Room with a FU

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Talk about brutal irony: this year’s Record Store Day happens to coincide with the opening of John Varvatos‘ Bowery boutique. Varvatos’ name may not mean much to you, but his pricey menswear shop just happens to be taking over the site of the former CBGBs.

After years of legal battles and fundraisers, CBs finally closed its doors last summer, putting an end to one of the most storied clubs in New York City history. (CB’s owner Hilly Kristal passed away soon after.) Varvatos —who bills himself as a “rock n’roll designer” and populates his ad campaigns with the likes of Iggy Pop and Cheap Trick— has renovated the space with a great sense of respect, keeping the graffitied and flyered walls intact, selling CDs by acts from CB’s heyday, and giving the Soho gallery treatment to framed covers of PUNK and NY Rocker. (There’s even a “Gabba Gabba Hey” sign on the back wall.)

339715But all of this sticks in the craw of New Yorkers fed up with the egregious Yuppification of the Bowery —the worst contender (by far) being the ostentatious Bowery Hotel, with its Studio 54-esque velvet rope and Robber Baron-luxe décor. (Second in line: the New Museum’s robotic façade with its rainbow-hued, cartoonishly chipper “Hell Yes!”)

The Bowery is one of the last frontiers for the increasingly pitched battle between those who want to keep New York accessible and those who want to keep pushing real estate prices into the stratosphere. For now, the wholesalers remain, but for how long?

Getting back to the plight of the record stores: the Bowery’s own Downtown Music Gallery (342 Bowery) is facing a potential move thanks to an untenable rent hike. Open since 1991, this scruffy shop carries some of the most adventurous music there is, with special attention paid to downtown musicians. (For instance, they sell the limited edition releases from John Zorn’s artist-curated club the Stone.)

Home in Providence, every single one of Thayer Street’s record stores has shuttered its doors. I knew the end was nigh for the last holdout, Tom’s Tracks, when a slightly desperate sign exclaiming, “Now selling comics!” appeared in their window. (Have comics ever been a lucrative cash-cow?)

Gone are the days of going spelunking for dusty rarities in basements and crammed storefronts. Now it’s all moved online, thanks to Gemm, ebay, and Dusty Groove. The plus side is that all these rarities are but a click away. The down side is that the thrill of the hunt —searching high and low for that Aurobindo record, or Kid Congo’s first EP— has been replaced with a somewhat dispiriting mouse-click on a PayPal button. Plus ça change…

I leave you with a trio of downtown favorites, Talking Heads, Kid Congo, and the (soon-to-be-reunited) Feelies

MP3The Feelies, “Loveless Love” (from Crazy Rhythms)

MP3Talking Heads, “Drugs” (from Fear of Music)

MP3Kid Congo Powers, “La Historia de un Amor” (from Solo Cholo)

PHOTO: RIP, HILLY.

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4 Comments

  1. James

    I just bought tickets to see the Feelies at Maxwell’s (one of the clubs where they first established themselves), in July. And in a small coincidence, when I visited Other Music on “record store day,” guest DJs the Black Keys spun “Raised Eyebrows” as part of their set. It’s in the air, I tell you.

    Downtown Music Gallery moving is a bad situation, but there are still some good record stores for browsing obscurities in NYC – they’re just mostly in Brooklyn these days. I particularly love Academy on 6th Ave. I just picked up a copy of the soundtrack to Days Of Heaven for four dollars last week.

    One of the neighborhoods the owners of Downtown Music Gallery are considering moving to, is Washington Heights, which is where I live. I’d haunt the store if it came up here.

    • Academy is great! Wow, I haven’t been there since I lived in the city, though.

      Do they still have the book store? So many dusty treasures to be found there…

      PS: I’m pretty sure that I’m going to the SY/Feelies show in NYC on the 4th. Will you be there?

      • James

        My wife and I are going to try and be there. The free 4th of July shows at the Battery are pretty wonky in terms of admission. Three years ago, we saw Stephen Malkmus and Yo La Tengo. There were no tickets; you just showed up. Many, many people did just that and it took us an hour to get in. Last year, tickets were being distributed (for free) for admission to the New Pornographers. I couldn’t get any, so we didn’t go. I found out later from friends that went that they didn’t even need the tickets and anyone who showed up was being let in. So it’s a weird set up. They’re distributing tickets for this SY/Feelies show, so I’ll try and get some. If I don’t, we’ll go anyway and see if we can get in.

        Whatever you do, try and get there as early as possible!

        • I’ll try and investigate the ticket situation ahead of time.

          Regardless of whether we can all get in or not, it might be fun to get drinks and/or afternoon noshes somewhere either before or after!

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