5.30.2009

The Exception To The Rule: Sound City Records


After one-hundred posts, I decided this blog was done, and moved on to others.
But I am writing today about something that is very close to me and very much relevant to Astoria.
Sound City Records, located on 30th Avenue, just off Steinway Street, closed its doors May 31st 2009.
Permanently.
Sound City opened in March of 1991. I should know, I begged them to let me work there. What could be cooler to a crazy music addict like me than to work at an independent record store?
Gus and Chris obliged.
We spent the first fifty days labeling, by hand, 45s. Do you remember 45s? I still have an adapter so I can play them on my turntable.
Sound City outlasted "Nobody Beats The Wiz."
The Wiz was a music store with significantly more square footage, many more top forty CDs in stock, many employees, and an address actually on Steinway Street. Its employees shopped at Sound City.

The space Sound City inhabited measures less than four hundred square feet, and when Gus, Chris and I were there at the same time, we had to climb over each other to get to the cash register.
Sound City sells vinyl. Sold vinyl.
Sound City is on the Q18 bus route, and kids from the Astoria Houses used to come in, giving us a heads up on emerging artists like Mobb Deep, Raekwon, Nas.
Gus would "special order" anything for his customers: bluegrass, Praxis, techno, hardcore, jazz, as there was just not enough room in the store for everything.

The customers I remember were fantastic. They made us mixed tapes from the breakbeat vinyl they purchased. I think one of those kids (now an adult presumably) supervises the music at Central.
There were suave guys with huge arms who drove convertibles and came in to buy only freestyle (c'mon, you must know who TKA, Noel, and Johnny O are!) so they could cruise their rides by Astoria Park.
There were metalheads, who lined up to buy G&R "Use Your Illusion" and gave us the single best sales day while I was there (thank you!).
There is Cathy, who lived nearby and spent a small fortune on country music. I think her purchases alone paid the rent.
There were the crazy drug dealers, who only seemed to mind their manners when they were in our store. It boggled my mind that they had the most discerning taste in music: David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Fugazi, Madonna, Eric B. & Rakim, Apotheosis.
And who could ever forget "SSD Control" a customer who insisted on categorizing every piece of music in the store, but as the nickname we gave him suggests, only purchased eclectic headbanger.

Those are just the people from the first few years...
Sound City passed out House of Pain's "Jump Around" before the radio was playing it. Sound City pimped Biggie before he was known to roll with the Bad Boys.

My experience at Sound City rescued me from the life of debauchery towards which I was already on the fast lane. Thank you Gus, you kept me from becoming a full blown drug-dealing delinquent.

Sound City was a bond...
At least, a loosely affiliated group of fascinating people from which to learn, vent at, yell. At best, brunch on your favorite sun-filled day followed by a Yankee game where the winner made absolutely no difference and someone else covered the store.
Or late summer nights sitting in someone's music room or rehearsal studio, talking music, waxing nostalgic, revealing secrets, laughing hard.
I say we, even though at first I was the only non shareholder there. Hell, I was seventeen.
Once, we were walking home from the nightclub "Silver Screen."
Silver Screen was its own Astoria Institution. I was disappointed to not find any footage on the web to share. It's a Gentlemen's Club now. It used to be "Krash," and when we were goths it was called "Berlin." It's further south on Steinway.

Walking towards home with a member of the Sound City crew after a night of aforementioned debauchery, I was sobered by the smell of smoke. The time was just after 4:00 AM.
The storefront next to Sound City was on fire and the fine gentlemen of the FDNY were just about to take an ax to our glass storefront.
Sound City was rapidly filling with smoke.
We fished the keys to the store out of of my handbag instead.

Sound City was completely unharmed by a fire that destroyed the adjoining cafe.
those were the days my friend we thought they'd never end...

Oh, I could fill a hundred pages with stories about Sound City; perhaps another time.

To all the loyal customers, I do not think Gus would mind if I said "thank you" on his behalf.
Over the years, customers who started off as children grew to men and women. Some died. Some met in the store and after learning they both loved some obscure piece of shit song, hooked up.
It was more than a store.
In the big picture, eighteen years is not a long time. But for a mom 'n pop shop in New York City, it can feel like a life.

In a South American Mall in 1992 I purchased vinyl copies of Michael Jackson's double album Dangerous and upon returning to my job gave them to they guys as souvenirs.
Michael Jackson died a some hours ago.

(photo by Janet Hours)

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