Here in old New Paltz, we just lost a gem when John Lefsky closed down Jack’s Rhythms, the intimate and hip sunken record shop on Main Street that he took over from his great friend and employer, the late Jack Goldberg. I’m not the only press-type person to reach out to John, whom I have since known 1984, to no response as of yet, and if John doesn’t feel like talking about it at the present time, far be it from me. But I do want to wax about for a good 15 minutes or so.
The question about digital media versus physical media isn’t really about the storage of the music. In both cases, recorded music is data stored on a thing, requiring another thing to decode it, and to move the air that tickles your tympanic membranes in just the right way. How does any of it really work? Color me clueless.
The question really has to do with ownership. The record was yours, and if you scratched it, as I invariably did, think of it as your overdub. With the mp3, it was somewhat less clear whether you owned a thing or just had revocable license to play a certain configuration of data on a thing you own. With streaming, the reality seems to pretty clearly be trending toward the fact that you don’t own jack.
A backlash away from music renting and leasing data seemed inevitable, a resurgence of interest in things and stuff, changing hands with the bacteria and bills in cramped rooms with real people leaning on racks and shooting their mouths off, some of whom know what they are talking about. I think we all prefer the virulence of opinion and argument to the virulence of, say, viruses.
The romanticizing of record-store culture as a den of shabby cognoscenti and rumpled-shirt list- and tastemakers was a pretty predictable, just as retro nouveau-folk was an inevitable backlash to modern pop, just as the high-analog recording technologies of the late Sixties and the Seventies are so revered that about 90 percent of all digital recording software attempts to emulate its look, interface, and sound.
A lot of that record-store magic is about mentorship, whether collar-grabbing or light-touch, like Jack Goldberg’s. I was in his store often, years ago, but I was shy, and seldom spoke with him. He’d read the paper while I flipped through CDs and vinyl. I assumed that he didn’t know my name and thought of me as just one of the many awkward fellows who frequented his racks without ever plunking down much in the way of cash (which is something I very much regret today).
Then, in the one conversation that I ever remember having with him, it came to light that he not only knew my name, he knew my band (Wormwood)! He had a pretty solid sense of the ways of my taste, and of course he didn’t miss the opportunity to drop a tip.
That tip was The Bevis Frond, one of Jack’s pet causes, the absurdly prolific nom de rock of the eccentric British songwriter and guitarist Nick Saloman: kind of the U.K. version of Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard, in many respects. He thought I might like it. He was damn right.
The loss of Jack’s Rhythms damages this town. I have to believe Lefsky will be back with something.
Can I drop a tip? Check out this video of Nick Saloman and friend, now well along into the AARP years (if he were American) and showing it, doing an unvarnished version of his gorgeous, heartbreaking cult classic “He’d Be a Diamond” in the kitchen of some European venue, and thank me later.
Thank you, Jack and John.