Saturday, April 17, 2010

we like dancing and we look divine

Today is Record Store Day. For many, it's not much different from most Saturdays - a weekly or monthly pilgrimage to rub shoulders with the popular music masses.

For some, the thought of exchanging their hard earned cash for recorded music, pressed into vinyl or imprinted into zeros and ones, is a foreign concept and ancient act reserved for those in their advanced years. You know...people over 40 years of age.

For most of the last 22 years, I have splashed my share of cash at the music mecca in downtown NYC known as Rebel Rebel. I've known David, the owner, longer than any of my friends. I used to buy import 12 inch singles from him when he was a clerk at another nearby record shop and I was a 16 year old Greenwich Village urchin.

I used to buy all the British imports - Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Eurythmics, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Alison Moyet, Simple Minds, Bananarama, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, ABC, Howard Jones, The Human League, Siouxsie And The Banshees, New Order and countless others. And David always knew what I would like. He was rarely wrong. Along the way, he introduced me to The Blow Monkeys, Lloyd Cole And The Commotions, David Sylvian and Swing Out Sister.

David and I share a bond. He is partly responsible for shaping my musical taste. He's altogether the reason why my wallet was usually empty every payday.

I followed David from New Wave to the New Romantics. Together we took trips through C86, House, Britpop and every other incarnation of pop music from the seemingly never ending stream of sound which flowed from the UK.

So, instead of lamenting a beleaguered music biz, I took today to revel in the rich tapestry of tunes inside the tiny corridor of sound located on Bleecker Street. Rebel Rebel is still in the same location where it opened its doors in August 1988.

It's packed to the rafters with both new and old vinyl, classic mags from the 80s, more compilations than your iPod could ever hold, hard to find promos and boxes upon boxes of music memorabilia. But if you're looking for the latest limited edition releases, you better get there early because David sells out of them in the blink of an eye.

In these digital days, there's a nostalgia for flicking through crates of vinyl. I loved manhandling 12" singles. (Insert filthy retort here.) There was something alluring and exhilarating about flipping LPs over front to back to front. The lavish designs. The detail. Even holding a CD had its thrilling moments. The jewel case. The shiny disc. Thumbing through booklets. I remember the early days when they were nothing more than an expensive curiosity. Then they rolled out into the mainstream and I got hooked right away.

So, what was my first purchase at Rebel Rebel when its lights were turned on for the first time? Glad you asked, kittens.

I bought the 7", 10", 12" and CD single formats of "Dreaming" by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. All four configurations were UK pressings. It was the only single lifted from OMD's first greatest hits collection.

Supporting local, independent retailers still means something to me. I do my best to unload my shekels where I know it will make a difference to the vitality of the surrounding neighborhood.

I clearly remember Greenwich Village before the strollers, the upwardly mobile throngs, the high end fashionista shops and the gleaming mega gyms. I attended college at NYU. I recall seeing the leather studs, the transvestites, the club kids, the bohemians and the wide eyed teens from suburbia all gathering at the many record shops dotted about. The street corners of GW and SoHo were the places where I first came across the art of Keith Haring. It's where I learned about life. I was able to explore my passion for creativity. It was the stuff of dreams. Good times. New York, ice cream, TV, travel, good times!

Today isn't just a celebration of Rebel Rebel and all other independent music shops. For me it's more about finding and defining my youth. It's the experiences and how they're colored by the music I have listened to all my life. Music that wouldn't have been there if I didn't have a haven like Rebel Rebel in my life. It was communal. It was inspiring. It was a sonic celebration every week. And it continues to be. Long may it thrive even in these uncertain times.

By the way, aren't you the least bit curious about what I bought today? Of course you are. On vinyl, natch!


  1. I did go to three stores in Brum looking for the Pet Shop Boys release but it wasn't to be - no one had it :/ Oh well :) I bought other stuff!

  2. I'm okay with downloads, unlike my friend Ron, and I got introduced to mail order by my friend Brian back in the late 80s and that really opened the sluices up, but there's nothing like being in a record store, and flipping through the bins, 'tis true!

    Back in Orlando, where I grew up, there were many fine stores in that cultural wasteland. Record City (Fern Park) was a mindblower when I met my friend Jayne during the early days of being a college freshman. "Have you ever been to Record City?" she asked not more than a few hours after we met (I had dropped the name Billy Idol in conversation with a friend and she picked it up). I responded in the negative, and she took the time between classes to take me there immediately. I later found out she worked there part time.

    My mind was blown as I saw a large store with not just 300-500 imports in a 1-2 bins, but one whole row of the huge store devoted to imports! Thousands of imports to search through. The 7" imports were again, orders of magnitude finer that what I was accustomed to in the less fashionable, South side of town where I lived. Mein gott! The import 7"ers were broken down into artist sections with their own title cards! And they had a John Foxx section, so that day with many new releases to tempt me (Ultravox's The Thin Wall 12" - sigh) I opted instead for the very latest John Foxx 7" ("Europe After The Rain" ) along with an earlier single I didn't have ("Miles Away").

    The cutout bins were superior to most record stores I had ever been in at that point. I finally saw Gina X Performance's "Nice Mover" there after hearing their name but not seeing anything. When Record City closed down a few years later, there would be other stores that rose to the occasion, but none would ever match the impact that that store had on the mind of a young college freshman. But those are tales for a later time.

  3. That was a fantastic post. I have been in Rebel Rebel a few times, and can I say, what an IMMENSE store. It may be rather small, but it is a jewel for music from around the world. Pilgrimages, as it were. Now I run a store that could only hope to aspire to do what Rebel did for you.

  4. @Paul - I guess the PSB 7" was a tough one to get hold of. It's starting to become such a chore to be a fan these days.

  5. @REVO - John Foxx! Another artist I stumbled across at Rebel. There was no turning back after I heard "Underpass". As people who regard music as important as the air that we breath, I guess we all have that moment in our youth where our horizons are expanded by an unbelievable music venue where seemingly the entire center of the pop universe exists.

  6. @countpopula -You own a record shop? Tell me more!

  7. Wow Vinny! Thank you for showcasing one of my favorite people I have ever had the honor to know! David at Rebel Rebel is someone who I could always spend 10 or 20 minutes talking to about music that hardly anyone else knew about. It has shamefully been years since I have been in Rebel Rebel but my memories of spending an hour or more going through the tables and talking about new music will always be with me. David shared my love of all things David Sylvian and made sure he held Sylvian's Weatherbox for me when he got it in. Over the years we ran into each other at concerts in the City, but it will always be seeing him behind the register at the front of his shop that will stay with me.

  8. I had a similar shop called Pet Sounds in Newcastle where I grew up. Long gone now though! So it's good to see your store still thriving!

  9. @echorich - Re: Sylvian What a deal when you can find a music seller who has your tastes! I used to buy all of my Stephen Duffy and Black records mail order from a dealer who also loved them. That's about as painless as it gets. Unfortunately for me, the guy got out of the business by the late 80s. But for a few years there…magic!

  10. Wonderful post :)
    Lots of great reasons to still visit that record store including the forthcoming Wall of Sound Human League album ;)

    Keep it electro