Running a record store on St Mark's Place in the East Village during the 1980s put me in the dead-center middle of an exploding mecca of pop culture. Wow, that is one cheesy sentence, but, true dat.
Think about what happened in popular music between 1978 and 1988...
Punk followed very closely by New Wave, ripped through New York City's Lower East Side.
Kraftwerk laid down the architecture for something that was happening in a couple of clubs 12 miles north in a few clubs in the South Bronx. Something being called rap and/or hip hop.
Other Euro and American musicians and producers were taking the same Kraftwerk template and creating what became techno.
Metal and, amazingly, country were exploding in, even in the outlier East Village in Manhattan.
Vinyl discs, the normal 12 inches full-length album size in diameter, were now being pressed for just one song, making 15 minute remixes and dubs, another '80s innovation, possible with great loud sound.
The entire concept of Looking Back, vast reissuing of old blues, doo-wop, country, Brit invasion, soul, et al., came to the fore back then, too.
The point being... Man, we were packed almost every day with a hugely eclectic clientele.
But, y'all just wanna know about the famous ones... So...
There were three rock stars who came into St. Mark's Sounds who smelled so bad, we had to open all the windows for about a hour. John Doe and Exene breezed in on a veritable cloud of body odor. Our eyes burned! But, it was Natalie Merchant who smelled like she might've even pooped her pants.
John Belushi, just after he'd left SNL, came in one night exuding entitlement and recognition-hunger. I was actually a fan, but, he just made me NOT wanna fawn whatsoever. He tried to engage me in conversation about a documentary on punk. "I haven't seen it." was all I replied. "Okay, well, let me get the new Clash single." I pulled one out of its cubby and rang it up with tax, slid it into a bag and said, "That's $3.24." Oddly, given how utterly debauched it turned out he was by then, his skin was as smooth and flawless as a supermodel's.
David Byrne of the Talking Heads was a regular customer when he was in town. His shopping methodology would surprise none of you. He's spend a good 30 to 45 minutes combing through every relevant bin, stopping to skim liner notes. Studious! He'd never leave with less than at least 8 or 9 albums. One day, as he was perusing the Used Rock -- S/T bin, a kid came up and asked him to autograph a T Heads LP. He wrote his name in neat bland block letters approximately 2 inches tall. The poor fan was flummoxed.
Keith Haring, Jim Jarmusch, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Arthur Russell, Vince Gallo, all shopped at Sounds on at least a semi-regular basis and I had no idea who any of them were at the time. God knows, I woulda traded Keith and Jean-Michel some vinyl for artwork, no problem!
A few regular customers went on to be quite the big shots. Craig Kallman used to come in a few times a month to pick my brain and shoot the shit. He's been the Chairman of Atlantic Records for about 15 years now. Def Jam's founder/producer, Rick Rubin used to drop in, usually pretty late at night, and have me scour the Blues, Jazz, Country, and import bins, picking out "the good stuff" as he called it. Yes, I helped make the taste of one of America's tastemakers.
Rick's greatest find, The Beastie Boys, were all regular customers. They were part of a clique of about 15 kids. When more than 4 or 5 of them were in the store together, Beastie Boistirousness often ensued. I personally bought many a box of their initial "Pollwog" pressing for Sounds, directly from MCA (RIP). It was one of the very few local band on-consignment discs we regularly sold out of.
All four Ramones were in often. Joey and Johnny were fairly hardcore collectors. When either was in town, they'd wind up cruising out rock bins and coming away with hundreds of dollars of vinyl. Both were friendly and chatty. On the more rare occasions that Tommy came by, he'd usually ignore the rock side of the store where John and Joey did about 100 percent of there shopping. Tommy would go to the Folk, Country, World Music alcove. Dee Dee, well, frankly, I got the feeling that he'd set up drug buy appointments and that's about it. He'd race in and look around and then race out, or see whoever and they'd both race out. Oy!
Fred Schneider of the B-52s was one of our favorite customers for two reasons. One, he was/is an extraordinarily nice chap. Witty and mild mannered. Two, he had almost a fetish for bad music. About every 90 days or so, we'd have a 25 cent sale. I'd pull out every album that had been languishing in the used bins and slap large 25 Cents Today Only stickers over the original price tag. If Fred was in town, he'd come by and clean us out. At least a dozen times, he'd stagger out of the store with a 120 count box, easily 30 lbs, filled to the brim with wretched crap. Total expenditure less than $30. God knows how he ever found the time or inclination to listen to even 15 percent of them.
Amy Carter, daughter of POTUS Jimmy, once came in with four Secret Service guys to purchase the Ramones catalog (at the time, four albums). Them SS guys were like that creepy dude in "The Matrix". They moved around the store like lizards!
Various Dead Boys, Voidoids, Televisions, Cro-Mags, Sonic Youths, Blondies... Hell, almost every rock musician in New York, shopped at Sounds.
The summer of 1984, I was sitting on the store's stoop one summer afternoon taking a little break and a tiny little guy walked by wearing purple from head to pants cuff with white stiletto-heeled boots and what could only be described as a woman's hair...
"Look at this asinine Prince wannabe," I said in my head.
He turned as if I'd said it out loud. It was Prince.
Mick Jones of The Clash and Keith Levene of Public Image came in often enough to sort of become invisible.
I wonder how many world famous rap and jazz personalities were in there back then that I just didn't know. Afrika Baamaata was a week regular though.
If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the quiet sorta slightly built fireman that would come in about two weeknights a month, always just before closing at 10 p.m.. His firetruck, complete with lounging several colleagues, would sit out front while this one fireman slowly but with real intensity would go through the Jazz, then the Blues, then the Reggae, then, the import reissues... We'd always keep the store open for him an extra ten minutes or so. Though truth be told, we always eventually would have to politely throw him out. He never spoke a word. But, we all dug him. One, he was a gol-dern fireman, right. Two, he ALWAYS bought a tasty bunch, and given all the flaming lemming idiots who bought the latest flaming lemming idiot crap, it was nice to do business with a real musical smartypants.
That fireman was Steve Buscemi.
Oh, and here are two more blogs about my record store days...
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