When I heard last week that the Virgin Megastore in Times Square was closing and giving way to a Forever 21, I felt sad. When I heard the store is now covered in generic EVERYTHING MUST GO and NOTHING HELD BACK signs, I felt pain. It was, afterall, the largest record store in the world.
I’ll never forget my first time inside the Virgin Megastore. They said I needed blinders because I kept seeing so many things to buy. While the local indie shop may have been a hipper place to buy records, the big guns like Virgin and Tower Records were no mall stores. You could find books, magazines, band shirts, knowledgeable employees, listening stations, and best of all–imports and special orders. In these places, you could get anything. There was always the thrill of flipping through the CDs, seeing all the ones you had, and then–gasp–there was some imported bootleg live show you’d never heard of. You excitedly paid the $31, raced home, ripped off the cellophane, just to hear the shittiest recording of your favorite artist at their druggiest.
You couldn’t just turn on a computer and Voila–the complete history of recorded sound, beginning with Edison’s phonograph. You had to do some legwork. You had to talk to the employees with purple hair. And purple hair is intimidating when you’re a 12 year old record geek. You had to read your Rolling Stone. You had to get your MTV. You had to do your browsing quick while your Mom ran in the other store. You had to punch the touchscreen of the Muse Machine. And that Bitch never worked.
Music is tactile. It’s heavy, man. It’s bulky, stored in boxes, and will break your back when you carry it up four flights of stairs while moving. That’s rock and roll, if you were wondering the definition–four flights. Wait, you only did four? I did five.
This is part of my music collection, a section you might say. I’m playing Jenga with it, some of the CDs are teetering off the stacks. But she’s sturdy, I say. Just don’t make any sudden movements. And I’ll show you my LPs one day too. We’ll do that on the 2nd date. I don’t bust out my Very Good Condition copy of Stevie Wonder’s 12 Year Old Genius for any old body, ya know.
I don’t mess around with that download stuff. I gave it the old college try. I have an iPod. The earbuds feel funny in my ears. I keep losing them. The girlfriend let me borrow hers. Are you for real, you’ll let me put these in my ears? I asked. Yeah, you clean your ears, right? She asked. Crickets chirp. Fuck it. Where is my headphones? Where is my Walkman? Where is my checkered tape case that holds 24 cassettes?
Music is tactile. It is vinyl. It is sweat, on her skin. Or bitter, a taste in her mouth. Or technicolor, when she opens the door. Music is plastic. It’s a whiff of fresh ink when you open the CD. It is dusty, on the shelf. Musty, a back room, a few records. A smoke, a beer, a can of Coke. A single white glove on your hand, covered in rhinestones. Always covered in rhinestones. It is black. Tell ’em what we said about Paint It Black. It is red, a warming beacon, a logo. In your head. The lunatic is in your head.
You wanna know the greatest album of all time? It’s What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye. You wanna know why the White Album is so good? It’s the bloody Beatles’ White Album. Wanna know Dylan’s favorite poet? It’s Smokey Robinson. You wanna know my favorite song? It changes every day.
Today it’s Don’t Worry Baby by the Beach Boys.
I went to the record shop today. There used to be about 20 around here, but now there’s only 2 or 3. The good one’s still standing, for now, Soundgarden in Baltimore, great place. Smells like plastic and wet pavement, and as I get older, I’m starting to think they play the music too loud.
I bought these Beach Boys CDs. The first four albums, $4 an album. People don’t pay for music anymore. I paid $16 for a bunch of songs I already had on the computer. But something sounds funny about that version of Don’t Worry Baby in my iTunes. It plays too fast. The compression or decompression, binary bits or whatever….it sounds like shit. That’s how I justified the $16 purchase–I needed a pristine disc copy of it. After all, it’s my favorite fucking song. Today.
So I paid for the disc, got in my car, opened it up, and slid the disc in the player. Sounding like it was supposed to, the soaring opening notes of Don’t Worry Baby came through on my shitty Chevy speakers. Brian borrowed the sound from the Ronettes and the Byrds borrowed it from Brian. And then I hit every red light on the way back home and it didn’t matter.