There was a time when I was up before the sun rose, portable turntable in hand, hot cup of coffee in a travel mug, NPR on the car radio, record bag slung over my shoulder, and depending on what time of the year it was, parka, gloves, and wool hat on. I’d get to The Spot as people were setting up. “Do you have any records?”, I’d ask. “Sure man, here’s some Jazz my uncle left when he died.” “Oh 45’s, you mean with the big hole? They’re 5 for a buck.” Then I’d hear the same cry I got everywhere I went: “Hey look, he’s got some kid’s record player, he’s listening to records on it.” Insert the headphones in the modified 70’s Fisher Price and I’m needle dropping from table to table in my own world. Curious voices drowned out by the crackling of a perspective vinyl purchase. Fast forward a few years later and I no longer live in the suburbs and got married. I live in Brooklyn, NY. I got rid of the car. I have two kids, one of them under the age of two. A whole new ball game. No longer are there many 4 am wake ups (unless it’s to change a diaper or quell a nightmare) to get out to the flea market before any one else. More often it’s let’s go to this part of BK for the day, let’s hit up the Brooklyn Flea, which I documented here. I have mixed feelings for buying records there. I recently overheard a prominent NYC record shop dealer speaking of the inflated prices and not enough real flea market feel. I agree, it’s all flash record wise, although I did get a rare early 70’s Reggae record on Flying Dutchman’s short lived Reggae label for $5. A lucky find I guess. The Flea is great for the food, I’ll take some Dough donuts, and good coffee anytime. Now a days, I’ve needed to get creative with how and when I get records. It was a lifestyle change, and a change in my everlasting quest for black crack, the vinyl record.
Since moving from the suburbs, I have not visited my all time spot in Jersey once. I know there are still records there, but the place is flooded with ebay hunters and record store owners just trying to make a buck. That’s their prerogative, but I have no interest in buying up all the Rolling Stones Lps unless I want to listen to Exile On Mainstreet in the comfort of my own home. I just want to get in, get my records and bounce. I have no time for chit chat, I didn’t like you then and I don’t like you now. Godspeed kids, grab all the scratched up copies of “Mickey” on 45 by Toni Basil, there’s a First Friday where somebody will spin it. By all means, I’ll be the guy with the Doug Carn record under my arm. The game has changed at The Spot, and the close to two hours to get there in the middle of winter just to see 3 guys drinking coffee or some reality show roaming around looking for X Men number one or some claymation figure from a B-movie getting in my way is not fun for me any more. I used to love to get dirty, talk shit, stir it up a bit with the characters. Now, I’ve got a new cast of characters, less hassle, and more selection.
The close to two hours to get there in the middle of winter just to see 3 guys drinking coffee or some reality show roaming around looking for X Men number one or some claymation figure from a B-movie getting in my way is not fun for me any more.
My two spots are close to my brownstone and I don’t have to get up at 4 am. The first spot is a charity shop that gets more records on most weeks than they can handle. It’s small, busy, and since I’ve been going I’ve seen three other guys who buy records. One of them is actually cool, the other sells on the internet. He’s a good guy too, not interested in the stuff I buy, so we’re ok. The first cat will tell me about records that he saw: “By the way, I put a Ray Barretto in the far crate for you. Be well brother.” I can get with that. The last guy is a Dad like me, who saw me digging furiously one day and shouted in my direction: “You’re the Dad that buys up all the records.” Well you are correct, I do buy records there. The staff is made up of younger and older African American men, who I chat with on the regular. They will tell me when the records are coming in, if something new just arrived, and are great to deal with. I love to pull the what you know about early Kool and the Gang? or how you gonna pass up this Dennis Coffey produced 45? with them. We all get a good laugh. Of course I bring the boy in the stroller, prepared for war: sippy cup, snacks out the wazoo, a toy or two to keep him busy while Dad does his business. The older, Latino women who work there love to coochie coo him and talk Spanish as he smiles, screams, cries and fusses. There is a never ending supply of Cheerios and graham crackers to pacify him which most likely end up on the floor. They all don’t mind, and neither do I. The cast of the movie has changed, but the objective is still the same. Find records.
My other spot is a consignment/ thrift shop run by a family. All the dudes that work in there pretty much are in an outlaw motorcycle club. Everyone is friendly, they love the kid, and when they first opened, I cleaned them out. They had Reggae, they had Funk, they had Jazz, they had Soul, they had classic Hip Hop 12″. I found gems on Mainstream I never see in the field, I got a copy of East Coast on Encounter (Bernard Purdie’s label) and more. Who was buying records? The only people that were shopping were Latino families from Sunset Park and some Eastern European grandmothers haggling for prices. Peace, quiet, selection, and most of all, easy with the kid. I only had to rub elbows with a guy who I ended up befriending and buy from a flea market in Park Slope. This guy now sends me photos of records to my email and we meet on the street like a drug deal. No lie. I sit right down on the sidewalk with my portable and play away, pick what I want, pay the man, and go. Puzzled looks from Syrians and Yemenites who were disturbed from smoking in front of a bodega all around. There are no throwing elbows or pushing to get to a crate. Records are hand delivered to me. I can bring the kid as well, he’s fascinated by records. He’s got his own record player (with plastic records) that he carries everywhere just like Dad. He enjoys music on vinyl, we listen to different record every day. As soon as the needle gets dropped, he starts dancing. I’m hoping the mix of Coltrane, Curtis Mayfield, Augustus Pablo, Willie Bobo and more that he’s hearing on a daily basis will help shape his music tastes. My greatest fear is that he will listen to bad music, so if I keep him listening to this stuff on vinyl, in my mind he will think there is nothing else.
If you had asked me 5 years ago if I’d go digging with a child, I’d have told you no way. However, after changing my lifestyle and modifying the way I get my records, it’s really turned out in my favor. I’ve been pulling some of the best records on the cheap I have in years, and it’s even more enjoyable. So for all you new fathers out there that have grown up like I did but still have the record bug, fear not, where there is a will there is a way. Rather than be discouraged, embrace it, pass the knowledge on, if a certain record was meant to be in your hands, you’ll get it. Relish in and keep these moments with your kids close, and for me, there is always time to go digging with the kid.