Record Store of the Mind
First of all, it needs mentioning that one of the reason I am ready to devour a heck of a lot of music books and books about music is what I guess you could call a nonsensical and controversial pursuit of getting a bigger picture. Nonsensical drive that is characteristic of all reading I believe. This big picture imagining is of how various routes of popular music have evolved and how they are presented today. Knowing of course that no picture offering that quality is available. I have always been very sceptical and quite frankly bored beforehand upon hearing mentioning “the history of rock and roll” or “the history of pop music”. Making plain of course the controversy. It seems that the thing that I find most boring to read, when someone offers me the bigger picture, is actually what motivates my reading and interest to begin with. Getting the bigger picture. I guess it is just that when authors try to scurry together in a consumable tome “The History of Rock and Roll” of some sort, there are so many details that get left behind. So many characters and players.
I also read music books for the same reason Josh Rosenthal flicks through shelves upon shelves of albums in an endless row of record stores. To discover something new. Growing up in my home town of Akureyri in the north of Iceland, alternative records were hard to get. There was an “other” section at the cooperative music store. I found my Tindersticks there but otherwise it was not rich on alternative music. Perhaps Josh Rosenthal didn't set out to rectify or presenting us with the bigger picture by putting together this brilliant book but it satisfies both of my above mentioned urges completely. Brilliant, inspiring and knowledgable brought to you the reader in an enthusiastic kind of way his book illustrates just how rich the history of popular music is indeed.
The book is a tribute to record stores as well and the constant, sometimes easily led a stray hunter that frequents them. Albums that change your live, serendipitously bought or the ones that are so much sought after. Josh's findings provide a fantastic gallery of characters in his narrative. There are so many sensational characters in the book, Ron Davies, Jack Bonus, Ernie Graham and Harvey Mandel all come to mind to name but a few, Charlie Louvin as well. All artists that in this age of viral immediate consumption need to be remembered. They represent also in my mind how the strong undercurrent affects the mainstream. So underlining the importance of the details in every story.
“Jeff was a sweet guy, sunshine and light. He wasn't a hard druggy. Perfect for California at the time.” p. 39
Most of the musicians mentioned in the book started their careers in the seventies. Various offspring of the autumn of the '68 summer of love when a lot of musicians sought refuge in the hills around Los Angeles and in the Bay Area take centre stage in the first couple of chapters in the book and are in some cases also linked up with Josh's collaboration with various artist through his label Tompkins Square, that is also the publisher of the book. When the book is published Josh has just moved to San Francisco and the musicians he mentions are a way for him to get better acquainted with his new environment. This makes the text also serve as a geophysical Californian exploration and what better way to do that than through music. Josh gives the reader also a glimpse into his own life that is centred around music and him and his family moving to San Francisco. You could say that in a sense in one of the last chapters where he talks about his collaboration with Charlie Louvin marks the beginning of the book where his death coincides with Josh's moving to San Francisco.
Josh goes into the obscure and the wayward of these musicians and all those and others that need to so badly to be remembered. However you wish to view the tangled story of popular music, you can at least say that names like Jack Bonus, Ron Davies, Robert Lester Folsom and the whole Racoon Records story seldom get mentioned in any tv documentary, pop music historical book or overview discussing who is who in the much sought after pop music's hall of fame. But they definitely deserve remembrance through their music. Their careers invariably suffered some major setback, though not necessarily by the drug and booze factor. They then get revived and brought to our attention by “… musically enlightened folks who care about such things.” (p. 140).
All of the musicians mentioned in the book are of “ … musical interest”as Josh says and quotes British singer and songwriter, Bill Fay. The final chapter consists of a list of musicians of such musical interest that illustrates the purpose behind the book as Josh hopes “ … folks will pull this book of the shelf and treat it as a reference volume, leading to an exploration of my lists.” (p. 216). Believe you me, that I will do and have done. All the musicians I have checked out have most certainly been marvelous and so I understand Josh's choice to write about them. I only wish some chapters could have been longer. I guess there isn't much material available about come of them like Jack Bonus f.ex. or Robert Lester Folsom and there were many names to choose from, but I would definitely like to know more about them all.
What I also find truly interesting in the book is when he refers to the album market or the industry as a whole where he worked so many years. It seems that in the seventies and the eighties the album market was insatiable and at the time he worked at one of big players in the market, SONY, the situation was the same like he says in one of the chapters where he talks about his own background and experience. “Back in those days , with enough money, commitment, and luck, you could almost will a record into becoming a hit.” (p. 165) Though I would have liked to know more about those times and the record business at the time I am also hoping it will be in his next book as this one definitely leaves you only longing for more
For more info, a visit to Tompkins Square Label website is encouraged and indeed highly recommended.