1.3 Traveling in Time

1998:  Princeton, New Jersey.
  I was only in town for a few days.  It was my second time traveling here for work and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself during my free time at night, so I just started walking.  There was nothing going on—just rich people having their fine dining experiences in posh restaurants.  I happened down a little alley and found a completely new scene—an old remnant building, narrow and long inside, stuffed to the gills with great music and crawling with people looking to satisfy their own particular needs.  I was charged with adrenaline when I saw it:  a Threadgill disc with an odd cover, some Asian fellow in unfamiliar pink and orange garb and headgear under a multicolored archway who looked to be showing off some kind of mechanical drumming machine.  Much of the music proved, again, to be beyond me, but there were a couple of those groovy, electrified marches that I’d been seeking.  Another intriguing track grew on me over time -- something like self-restrained, post-industrial, precision-power-reggae.

1999:  Tucson, Arizona.
  Another posting for work—I was on full-time now and had to spend three weeks training a local crew and getting things off of the ground.  I was put up in a hotel suite with a sliding door that opened onto a nice courtyard with orange trees.  By this point I understood that a part of my routine when I traveled anywhere would involve figuring out where the record stores were and putting aside the time to make significant explorations.  The nearest place here was in a strip mall.  Everything was in a strip mall.  The weather, of course, was heat—intense heat.  I don’t know much about architecture, but all of these streets, blacktop parking lots, and big cement box buildings seemed, intuitively, to be completely wrong for this hot desert environment.  Inside the record store was another world, though— a dark, cold cave with lots of goodies to paw through, and I found my next little bundle of joy.  It was cheap (used) and it was Threadgill and its intensity was a perfect match for the heat—dense, electric power grooves propelled forward by relentless percussion—anthems for crazed Americans like myself, perhaps.  I listened to it as I drove for hours in the darkness, up and down the wide, parallel, strip-mall lined avenues with the air conditioning on and the windows down and volume up, driving at night to kill time away from home, going nowhere in particular.

csc2000:  Columbia, South Carolina.  By now I was a boss of sorts, and I did what bosses do.  I delegated.  I let the others take over for the weekend and carved out time for some fun.  I found a great jazz record shop down in the university area, in a confluence of angled streets full of bars, restaurants, and shops.  You could get a great hoagie sandwich and sit in a window reading a newspaper at lunchtime or come down here at night for a beer and plate of cheap salmon and grits.  The record shop was a cool little warren of a place, jam-packed with a huge selection of jazz.  I found a number of great discs, including some new Arthur Blythe and another wonderful offering from Mr. Threadgill.  I drove the back roads, out into the country, out to a couple of disc golf courses in the boondocks.  On the way there and back I was treated to these very deep, long, gut-bucket blues dirges in the kind of oppressive heat and humidity that makes things wilt.


2000: Chicago. 
MB and I were visiting Ned and his girlfriend Annie.  It was in the cold, foreboding prelude to winter, at one of the big corporate record stores right down in the loop where I thought I’d finally caught up with Threadgill.  Instead of getting another random sampling of some recording five or ten years old, I found his most recent release-- actually not brand new, but several years old.  Remarkably this was the first time I’d ever seen it on a store shelf, and I snapped it up on the spot.  It was haunting, powerful, unfathomable—wonderful pairings of harmonium and fretless bass, alto sax and electric guitar, with music ranging from oblique meditations to blistering rock-like anthems.  Within months I would be convinced that this was not only the best of his particular offerings, but perhaps the best music I’d ever heard.

2001:  Lisbon, Portugal.
  MB and I had packed up our things and taken a cab to the airport and gotten in line, ready to check our baggage, when the agent informed us that we were a day early for our return flight.  Somehow in our crisscrossing the southern part of the country by rental car we had completely lost track of the days.  So we went back into the center of Lisbon and back to the great little Pensao we had stayed in the night before.  It was up on a hill on Rua D. Pedro.  We took the only room they had left, a huge space meant for a family.  It had several wardrobes and dressers and four beds, and also great views of the city in two different directions.  I went out to find an ATM and came upon a great little record store just down the street.  It was just a little hole in the wall, very small, but with a surprising selection.  I didn’t find any Threadgill, but I did pick up a Ronald Shannon Jackson recording with James Carter and Jef Lee Johnson, a Japanese import I’d never seen in the US.  The proprietor spoke English well and understood my newfound interest in Balkan gypsy brass bands. It was with a good measure of enthusiasm that he recommended one of the two available records by Fanfare Ciocarlia.

2001: St. Louis.  HR had fumbled royally, goofing on a basic contractual obligation.  I was sent down to do damage control.  I drove down from Iowa and showed up at the office to find the HR rep literally dumping the contents of boxes of personnel files onto the carpet in the middle of her office (I never did understand why).   I had little free time but managed to carve out an evening to make the half-hour drive with my friend and co-worker, Liam, toward the center of the city to explore.  The record store was an old classic -- a rectangular warehouse type of a setup in an older neighborhood that was becoming trendy with the student crowd.  It reminded me a little of the stores that I would visit when I was growing up—almost coldly utilitarian in one sense, yet charming in its simplicity and unpretentious devotion to purpose.  I had grown bitter with my job, but my find of yet another Threadgill recording was exciting.  It was a difficult one to crack at first, with some tracks bizarre, others melancholy, and some almost painful to listen to.  There were shrill flutes and ultra-slow tempos and odd, almost tortured female vocals articulating oblique sentiments.


2002: Iowa City. 
Threadgill had released two new records simultaneously the year before, but I hadn’t known about them.  Few of the old record stores in Iowa City existed anymore.  The only one left was one I tended to avoid—one that blasted schmaltzy music from their front entryway and where the staff inside tended to assault you with overly chipper offers to help rather than letting you indulge in languorous browsing — they didn’t understand the importance of the search, of rifling through the stock, of happenstance, of luck—all of this was part of the joy of exploration.  They sometimes offered to order records for me that they did not have on hand.  But even if I had wanted to nail down all of Threadgill’s recordings by ordering them, it wouldn’t have been possible.  Many of them were out of print, and the only hope of getting my hands on the rare gems was by finding a used copy at an authentic record store.  This last shop in town did have one of the new Threadgill offerings, which I quickly purchased; I went to my old standby (the public library) for the other.

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