Spirituality of the Record Store

When I was younger I worked exactly one block from my favorite local CD store. It was a dangerous time for my bank account. This was the first time in my life I made enough money to feel I had real, honest to goodness “disposable” income. My CD collection ballooned. I regularly checked the bins, where used & new alike were co-mingled, for cheap copies of albums by Jackson Browne, AC/DC, Keith Jarrett, Lip Zipman,  Brad Mehldau, which I did not yet own. The soundtrack to that part of my life was a complex mixture of the recent arrivals in the used rock, jazz, and classical bins.

After my father died I found I could not listen to music with lyrics. I found myself on an almost daily basis rummaging through the classical section. It was during this time that I first spent many hours with the Schubert lieder, the Chopin etudes, Debussy’s music for two pianos, and a host of other areas of the canon which I had not yet explored. One lucky week I was the beneficiary of an unknown lost soul who’d felt it necessary to sell his complete collection of Schubert piano sonatas as recorded by Andras Schiff. Another week I, for similar reasons, found myself the owner of a large number of the Mozart piano concertos as recorded by Murray Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra. These recordings became the soundtrack of my grief. When I broke down in tears while stuck in traffic I could rely on Emmanuel Ax and Yo Yo Ma to get me home. I spent hours laying on my folded up futon listening to cadenzas which seemed the only way out of a very dark place.

The record store has always been a place where I search for meaning. In my mid and late twenties I spent hours walking up and down aisles, making on-the-spot calls to a friend for a quick check of the Penguin Guide, looking for a recording or artist which I felt would surely answer all my questions about life. There were long periods where I would not go into record stores because I felt confident that I had found my own niche in music, the best style for me to play and through which to experience life. Those periods of confidence always ebbed away, and without warning I would find myself traversing the familiar grimy carpet looking for… something.

My practice of looking for meaning at the record store stopped three years ago, when I started divinity school. But in the past few weeks I have been back to my local store. It has been a rough semester, and I have found myself back in the place I most often look for meaning. Given that I am studying religion one might think that would be the church or the zendo; it is, instead, the music store. After three years away I find I have a new perspective on what I am doing there. I see that I am negotiating my internal state of being with the external world. I am not so much looking for The Truth as opposed to A Truth for My Moment. In reflecting on the time when my father died I see that this is exactly what I was doing – finding a musical match for a specific moment. This is not about any sort of Ultimate Truth, but rather a way of coming to know myself. It is a spiritual practice. [Note: I am wary of making ‘shopping’ of any variety into a spiritual practice. Even when I do not leave the store with a recording, the activity of discernment has still occurred.]

I worry that the ‘death of the record store’ is the death of a sacred space. The record store is where people and music intersect in a million different ways. Surfing online music retailers is not the same. It is a different and often valuable experience, but it is not the same. The embodied sensation of walking around the store, passing other bodies-in-motion, is a vital part of this experience. Hearing the music chosen by the staff is a vital part of this experience. How fun is it to hear something you like and know a record store employee likes it too? How fun is it also to absolutely hate what they are playing and feel superior in taste to these professional purveyors of music? Rather than knowing I am not alone by the all-time download count of an online retailer I would rather know I am not alone by seeing others out in search as well. When I see others doing the same thing, I know that I am not the only one searching for connection, for meaning, for truth.

2 Responses to “Spirituality of the Record Store”

  1. ralph Says:
    March 29th, 2013 at 7:01 am

    I have my Penguin Guide ready, always on call.

  2. ralph Says:
    March 29th, 2013 at 7:03 am

    …And in my e-mail this morning, just above your note – “Great deals on CDs from Amazon.”

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