Thursday, March 02, 2006

El disco es cultura

Here's a long one, as I'll be on the road for a week.

The spooky thing about sentimentalizing records (besides the fact that there's a hell of a lot of people who care this much) is that you never know how much you can possibly recall. I'm wondering sometimes if I can remember something about this record or write anything about that record. But it always seems to come forward. I'm thinking that when something like music is what you frame your life around, it's always going to be easy to release all that reminiscence with a simple playback. Stupid and romantic, dusty and porous, crates contain more than just garage pockets for must and relentness dankness.

I just got back from Ithaca, NY, where I accompanied a friend of mine who was there on business. I used to live in Albany (where, incidentally, this record shit really got serious for me) and one of my best mates from childhood (Tim) was living a few hours to the west of me. Initially he was at school in Clinton, NY then he transferred to Cornell. I enjoyed taking trips out there often and made a bunch of friends hanging out with Tim in Ithaca, even though I had a chip on my shoulder several times when first visiting an Ivy League school. No matter, I got over it eventually and had some amazing times hanging out in that town. Ithaca's definitely one of the more magical spots in upstate New York.

I got to know Ithaca pretty well, but most of my time spent there was spent in Collegetown. The region of Collegetown is a Cornell-supported development "town" just outside the campus that stretched down the hill Cornell's located on and skirts the downtown area of Ithaca proper. I used to call ahead and take the 3 hour ride just to hang out for a night. We'd take a local route through Homer, Cortland, Dryden and enter around the back of Cornell where the road would just drop you in the middle of this crazy congested area of Collegetown. It was like a downstate New York suburb just placed in the middle of Central New York. The stores, bars, clubs, and apartments that any good school can foster are still in effect in Collegetown today.

Tim would always tell me that this joint called Rebop was useless. They were a clearly struggling music store in Collegetown right near the edge of campus. I think they were probably scraping by with the used-cd market, and almost certainly it was too expensive. But they had records. Even those Tim was warning me against, saying it was loads of crap. But loads of crap is always a good sign for something solid hidden. Ok, well... generally. In this case Tim was wrong, or at least, he didn't know what I was looking for or what I was willing to test. Punk-wise I got a copy of the NY hardcore/thrash crossover band's Leeway's "Born to Expire", which I think was the second time I'd got that record and later sold it off. It was just too metal for me at the time. Stupid, since this was also the time when it was being reissued for the first time on CD. Goes for money at this point, and after I finally managed to be able to approach metal I'd realized how good it is. In addition, I found a sealed copy of Stars and Stripes' "Shaved for Battle" sealed. As strangely erotic as that title sounds, it's acually an extremely rare side-project from the Boston hardcore band Slapshot. Almost laughable Oi/hardcore in a pro-skinhead vein, this has been reissued and this copy also got sold. But that one at least made it to Ebay. That was a nice find, especially at the time when I was still really into the Oi thing. But the one that's still relevant (read: not sold) is the copy of Grandmixer DST's "Home of Hip Hop" (Celluloid 1985). It was stashed in the stacks of records leaned up against the wall. I think this was one of my first 12"s from the classic New York/France label that sat at the crossroads of rap, electro, new age electronic and pretty much anything else that Bill Laswell had his mitts in. At the time, I think I knew the label mostly for their ska releases by bands like the Toasters. Incidentally, they were often bagged-on by bands like the Toasters for screwing over bands, not paying royalties and all that good old label stuff. It was there promo-style with a white cardboard sleeve (I got the sleeved version later and it's shown here), just in the midst of a lot of lesser stuff. A great tune that's all about celbrating the Bronx (yess!) from an important label, this is DST's last track on Celluloid, and came after the stuff that made him famous- notably the Herbie Hancock "Rockit" and "Future Shock" period. DST is a great and often underrated (under-mentioned?) DJ who I believe changed his name to DXT in the past couple of years. I've read that his name came from the fact that he used to jack clothing from stores on Delancey Street in Manhattan. Solid.

NYC Peech Boys "Life Is Something Special" (Island). Once while in Albany I'd heard from Pete that a local hack used CD store (Edie's CDs) had advertised in a local paper they they got a massive amount of records in, apparently listing them as something like "huge dance and electronic lot" or something. So Pete and Eddie and I head over there and it's actually in a MALL. Forget the cute little used CD stores that have been around throughout the 90s, this place was big and not really that great. Years later I went to a different location, as they had several when they were around, in Saratoga and the bum at the counter was amazed that I'd give him 2 bucks for one of the 20 records in the store. It was Thin Lizzy's "Johnny The Fox" and the guy was laughing slimily that he'd swindled me or something, buying an LP in a CD store-- one that became one of my favorite bands. Anyways, this location was in a mall, indoors at a corner location. It was nothing like what I'm used to, and if it was a proper record store it'd feel like the 1970's or something. So we tell them, at this strangely large store, that we've come for the records. They usher us into the back, into what's best described as a storage space that's half closet and half pre-fab cubicle. And yeah, it's full of records. So we get to work going through these stacks and there's some good stuff in there, some rap and electro records and lots of house and dance. So we're in the back room and the staff (hacks of course) leave us alone to do our thing. Then suddenly the lights go out. We're in the back of a store in a mall in the dark. We've got records, sure, but, well.. how do you get out? I believe the lights came back on in a bit. We went out to the front and asked someone if everything was ok. They told us it was fine, it just has been happening a lot since there was some construction in the mall. So we shrug it off and go back to work in the back, just soberly dealing with the fact that we'd have to deal with some emergency floodlights when the lights went out again. I don't remember how many times it happened after that, but we must have been there for a good 3 hours at least. We all went home with fat stacks of records. Some of them had even been used for some reason and some had DEFECTIVE stickers on them, which was false in every case. (My boy Matty deserves a nod here, he of the Defective sticker fame). One of these records was a sealed copy of the Peech Boys album. At that time, I'd heard of the NYC Peech Boys just for "Don't Make Me Wait," a highly respected early 80's underground NY club smash. So I grabbed this record and a 12" of "On A Journey". Little did I know that this was actually Larry Levan's group, he being the legendary DJ of the Paradise Garage. He founded and produced this band and there's even Paradise Garage logos printed all over it. And yes, it features "Don't Make Me Wait". It's a lush, beautifully produced 80's dance album with Larry Levan on the mix and Keith Haring on the jacket. How much more classical 1980s NYC underground can you get?

Dimples D. "Sucker D.J.'S (I Will Survive)" (Partytime 1983). I hadn't DJ'd for several years while I was working in radio promotion. I was living in Boston working my ass off for very little money, which is really the standard for the music business, especially promotion. A different independent promotion company based in New Jersey were friends with us and threw (they still do) an industry party annually called Hoodstock. They threw it then in this great dive bar across the street from their offices in West New York. When I went they had hired a company to come and do dwarf tossing, and even had Beetlejuice from the Howard Stern Show to MC the whole affair. I offered to DJ'ed a set since I heard that my friend Moose from this promo company was doing a bit. This bar, stank and old, had the ancient 70's disco booth DJ setup. It's the kind of place where they suspend the mixer from the ceiling with chains and there's a lot of plush shag carpeting on the walls. I don't even remember what I brought down there to DJ, but I'm pretty sure Donny Hathaway's "The Ghetto" was one of the songs that I played. But what was in this decrepid booth was far more interesting and memorable (believe me, I'm still kinda disgusted at the dwarf-tossing).
Under the decks were some records tossed about on a shelf. Most of them were total crap, but as in most cases, I'd like to see them today to see what I mighta missed. But I did find "I Don't Like Music" by Telex (on a WEA International label with Spanish titles) and this one, the Dimples D record. Unlike the Telex record, the Dimples D was in near-mint shape somehow. Maybe this promo copy was dropped off at the club and they just thought it was too rap for them or not disco enough or not freestyle enough.. who knows. But there's no way I could leave it at this pit of a club. Sorry folks. This is Marley Marl's very first 12" release and the first one on Partytime. It's very obscure and hard to find but moreover it's a slamming record (by a female MC) about how "Marley Marl is one hell of a man". God I love rap music.

RIP Gordon Parks. I wish he became a household name while he was still alive- the man more than deserved it. Shaft probably changed my life the first time I saw it.