February 2009

The Music Tribe

If you followed our coverage of the CES and THE Show from Las Vegas, you saw that we from the SoundStage! Network had some rare free time to do whatever we wanted before the show began. SoundStager John Crossett and I did what men like us do in Las Vegas: We went shopping for LPs at two stores definitely worth finding when you're in town -- Zia Record Exchange near the corner of Eastern and Paradise, and Record City on Sahara. There are actually two Record City stores on Sahara, and it's worth your time to visit both. One has a more common selection of used LPs and CDs, while the other is where you'll find the really good stuff, including vintage vinyl. However, John and I actually bought about the same amount of music at both stores, proving once again that "common" to one man is "treasure" to another.

About the only time I physically browse for music these days is when I go to Las Vegas for CES or to Phoenix, which is two hours away from where I live. It's a rare pleasure to pick through bins of LPs and CDs -- to actually hold and inspect what I'm purchasing before I pay for it. Even though all of the music has been separated into sections and there are dividers with the names of musicians or bands on them, I try to look at everything, occasionally finding a misplaced LP worth examining and even buying.

John Crossett was an especially congenial and keen-eyed music-shopping comrade. He ploughed through each bin vigilantly, picking out albums for himself and me. "Do you have this?" he'd ask, holding up a Columbia six-eye J.J. Johnson LP, then, "I have this and it's great," shoving Art Pepper's Omega Alpha my way. I bought both of them. Of course, I reciprocated. The album I'm holding in the picture below (a Verve Japanese pressing of Jam Session #1, in case you're interested) is one I showed to John and he bought, along with an original pressing of Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder that I also uncovered. John, you owe me for handing over that Blue Note.

This is the way it used to be -- spending hours at a record store with a discerning friend, picking over everything (especially the cutout bins -- remember those?), recommending albums, accumulating a stack that made your arm ache to carry it, then heading home with anticipation. This used to be a usual occurrence for music lovers; today, it's like riding in a hansom cab: the remnant of a bygone era. We shop for music online or in understaffed, well-lighted big-box stores, or we simply go the no-format route and buy digital files off the Internet. You can carry far more music on an iPod than John and I bought combined in Las Vegas, but doing so means you lose something important: the slow, tactile hunt for music and the camaraderie of like-minded people. If we humans are tribal at our cores, our tribes and lands are now so fragmented and spread out that we can easily lose sight of who we really are.

I'll sound like my dad by saying this, but what the heck: Ah, the good old days. As audiophiles, we are part of the Music Tribe. If you've overlooked this fact of your heritage, spend a few hours in an honest-to-goodness record store, where you can commune with your people, hunt and gather, and return home with the fruits of your satisfying labor.

...Marc Mickelson