Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Falling Tower

Well, a weird few days here. For possibly the first time ever, I angrily blurted “fuck you” at a woman on the street. Believe me, not my style, and I had a minor crisis of conscience afterwards that worked itself out nicely on the heavy bag in the gym.

While it was nasty, I don’t really regret it. I was walking east on 38th Street, approaching Broadway, in a hurry to get to my boxing class at about 5:15 pm. The West 30s in Manhattan is rotten with Times Square tourists, 34th Street shoppers and other assorted flotsam who make walking around there extremely uncomfortable. Often times, I’ll find myself walking out into the street simply to get around a herd of people moving slower than a 15-year-old chihuaha in a Notre Dame sweater.

Whether this woman was a tourist, or just some random assclown who thinks everyone else’s world revolves around hers, I couldn’t tell. All I know is I was walking briskly in a straight line, like I always do, going with the light. This woman was heading north on Broadway, approaching a “Don’t Walk” light, her head turned from me, blabbing to her friend, when she bumped into me. Actually, I made an effort not to bump into her, putting out my arms and basically brushing against her as I eased my body away – purely in a defensive mode, not looking to cop any sort of feel. This woman looked like a Potato Bomb (Pennsylvania Coal Region slang for a woman of Irish/Easter European descent who puts on a ton of weight after bearing her first child).

We brushed against each other – a little too close for comfort – but no blood, no foul. Not even a jostle. Just me noticing this inattentive woman heading toward me, making an effort not to run her over (which would have been easy), and both of us going in our own direction. Well, at least I was, as I was in a hurry. But as I moved away, I heard in an indignant voice: “Hey, don’t you know how to say excuse me?” Without breaking stride, and turning around to shoot her a look that let her know I was willing to come back and get strange, I blurted “Fuck you!” The look on her face … moral indignation, as if a girl scout had just plunged a dagger into her kidney. It was the right call, and she didn’t respond. Had she responded, I would have kept walking. As noted, I was in a hurry to get to my boxing class, not engage in a meaningless confrontation with an anonymous putz.

It’s been that kind of fall. And speaking of fall, I’ve made it to both Tower Records locations in Manhattan recently to take part in their Everything Must Go demise sale, which appears to be shooting for a closing date some time in December. At 40% off, most everything worthwhile is filtering out of the stores, and I think I made my last trip Friday after work. It’s too depressing. Granted, I haven’t been buying much from stores like Tower over the past five years. MP3s and better deals with used discs on Amazon and Half tend to keep me out of these places, unless I want to make an impulse purchase or get something new by a major-label artist on sale for under $10. Otherwise, it’s Emusic, friends forwarding bounteous MP3 discs, or the occasional spelunk onto torrent sites for mostly import stuff I aint paying $30 a disc for.

It’s depressing because I remember Tower’s prime, the late 80s through the mid-90s, and going there on a Friday after work with $40 to burn was a great feeling, with me walking out with 2-3 CDs a week, minimum. The place would be buzzing with activity, all the snotty floor people (save for the heavily-outnumbered good employees like Erik B. and his friend Chuck) laying on heaping doses of the Tower “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. I can still have that retail experience by heading down to J&R Music World, but even there you can sense that depressing “kids are downloading everything these days” vibe in the sparsely-populated aisles. In short, I feel weird buying CDs in retail stores these days.

I feel weird knowing a totem of this way of buying music is biting the dust, and it’s people like me, who once propped them up mightily, who are a large part of the reason. Not with any sense of guilt – more like someone noticing how much quicker a Model T is than my horse and buggy.

The permutations of retail music I’ve seen come and go in my lifetime: vinyl records (in colors, picture discs, RCA flexi-discs, virgin vinyl, etc.), eight-track tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, the demise of vinyl singles (a dark day which I was hoping MP3s would revive, but haven’t), cassette singles (terrible concept), those horrible contraptions that made mix cassettes in-store in the late 80s, CDs, CDs in long boxes (I always thought there’d be some special treat in the other end of the box, only to find more cardboard), box sets (which I love for their overkill and rarities), DAT tape (which should have taken off, but didn’t due to pricing issues), SACD and DVD Audio (the cost of the players to support these things, more than anything, killed them off, and the SACD discs sound great even on average equipment), and, of course, the approaching murderer of physical product, the MP3 file. I’ve probably missed a few – like cardboard singles of The Archies I used to get on the back of cereal boxes – but that pretty much covers it.

And to walk through Tower now feels like the retail music equivalent of the fall of Saigon. Just a weird scene as customers paw through piles of mostly bad and remaindered CDs, whiffs of Black Friday in an "Everything for $1.00" store. I’d imagine there are a few hidden gems in there, but I don’t have the patience to slog through it. You can feel a pall settling over the stores, like we’re all saying goodbye to something once great, but now having a hard time justifying its existence. Like running into an old lover on the street and realizing you no longer give a shit in any real sense. A liberating feeling with a tinge of emptiness.

I made sure my last purchases felt some type of resonance:

The DVD of Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet Live from Austin City Limits (circa early 80s). Doug Sahm is one of those artists I felt a need to go completist on, and that wasn’t easy. Only recently did I track down a torrent file containing his hard-to-find Scandinavian discs from the mid-80s. They’re hard to find for a reason: they kind of suck (but have their moments). This guy had the greatest voice in rock and roll – he could sing anything, in any style. And his voice was perfectly suited to that surly mix of tex-mex, country, rock and roller-rink organ. This is a pretty standard TV show performance, but worth having as there is no other DVD material on him. He was too strange to be a huge star, and that’s fine by me. The original redneck hippie; Willie Nelson "borrowed" his schtick.

The Ramones' Rock and Roll High School DVD. Man, did this movie suck. It should be viewed on a double bill with Get Crazy: two early 80s flicks still trying to present rock/new wave in a “beware parents, your teenagers are going wild with this crazy new music” manner. There was nothing particularly wild about The Ramones. They just rocked. It’s worth it to see them acting very poorly on film. They were meant to star in a B-Movie, and this is it.

Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane's Rough Mix CD. This is a British reissue of that classic 70s album I already have. Bought it on a lark because it was remastered and had bonus tracks. And glad I did – it sounds phenomenal now, ah, the warmth of remastered CDs, which we'll one day rhapsodize over like weirdoes are doing for shitty vinyl now. Like Doug Sahm, Ronnie Lane is one of those people I will talk your ear off all night long if you get me going on unheralded recording artists. He was great with The Small Faces and The Faces, but he became someone else entirely with his solo albums, laying out that acoustic rock terrain Faces lead singer Rod Stewart hinted at in “Gasoline Alley” and “Mandolin Wind” (which Ronnie claimed Rod “borrowed” from him). Also recently picked up a documentary on Ronnie Lane that’s well worth owning. I wish I'd known Ronnie Lane, and that's a feeling I don't have towards many musicians I respect.

Buying that album was probably the best way to say goodbye to Tower. Ronnie’s dead, so is Doug Sahm, and three of The Ramones. So shall Tower be shortly. So shall we all one day. Let the shoppers rummage our bargain bins and find something worthwhile at 40% off one fine day.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Saying Fuck You to someone on the street -- yeah, we've all been there. It's not a proud moment, and I'm usually surprised at myself as its happening. "Oh no, I'm not one of those assholes who fights with strangers in the street, am I?"

Last time this happened I was crossing 47th St just at times Sq, heading toward the subway, just north of where the TKTS booth was. ALWAYS a busy spot. Now, since they're reworking the TKTS booth, it's even worse and they have all these barricades and stuff. As I'm crossing the street, heading toward the island, the light changes and cars and buses are making their way to me. I see 4 guys, 2 in suits, 2 in hardhats, huddled around a speaker cell phone -- standing like an offensive line making it impossible for people to walk past. So all these people are wiggling around traffic, rubbing up against the wooden flats around the TKTS project, slipping by. As I get up I say, loudly but fairly, "Fellas - this is the WORST POSSIBLE PLACE to stand still."

That's it -- a comment, really. I suggestion for their good, as well as the general public.

Well, as I continue on one of the assholes (one in a suit, oddly, not the hardhat) with a thick Nassau County accent shouts, 'You can say excuse me!!"

So I turn around. "What's that?!"

"We'll move, but you can say excuse me."

So I'm close to flipping out. Very close. As it happens, I had just gotten off the phone with someone and a well paying gig I thought I was going to have later that week had fallen through. Yeah, that might be part of what's coming.

I say, "Just take a look at where you are. You are blocking all the flow of traffic. It's not a smart place to stand."

He replies, "Well, okay pal, thanks for pointing that out. We're working on a project for public safety, so, you know, we're really not important."

And then I had an out of body experience.

"PUBLIC SAFETY?!?! What in the hell world is this when YOU are put in charge of public safety? Is it part of your public safety training to box pedestrians out and keep them in the street in Times Sq?! Is that public safety?! Public Safety would be caging you back in Mineola where you belong!!!!"

Then I pulled an even crazier move. I walked away muttering! Muttering! Like Yosemite Sam!!!!

It took a few minutes for me to calm down. And then I felt pretty shitty. And a little frightened, too. You never know when someone is going to come at you and clobber you. And this dude was definitely in better condition that I was. He coulda clocked the shit out of me -- and he had 3 people at his back. And who the hell knows -- he might have been an off-duty cop -- certainly had the voice for it.

It's a stupid move, raging at people in the street -- but it is a part of New York, it really is. Even tourists -- tourists, who keep food on my table -- if I ever have to walk through Times Square on a Saturday Night I just have to hum to myself to stay sane.

A few years back -- and at least this made some people laugh -- I was stuck behind a gaggle of dazed, slow moving, rather obese tourists in Times Sq who just. . . .wouldn't. . . .keep. . . .up. . .the. . . .pace. Finally, I just inhaled as deeply as I could and bellowed with all of my might, "MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

It got the point across.