I went hog-wild in Melbourne record stores. My mate Ryan met me in Fitzroy at 10am, right when some of the record shops start opening. A few don’t open until 11, and we missed some of them as a result.
I had eyes only for the soundtrack section – and I came away with 11 brand new purchases. Which is ludicrous of course. But it’s about what I used to spend on duty-free liquor one-way into a country. And also, get fucked, it was my birthday!
I’d heard, for years, about Melbourne record stores. And I have been a few times and never quite seen it.
The suburbs are where it is at for this experience. Wonderful shops, great, knowledgeable staff and such a range. The population is here to justify this – it really does show up New Zealand’s now sad attempts to stay in the game. A shame, and not the fault of the ones still trying, or mostly trying. Many are just there because they’ve always been there and that’s what they do. Alone on the hill, slowly dying, taking no risks and restocking the obvious sellers only. The prices going up and the quality of service going down.
Not so, in Fitzroy the other day.
People in stores were writing down titles I might find elsewhere cheaper, and telling me the best option – recommending online stuff rather than still talking about it like it’s the iron bird in the sky and they are hunched over railroad workers, building tracks and backing their backs.
It made me realise that we’ve never – really – done record stores properly in New Zealand. And that’s obviously a population-thing. We have had some good music stores, but actual record stores – a strange beast – aren’t part of New Zealand’s culture. And, I realise this is odd commentary to make at this point since it’s fringe, and dying.
Anyway, from the dyed fringe of hipster stores and on through the old man anoraks, one of my favourite stores to stumble upon yesterday was Strangeworld Records – my guide for the day knew where he was taking us, every step of the way, apart from when we just arrived at the door of Strangeworld, quite by accident. A happy accident – for it was here that I finally found the Vangelis version of the Blade Runner soundtrack at a price I could deal with; this record has somehow haunted me for a while, the not-being-able-to-find-it issue that is. The music is the other kind of haunting, beautiful, strange, wonderful.
The owner was playing some fantastic music, making great recommendations without ever being pushy, genuinely interested in the other places we’d been that day and asking about how many other stores we had to check off the list; it’s clearly a thing to do the crawl and hunt and gather across more than just a couple of shops. The likeminded spotting each other. The hunched over, tote-bag carriers smelling their own.
He also introduced me to my new favourite record. I couldn’t spring for it at the time – and he sold his last copy to the other person in the store at that exact moment anyway. But I’ll be looking for it. And it’s online to enjoy before I buy a copy of it. The way he told me just enough about the record’s bonkers-but-fascinating concept and the backstory of the artist that made it had me pining for my own days in music stores, supplying customers with the details to make them fans instantly of new music, or at least hoping that to be the case. Now you can just share a link or air-drop or what have you. It’s so much cleverer, and lazy, and it doesn’t always feel right. But it’s the music that matters. So I’m dumping a link to it here and saying nothing. You’ll just either listen to it and love it – or you’ll not bother or it won’t be for you.
What a day.
If you’re interested, and hey, even if you’re not, I bought a bunch of great movie soundtracks on vinyl. This is my thing now. It’s been my thing for a while. But over the last year or so I’ve gone all in on it; my record-buying/collecting focus. You can’t have everything, you can’t house a giant collection – let alone pay for it – but if you create a laser-focus you can drill down into what you want and curate the collection you feel you need. For me it’s soundtracks. And this is for a bunch of reasons – most importantly because I love the music, am fascinated by the film-scoring process and (usually) thrilled by the results. But also, I think it’s because I’m jaded as a former music retailer and critic. The days of playing things non-stop to recommend and then getting home to write about the best and worst in current music has killed me a little. It’s certainly stymied any urge to sit down with a record that features classic songs or old favourites.
I’ll still listen to classic rock and pop tunes from time to time but I don’t need them in my record collection any longer. I had my time with them.
Movie scores though? They are just constantly fascinating to me. And they feel like the antidote in a way too – music that’s not popular music. Music that’s often not song-based at all. It also contains hints and reminders and prods and pushes to reconnect with favourite and obscure films. And so I’m building this collection up. And more on that in another newsletter some other time I’m sure.
But in Melbourne last week I bought several Morricone scores – including one of his very best, surely, Once Upon A Time in America.
I found Quincy Jones’ score to the TV mini-series Roots – something that has held a long fascination, from being a bit young to fully absorb the images when I first saw them.
Sonny Rollins’ score to Alfie is also just a very fine jazz album – and jazz is my other strong record-collecting love. I still have all of my jazz records and I can’t ever imagine parting with those. But a jazz album that doubles as a movie soundtrack is a special sauce indeed. Long ago, I had Alfie on CD and sold it, or loaned it never to have it return. Now I have the LP and that felt very special to connect with on this trip – I’ve been thinking about Sonny Rollins a lot lately, he’s never that far from my mind. One day he won’t be here. He’s over 90 now. And whenever anyone asks me about the music interview that was the best or the one I can’t believe I got to have it’s always the same answer: Sonny Rollins. Unfortunately the next question is often: Who? So sometimes I just have to say Fergie, from The Black Eyed Peas as the interviewee answer. Because even though it’s not true, I know it needs no further explaining.
It Follows is one of the best new horror films and its score – by Disasterpeace – is one of the reasons the film is so great. So it was a no-brainer to get that. And finally I did.
High Rise isn’t a great film. But its score is strong – as is always the way with Clint Mansell.
Add in some Grady Tate (one of my all-time favourite drummers), Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and even more Morricone and I was just in heaven. I had to turn down buying several John Carpenter scores. But I did get Darkstar. Which felt like a huge find!
“How much did you spend?” Katy asked, when I made it back from my day of walk-and-talk-and-shop. She added a tentative, “my love” at the end, so my fingers were crossed it would all be okay.
“It’s not”, I began to explain, “so much about how much I spent, it’s far more about how much I saved us because I COULD have spent thousands. And”, I was losing the logic but ploughing on for the big finish anyway, “I decided to be very responsible you see, and buy only the most important of the bargains and the best that caught my eye”.
No booze, hardly any books (can never say no completely) and besides, these soundtracks will go on to form the soundtrack to so many memories from this trip and new happinesses thereafter.
You can’t put a price on it.
Well, of course you can. But it was still under $400. So that’s a realistic splurge eh. Once a year, and all that…
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