Luda’s new dumbed-down flow, my mother telling me every day on the phone to cut my hair, the UC Davis campus police, and Anthony Bourdain are all current sources of irritation in apartment 680 – but Bourdain especially, because he is rude and overbearing and on the Travel Channel as I write this. He’s got my dream job, though! That rude, overbearing Anthony Bourdain has my dreammmm job, traveling the world, getting paid, nerding out. The focus of my hungry curiosity is record stores, not open-air food markets in Phuket, but the getting-paid-to-travel-the-world-in-pursuit-of-local-delights hustle is still a hustle about which I need to be taught, so CALL ME, ANTHONY, master of this particular hustle! Teach me! And when we meet for our teaching session, don’t look my body up and down like I have a feeling you will! Thanks! I hate you!
Until I have my meet-up with lanky, creepy Anthony, I’m on my own when it comes to travel in order to satisfy primal cravings (records, I mean–not crocodile skin softened in truffle oil, a Thai delicacy I just made up, or frog curry, an actual Thai delicacy). And I have no passport, so my choice of locations is restricted to the U.S., Puerto Rico, and assorted other commonwealths and territories with sketchy acquisition histories and tense racial-relations histories. Vacation days were calling me and the east coast seemed like a logical choice, so a few weeks ago I took my geeky ass to Boston, with no, um, reservations, and no shorts (October!). I did, however, bring cash, a super cute carry-on bag (thanks, Mom), and a record shopping list that has been, according to a very realistic dream I once had, blessed by the ghost of Christopher Wallace. I also brought my hips and an ethnically ambiguous face on the trip – two things that come in handy for a lady when she’s traveling outside of her home region. (Hips ensure that straight men will be nice to you if you get lost, and the face straight from Denmark/Tunisia means you can pretend you don’t speak English when a creepy straight man is being too nice to you).
I saw Fenway as per the legal requirement for tourists, I drank a lot of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, I went to M.I.T., I got a Charlie card and rode the T, so fun and exotic for a girl used to driving her car every day – the cool metal poles, smooth and shiny like the bald head of Keith Elam. But all that was just a collection of stops either on the way to or on the way back from RECORD STORES. I didn’t spend too much money in total – around $200, I think – but I bought too many records to carry on the plane. I had to mail most of them back. Still…not too much money in total. Around…$230?
1. Nuggets, the 31-Year-Old Dustbin Where I Only Had Time to Buy 1 Item Before Being Dragged Away by My Traveling Companion.
– Buddy Miles Express, Electric Church.
Just like how I have my reserved seat on the A$AP Crew Caravan and the Danny Brown Blunt Convoy, I’m a ticket holder on the Buddy Miles Express. Row 12, seat A. Choo-choo, baby, what more can I say. Buddy was friends with Jimi and, I just learned, the voice on this commercial, but first and foremost Buddy was a drummer just like his dad. I’m a nice person just like my mom, so I can relate, and also she passed on her hips to me, hips of course being the body part that so many soulful men wrote songs about. (Full circle!) This one’s Logan-Walking-Down-the-Street-On-a-Hot-LA-Day Anthem: “Wrap It Up,” that time when Buddy took the Sam & Dave song and turned it into a plea for me to take my dress off. (A few years ago I remember the song was used in a department store commercial at Christmas time – wrap it up; I’ll take it – proof that ad firms are too lazy to listen to lyrics. The song’s about a man who wants to turn his woman’s, uh, love into a box, with a pretty bow on top, an obvious sexy, nasty anatomy reference. “Bring you sweet things from my candy jar/’Cause you’ve got tricks you ain’t never used/Give it, give it to me, it won’t get abused.” Isn’t this basically the same thing Danny promises in “I Will”? Aw, wait, I think it might get abused a tiny bit. SORRY, MOM.)
486 Commonwealth (“Comm”) Ave., Boston
Pros: Nice proprietors who didn’t mind the impromptu photo shoot my traveling companion and I initiated and asked if we were from the nearby photography school. Acknowledging the store’s quantity-over-quality inventory, they also wished us luck in finding “that rare Billy Idol 12-inch.”
Cons: Didn’t find that rare Billy Idol 12-inch.
2. Cheapo: The One True King of R&B (sorry, Kells)
I can’t believe they were able to get all four of them together for that photo on my shirt, since they basically wanted to stab each other in the stomach at this point as a band, right? Oh music industry!, you’re just a big corporate picnic where dudes who hate each other have to smile together in photo ops to soothe the boss’s anxiety and thereby ensure that everybody involved keeps making basketfuls of cash. Anyway, thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box; they tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe, jai guru deva om, blahblah, mostly I’m trying to distract myself from the fact that I didn’t buy the record I’m holding above even though it is called Music for the Sensual Woman and has a sad-eyed thick-haired blonde girl on the cover, because, well, I guess I’m into self-sabotage these days.
(email me if you must know).
– El Gran Combo, La Universidad de la Salsa. Bought because my hips were put here on Earth by god herself (Celia Cruz) to move rhythmically to Caribbean music. Also bought because this record was erroneously placed in the jazz section. Insane! This was no accident! I obviously had to go with the fate handed to me by record store gods. Entities outside of my control bind me sometimes, making me feel like the protagonist in horrible Power 106 earwig “Tony Montana.” “You leave me no choice,” excellent rapper Future says in the song, which is about having a decision already been made by the forces at play in the universe, and then living with the outcome of that decision, because you’re just like that man with a Caribbean-bred stronghold technique. “Tony Montana. Tony Montana. Tony Montana.” I’ll talk about the time I bought an El Gran Combo record in Boston if/when I meet Bobbito, but until then I will sweep the floor and bake cookies to it at my apartment in an inappropriate outfit like Beyonce, “Mujer Celosa” sounding so good even though salsa songs about women always have that sexist virgin/whore motif.
– The Chi-Lites, (For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People. Produced by lead singer Eugene Record (Eugene RECORD), this one of course has song titles like “Troubles A Comin” and “We Are Neighbors” because it was 1971. Couched in the middle, though, there’s future-bankrupt-rapper blip-in-history-sample-source “Have You Seen Her.” How telling. In ’72, the guys included their version of “Inner City Blues” on an album otherwise full of love songs, and in ’73 they did a song called “We Need Order” on an album otherwise full of love songs. Later in ’73, they came out with the Chi-Lites album, completely full of love songs. Every one was about marriage and regretting not asking that one lady to get married when you had the chance – none were about world peace or strife. The lesson here is to remember always, darlings, that we all need to get along as the children of Earth, but mostly we just need sweet sweet romantic love, preferably with a really long spoken intro while the bass and strings build in the background. Related: my parents are gone for the weekend so I’m having a party in the basement (dirty old couches and a single red light hanging from the ceiling! 1971 BACK! All 1971 everything!).
– Stylistics, Let’s Put It All Together. Yes, Stylistics! Let’s do that! You had better fucking betcha by golly wowwww I’m ready to put it all together, especially since this record contains “Love is the Answer”* and was produced by Avco album chiefs named Hugo & Luigi, in their spare time, I mean, when they weren’t trying to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser’s castle.
– Archie Shepp, Fire Music. You can’t deny that cover painting – guts laid out and spread around, messy and thick. It comes courtesy of Mel Cheren, a gay man drafted into the Army who, upon returning from service in 1970, promptly started working for a record label, encouraging its higher-ups to start releasing disco, and then founded Paradise Garage, which seems like the greatest and most subversive Fuck you and your army, America committed by a gay man in my great nation’s history. This one also contains Shepp’s “Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm,”* about Mr. El-Shabazz, which is a reminder of the power of 3- and 4-word song titles in jazz. Next week maybe a Fetti affiliate will do a tribute/style-jacking of “In Walked Bud,” only it’ll be called “In Walked Flocka,” and I’ll be so pleased.
*This go harder than a herd of runnin’ elephants. – my future husband, random YouTube commenter.
– Roberta Flack, Chapter 2. Predictability is my strong suit – I always buy a record with a pensive-looking lady face on the cover, which might indicate a personality trait of mine, some deep-seated shyness that Roberta and I both have, or that Laura Nyro and I or Nina Simone and I both have. Most likely I buy these things just so I’ll have something to talk about with Lauryn if/when I meet her. Released in 1970, Chapter 2‘s pensive-face art design came courtesy of Ira Friedlander, whose Roberta-head-album-cover creativity apex was reached with Quiet Fire a year later. And although there aren’t any rap breaks to speak of on it, King Curtis and Donny Hathaway make strong and graceful appearances like they always did on Roberta’s albums; upon seeing this in the bins, it had to be mine. I love Roberta. It was, as they say, a wrap. (Predictability is my strong suit.)
– George McCrae, Rock Your Baby. Shockingly difficult to find, this was substituted for yearrrrs in apt. 680 by a ton of compilations with all the great singles from the album. I was ashamed and felt small, like my secret would one day be found out. Thanks to Cheapo Records, though, I now have the original album, complete with pensive George modeling his denim on the cover, leaning up against some wood, so bossed up I can’t take it, denim on denim on denim, Levi’s, classic, not like fucking Trues that all the cartoony major-label signees wear. “I Get Lifted” is obviously the rapdork-saliva-pumper on this album and it’s a fantastic bass-y slice of cake, a real sexy piece of work, but this means that the album’s opener, “Rock Your Baby” gets tragically overlooked (unless you are a resident of apt. 680). Bonus: George’s powdery blue kit in the video shows up, years later, in Ghosty’s Sonny Carson/slacks baby blue, knitted sharkskin line from “Murda Goons.” That’s how music history works in my head, anyway.
– Ron Carter, A Song for You. Who’s the best Isley? Marvin, because he played bass. Who was Kool & the Gang named for? KOOL, the bass player. What makes “Going Back to Cali” so fucking sexually exciting and fantast–OK GUYS YOU FEEL ME. But guys, who is the finest Mos Def doppelganger who plays bass and happens to be from my future life partner Danny Brown’s city of Detroit? Why it’s Ron “None of you can fuck with this, never, ever, not even in a hundred years; I smoke a pipe and have pretty lashes” Carter.
– Donny Hathaway, Come Back Charleston Blue soundtrack. Bought because I need every record with Donny’s beautiful, doomed voice on it, and because I recognize “Little Ghetto Boy” (WEXLER!) in “Little Ghetto Boys” and “Lil’ Ghetto Boy.” The sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem, this album was co-produced by Quincy Jones (along with Donny) and has a 1-minute interlude called “Furniture Truck,” which would later serve as inspiration for Zaytoven’s beats in tribute to mundane things (“Waffle House,” “Rubber Bands”) that take about 19 seconds to compose. Anyway, in 2012, the saga continues; I’d like you to please stay tuned for my Charleston Blue answer album Come Back Lil ½-Dead.
– Return to Forever, No Mystery. Chick Corea, Massachusetts-born, will make you feel like you can walk into the store and steal a nice pair of sharkskin slacks when this song’s playing, a little thrill in your brain as you realize you’re getting away with it. Plus it’ll probably make your girlfriend take her dress off when you get home and put it on the hi-fi. And if your girlfriend’s name is Logan, she’ll start yammering on about it being an Eric B & Rakim break. Dog, you so lucky.
538 Mass. Ave., Cambridge
Pros: Large, cleanly laid out, well-lit. This is how record stores should be. Also, nice proprietors who recommended the Middle East for a good burger.
Cons: I live 3,000 miles from it. This is actually a Pro because it means I have enough money this month to pay my rent and buy a Balenciaga bag. Bonus Con: I just said “Balenciaga bag” like I’m Pusha’s girlfriend, so I am pretty corny.
3. Looney Tunes: the Stupidly-Named Place Near Berklee Which Was Definitely Run By My Dad in a Previous Life.
– Nikki Giovanni, Truth is on its Way. Nikki, on being an alien from Michigan, in “Poem for Aretha”: “Strangers pulling at you ’cause they love you.” Nikki on being famous and lonely: “Nobody mentions how it feels/To become a freak because you have talent.” Well, that did it. Cue me, forking over $16.
– Dr. John, Babylon, bought because, don’t be silly, it’s Dr. John! He’s my pretend great-uncle and he’s just the best. Also bought because Babylon system is the vampire – I know it, Bob knows it, and Dr. John knows it.
– Dr. John, Zu Zu Man, bought because Dr. John is still the finest, spookiest wheezy-voiced man out of N.O. (Sorry, Lil Wheezy). And because I was raised by music-loving heathens in a weed den, when I was 5 I knew about Dr. John before I knew about Dr. Teeth, his Muppet inspiration, despite the fact that I was a 5 year old child. Thanks, Pop.
1106 Boylston Street, Boston
Pros: Packed, unorganized, dark, no elbow room, great variety of genres. Thissss is how record stores should be.
Cons: Not the store’s fault, but I hit it at the end of a lonnnnng day of walking and shivering so I was not in top form when it came to eyeing and choosing. I only got 3 records but if I had sat down for 10 minutes, eaten something, then returned, I’m sure I would’ve bought 8 more. And if I had the sense to put on a scarf? 12 more, I bet.
4. Weirdo, Tiny Like Lil B’s Pants. Or Is It Dwayne Carter’s Pants. Or Is It Tiny Like the Size of the Lyric-Writing Center in Khalifa’s Brain.
It turns out I don’t just love Boston because Mitt Robotney is no longer the overlord of Massachusetts, or because of Guru’s accent (“He might be loose in the pahhhk/Or lurkin at the train station”) or because the Pixies had a Purple Tape just like Rae! I love Boston because of tiny, tiny Weirdo Records, where I found some Turkish psych and a Dilla break and some demonic fuzz.
– Demon Fuzz, Afreaka! Bought because, OK, first of all, look at that cover. LOOK AT IT. Exactly. It’s an Etsy project photographed by David Cronenberg upon returning from lunch with Nelson George! Now that you understand, the reasons for purchasing just get better: band members included men named Sleepy Jack Joseph, Clarance Brooms Crosdale, and Smokey Adams, who, if not jazz musicians, would’ve been Dungeon Family members, or supporting characters in Uptown Saturday Night, or, years later, guest MCs on Uptown Saturday Night. And the name Demon Fuzz had two meanings, according to Crosdale: “Devil’s children or bad policemen.” Either way: I APPROVE.
– Dorothy Ashby, The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby. Fuckin rap music producers! Producers love this lady’s records, you guys, probably because your favorite producer’s favorite favorite producer Mr. Yancey (NO, NOT YOU, LUGER) made it mandatory to love her.
Original compositions inspired by the words of Omar Khayyam, it says on the cover of Dorothy’s album. Khayyam, research tells me, was an 11th century Persian poet. The meaning of his poetry varies a little according to which middle-aged white man translated it, but overall his writing appears to be a collection of soothing statements that explain the world. We’re here to enjoy each others’ company in meadows while the sun shines, the poems say. Also there should be lots of wine. I don’t care for wine, but I like words that soothe and the fact that Khayyam was a
Sufi Muslim (just like Ghosty! EDIT: Ghostface is a Sunni Muslim. But, really, what’s the difference). A rubaiyat, research tells me, is a collection of poetry – quatrains that generally follow the AABA or AAAA rhyme scheme. So obviously Wiz and any Dipset blockhead would excel at this form of artistic expression. Cat/hat/sat/bat, cat/cat/cat. On a mat.
– Turkish Freakout: Psych-Folk Singles, 1969-1980. It’s a compilation, brand new, the work’s already been done for me and that’s cheating, but Christ, I’m not Madlib. Wait, I’m not Oh No. WAIT, they’re both equally informed about Turkish psych and they both stack those Stones Throw dollars. I do not lead such a life of luxury. This lady’s on a budget! All I can afford is my rent, some Balenciaga, and some not very rare, non-eBay, non-first-pressing records every now and then. Actual song title on the comp: “Uryam Geldin” (“I Came Naked”). Madlib probably speaks Turkish at this point and knew that already, but I’m not ashamed to say I went right to Google Translate for the assist.
– Sun Ra and his Arkestra, Sleeping Beauty. Just like a Mormon, I fetishize precious objects (gold in Mormons’ case; records in mine) and store material provisions for the End Times (food and water in Mormons’ case; records in mine). Nothing, nothing is more fetish-worthy than a handsome, musical man who was an actual space alien and brought messages from the other side; allow me to introduce you to my record collection full of bassists and MCs. Just like supreme fetish object Madlib, I do a tiny jump-up-and-down dance to myself when I find a stunning album in a store’s bin. And just like Madlib scrawled “Door of the Cosmos” on the side of the cave he descends into en route to his underground bunker, I need to leave little messages for myself around my dwelling, reminders about the power of human potential, in order to do my best work (blogging). In keeping with this, on my fridge is a list of the 7 Tenets of Mindfulness Practice because I stress too much, and Sleeping Beauty is on display right when you walk into apt. 680, wordlessly telling me keep it spacey, life should be weird and spacey. Also, keep it based. Sun Ra was based before #based was a thing.
– Ennio Morricone, Le Professionel soundtrack. The MIT museum was lovely, a real nerd heaven, despite the grouchy gift shop cashier and that fact that MIT almost spells out Romney’s first name. It turns out the MIT’s motto is Mens et Manus (“Mind and Hand”), a concise rendering of the philosophical intent of the school’s founders. Promote education for practical application, they proposed. Yes, I heard about that from BDP once or ten times, MIT museum, you biters. Get your head and your hands to develop a solid working relationship seems like it would serve you well if you were a boxer, which Jean-Paul Belmondo started as before he was beautiful and young and pretentious in Breathless and then old-ish and weathered in Le Professionel. Mind and hand is also a good thing to remember when you’re in front of your MPC making a powerful beat to which you’d like me to walk down the street in a dress, and it’s a perfect thing to remember during amorous times on the couch or in the backseat.
844 Mass. Ave., Cambridge
Pros: Very sweet proprietor who found it comical I had 4 separate transactions (FOUR), because every time I thought I was done, I’d find another darling that had to come home with me. Ahaha. HA.
Cons: It really is tiny inside, and lack of space means you’re at the mercy of your emotional state and the tricks of the universe when you visit (the universe might send in an annoying person who tells you “Mos Def just changed his name!” even though you don’t really care and plus you already know this.)
5. Newbury Comics: the “I Realize It’s a Boston Institution but Inside It Just Looks Like a Bunch of Red Sox Fans Took Over a Hot Topic.”
– Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Super-Sonic Jazz. “Super Blonde,” the liner notes say, “tells a happy story about a blonde who is just as super as someone else called super.” There’s no mention of this super lady as a blonde who wears a Warner Bros. Films x screenprint machine collab t-shirt, but I’m a sucker for a happy story so I had to have it.
– Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures. Bought because I love depressed boys (but you knew that). I am a young, educated woman in a major city, so I am required to use the word “thrifted” to describe half my t-shirts and I have to love depressed boys. I am an awful, boring cliché on 2 legs. Sigh. Also bought because I can’t find Closer – somewhere at my parents’ house, maybe? – so I haven’t been able to play any Joy Division when I clean the house in an inappropriate Beyonce outfit. And bought because “She’s Lost Control” is my theme song in my darkest, baddest, most promiscuous moments, and in my bittersweet, heart-racing, body-moving, large-eyeball-pupiled moments, oh look, there I am, dancing alone in the corner at the Factory on Saturday night. Also bought because I didn’t have it in my collection but I always knew I should, and now I do. Aw Ian. Welcome to the collection of musical ghosts that live in apt. 680. You’ve been placed between Christopher Wallace and Elliott Smith.
The trip winding down, I made a quick stop at Quincy Mahhket to try to make love to a not-feeling-it Red Auerbach, then mailed my records and returned home to my native sunny land. Bourdain doesn’t have to worry about rent being due, but I do.