1.4    The Loss of Time and Space

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During those years, I had traveled back to Princeton and Columbia and made multiple trips to Seattle and Phoenix and Richmond.  I’d been to San Antonio and Lawrence and Providence and Orlando.  I did not find Threadgill in all of these places, but I was at least able to engage in the search, and I found other goodies to be sure. 

I knew there were still a number of Threadgill recordings out there that I didn’t have yet, and I still hungered for more, but in my travels during the following years I was unable to indulge in my habit.  I gave presentations in Jacksonville, Austin, and Baltimore, but these were quick overnight trips, with time for a late dinner or a casual meeting with a customer.

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There might be time for some final preparations that night or the next morning, but there was no time to stray; the managers and account executives who brought me in never suggested that we go record shopping.  I had even been sent across the pond, to London, but had almost no time to explore on my own.  I wandered a bit close to the hotel but wasn't lucky enough to happen upon a local record store.  In my last few business trips to Atlanta and Albany, I was far too busy to even have a chance to find out where the record shops were, let alone go for a drive, find them, and root around in them. 

On those rare occasions when I was able to carve out a bit of free time, in many places it was getting increasingly hard to locate an authentic record shop. When I inquired locally I now found myself being directed to malls, electronics warehouses, cookie-cutter corporate bookstores, or mega-department stores. These places were all the same -- overwhelmingly huge windowless prisons of bright lights, competing sounds, unknowledgeable staff, slick marketing displays, predictably narrow (and often unpredictably disorganized) music selection.



1.5    The Inevitable Nostalgia


Of course the story of my explorations does not begin or end within the confines of the sketchy chronology I’ve offered.  In fact any particular moment of exploration, the act of entering any one of these shops, resonates with a universality that transcends the incidental and the temporal.  There is more at play than the fleeting zeal of acquisition after all. 

It was in Minneapolis, where I’d been living in a couple of years since moving up from Iowa, at my favorite local record shop that I managed to score one last Threadgill disc.  It was a real beauty, from the wonderful photographs incorporated into the cover booklet to the poignancy of the music, ranging from warped electrified circus sounds to mournful blues laments backed by buzzing swarms of cellos and accordions. 

I had made a point of going down to this particular record shop every couple of weekends.  It was an old classic, situated right along the urban cavern of interstate 35, which sliced down through the middle of a wonderful old city neighborhood (in a “bad” part of town, I guess).  Wooden walls, long and high, run parallel to the freeway, providing further separation between parts of what was once whole.  Physically the neighborhood is a bit blighted, dirty, and a little crusty around the edges, with some boarded up buildings and abandoned storefronts-- yet it feels lively and inhabited.  The big buildings of downtown Minneapolis loom nearby, almost right above the visitor, to the north. This area obviously used to be home to a thriving set of businesses.  In the 1920’s the cluster of buildings on this corner housed a drugstore, grocer, hardware store, dentist office, bakery, and a toilet company.  Now there does not appear to be much of anything except the freeway and the wonderful record store.

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My attachment to that particular shop is multifaceted; first and foremost I come for the impressive selection of jazz (new and used), but I also am drawn to the overall bustling atmosphere and the warm feeling of a diverse clientele gently browsing in a state of contentment.  I realize now that a certain nostalgia is at play as well; the store reminds me in many ways of the old record shops that I frequented while growing up in Des Moines.  It has the same classic rectangular depth, the breadth of selection, the music playing, and is similarly enriched by the urban surroundings.  There is the warm feeling of real people in a real building in a real neighborhood.  The area up front—which would have probably been reserved for drug paraphernalia, posters, black lights, incense and the like back in the day-- now has t-shirts, funky hats, novelty gifts and cards, and incense still.
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In the back of the store you can buy your music and even purchase tickets for local shows.  In my high school years in Des Moines I started to explore in shops similar to this, primarily a shop not far from my house in Urbandale. When I went to Drake University during my freshman year of college I found several more near campus.  I would skip my Sociology class and walk around delighting in these old shops, some catering to students and others focused on the neighborhood clientele, mainly urban blacks.  These shops had an amazing array of R&B and Soul and Funk recordings, and introduced me to many artists I’d never heard of.  The records were obscure and the whole scene was very intriguing to me.  By the time I got my degree in Iowa City and came back to Des Moines it was all gone.
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The student-oriented store survived for some time, although it lost its local ownership and was bought up by one of the corporate chains.  I tried going in once on a visit home, but it had lost its flavor.  Within a couple of years it was empty and closed.  The whole area had changed; the little funky music clubs were disappearing, too.  On another visit I had come across an old second-hand shop in East Des Moines.  Amongst the old clothes and lamps and tables I found a stack of vintage LPs.  They were a little moldy and some were warped, but I was taken aback by the titles—incredible old funk and R&B classics by Funkadelic, Rufus (with Chaka Kahn) and The Ohio Players.  Needless to say, on my next visit even this old junk shop was gone, and as far as I could tell there was no longer an authentic local record store to be found on the streets of Des Moines.


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