Today I did something I'm probably going to have very little chance of doing for the rest of my life, I went to a record store. Not just any record store but Melody Records, the last independent general record store left in the Washington, DC area. It's been around since 1977 but in the next few weeks Melody will bow to the inevitability of the times and close. That will leave Barnes and Noble and their meager selection as the only place around here you can actually walk into and buy CDs.
Like any music lover I've been buying this stuff in one form or another for a long time, 40 years in my case, and I've seen plenty of local stores come and go, Waxie Maxie's, Harmony Hut, Viscount, Orpheus, Olsson's, and Kemp Mill and though it was a worldwide chain, Tower Records was always a great stopping place for me because of its infinite variety of selection. The wonderful thing in going to all these stores was that you were always going to be surprised. You might go in looking for a particular item but you were always going to see some album or CD you had barely heard of or didn't even know existed. I always loved the feeling of being immersed in music of all types. In the 70's I listened to mostly progressive rock then punk and new wave, but all the jazz reissues coming out in those days from Original Jazz Classics and Blue Note would invariably catch my eye. As I got to know more about jazz, it was always great to go into a store and find new titles from labels like ECM and Black Saint popping up almost weekly. The covers, the liner notes, even the song titles, all fascinated me.
That's an experience online shopping and (shudder!) downloading can't give you. I have bought things from several stores with online presences like Seattle's Jazz Loft, Chicago's Dusty Groove and the ubiquitous Amazon but the first two only specialize in certain genres or carry small amounts of titles and Amazon is fine if you know what you're searching for beforehand. There's no real surprise in buying that way.
Obviously that doesn't matter to most folks so the public has left the physical stores behind and they have slowly given up the ghost, one by one. Now the last one left in DC has fallen. If I want that pleasure again I'm going to have to wait until I make an infrequent trip to some other city and hope I can find a CD store left like the one I ran across in the historic section of Philadelphia a couple of years ago.
I made my first trip to Melody since the closing announcement 10 days ago. The store was pretty full of people buying up what they could and telling the staff how much they appreciated their being around all these years. I did that as well and walked out with $100 worth of CDs: Craig Taborn's Avenging Angel, June Tabor's Ashore, Magnus Ostrom's Thread Of Life, Thelonious Monk's Criss-Cross, Claire Martin's Secret Love, Aaron Goldberg's and Guillermo Klein's Bienestan and Katie Bull's Freak Miracle, a haul of avant jazz, jazz singing, British folk and, in the last case, something I had never seen before. Today I went back again and it was a little depressing. The store was still busy but several racks were now empty with the Jazz, Folk and World sections taking up about half of their former space. I still found another $100 worth to buy though, CDs from Lisa Mezzacappa, Aki Takase, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Jen Shyu, Wu Man, Theresa Wong and again one that came as a complete surprise, a 2 CD set of Gershwin compositions and other 20's Broadway works performed by Scottish classical pianist Joanna MacGregor. I think it's always fun to discover something new and record stores were always a great place to do that for me. Never again, never again...