Vinyl, his gloomy shop. What a mistake last night had been, yet at least it had made him 100 percent sure that attempting to be socialable was a complete waste of energy. Especially when he had better things to do, like make genre specific lists of the top ten records ever released. He found new wave and hip hop relatively straight forward, short listing what he deemed the ultimate ten in a matter of months, but the list for acid jazz become somewhat of a stalemate over the past few years.

He clumsily placed the coffee on the counter, a few drops splashing onto the abused wood that was already a patchwork of stains. He pulled a Camel cigarette from a crumpled packet that sat next to the till, rolled his thumb over the flint of a cheap lighter, and offered the end of the cigarette to the fire gods. He took a deep drag and almost instantaneously began to splutter on the chemical laden smoke. He looked up again at the velvet goldmine of vinyl records that made every morning a time of intense inner torment. From old school house to Cuban jazz, from J-rock to Norwegian metal, Jim firmly believed that he had the very best of every genre worth listening to, which made choosing a point of departure no small task. 

He took another long drag on the cigarette and decided that, given his rather fragile condition, it would be best to play it safe and go for something calm yet energizing. Normally he would venture from behind the counter and select a LP; this time he set his cigarette down in a mountain of ash that hid a tray beneath, kneeled behind the counter, and began rummaging in one of the many cardboard boxes stashed below.

After going through a few separate boxes Jim caught a glimpse of his prize. A jewel CD case with If I Were a Carpenter printed on the inside paper cover in colourful but plain font on a mellow yellowed background. Beneath the title was a cartoon image of a man and a woman both with giant, goldfish-like eyes; the man’s green, the woman’s brown, accented by their blond and brown hair respectably, coy all American apple pie smiles, sitting on the floor and in the process of placing an LP on to a phonograph.

Jim stood up, opened the case, removed the CD and carefully inserted it into the monolith like hi-fi on a shelf next to the counter.  He clicked through to track three, picked up his coffee and the smouldering cigarette, took a sip and drag, closed his eyes and waited. From the speakers suspended on either side of the shop came a flood of buzzing feedback, accompanied by a pinched Spanish guitar line plodding bass and deep groans from a grand piano. Whispered vocals drenched in reverb emerged from a brooding storm of static,

Long ago,
And oh so far away,
I fell in love with you,
Before the second show…

Sonic Youth’s cover of the “Super Star”; calming melodies mixed with buzzing feedback and lifeless synthesizers. His still eyes closed Jim felt a shiver run up his spine, a rising euphoria as the song built up. He took another deep drag from the cigarette just as the chorus hit, a cascade of android synthesizers, noisy guitar, rolling drums, the vocals picking up beyond a whisper,

Don’t you remember you told me you love me baby,
You said you’d be coming back this—

A piercing electronic whine interrupted the song. Startled, Jim opened his eyes, the cigarette falling for his lips while Sonic Youth descended into a vortex of ear bleeding broken guitar. The whine came from the primitive door bell perched on the left wall of the shop between an Iggy Pop poster and a framed black and white photograph of Elton John. Jim fumbled around, trying to catch the cigarette and focus on the figure standing in front of the slowly closing door.

His eyes adjusted to the daylight that flooded in and he realised that the intruder was in fact a girl, no more than a teenager. She was dressed in a black leather biker jacket and cut-off denim skirt, black leggings disappearing into a pair of hi-top Nikes. Her hair was a bleached blonde mop, travelling in every direction yet still managing to fall over her eyes, eyes with a textbook deer-caught-in-the-headlights quality. 

She stood somewhat nervously for a moment, clasping her leopard print handbag and offering an apologetic smile. Jim contemplated giving her the stone wall treatment but decided he wasn’t in the mood, so instead replied with something that was not exactly a smile, more like the skin on either side of his face being stretched out, accompanied by a slight nod.

Permission granted, the girl stepped over to one of the racks and began carefully fingering through the records on display. She was looking at the section labelled ‘Glam’, which Jim incidentally felt was representative of that particular genre, almost as satisfying as the neighbouring ‘Hair Metal’. He stabbed the dying cigarette into the ash mountain and watched her lazily, squeezing the cup of lukewarm coffee. He doubted she was going to try and nick anything. He also doubted she was going to buy anything, either. Most likely she just here for the kudos of being able to say she went record shopping because that what’s NME said was a cool thing to do, these days. 

Sonic Youth’s version of “Superstar” came to a close, followed by the Cranberries rendition of “(They Long to Be) Close to You” .The girl turned to inspect the rack behind her, labeled ‘East Coast Hip Hop’. As she turned, Jim noticed the t-shirt beneath her jacket—it was the cover of the New York Dolls self titled debut, the band’s name inscribed in pink lipstick, the five dolls sitting on a sofa, heavy makeup, high heels, pouting for the camera. Jim had not anticipated this.

The New York Dolls

The New York Dolls

Did she actually know about the Dolls or was the t-shirt just a fashion statement? Maybe she discovered them through Morrissey? Or through reading into where Malcolm McLaren got most of his ideas for the Sex Pistols? That first Dolls record, he hadn’t listened to that in a while, but what a record! A pillar in the New York underground, trashy faux glam, over the top rock ‘n’ roll, a sleazy a blueprint for the early punk bands and a vital piece in the musical lineage of the Velvet Underground, Television, the Voidoids, the Talking Heads, the Ramones and Blondie, even leading through to the new comers like the Walkmen and the Strokes.

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