EJFox.com

Buying vinyl in a pandemic

In which an old American institution evolves and adapts to a city and nationwide quarantine
Some good morning light on my record player

A few weeks after the pandemic, the record store I visited every weekend started a Patreon. For $25 a month they would send me a few records, with the bonus of supporting a business that is crucial and among the hardest-hit by quarantine.

The experience of buying and playing records is physical and tactile. You go to a store with piles of records and set up in a corner and pan for gold, fingers twitching record after record back and forth as covers are inspected for clues and inspiration.

It was hard for me to imagine doing this in a world of pandemics and quarantines, and so the idea of being sent records in the mail was greeted as joyously as when I discovered Blue Bottle would mail me freshly roasted espresso beans. A reshaping of my external realities inward. A life redesign brought upon by a virus that we have (almost) no control over.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a message on Patreon from the owner a few days after I subscribed.

“Hey EJ, what kind of records do you want?”

What an extraordinary question. I would need to think about this, and it would require at least one cigarette’s thought.

The man who ran the record store gave me the impression of the coolest guy ever. When checking out, as he looked over the prices, you could sense the subtle judgement free evaluation of your purchases. I don’t think there is a time I bought something there when he didn’t tell me something I didn’t know about the artist or the record I was purchasing. Priceless inspiration in times where motivation is running short. Like I said, exceedingly cool dude.

I write back and say that I like old funk, R&B, soul, and weird stuff, anything that makes for good samples. I need material for the Sunday ritual.

My Sunday ritual was designed before I even moved to New York City. I based it on a mishmash of New York Times articles about the Sunday routines of various creatives, Mass Appeal YouTube videos, Flatbush Zombies songs. It has had ebbs and flows, components acquired and abandoned, but it has followed a similar shape for the past 5 years or so.

I wake up. It is Sunday morning. Fuck yeah, Sunday morning ritual. I get up and read Twitter on the toilet and then take a shower. After my shower I get a macchiato and a seltzer. I roll a fat spliff, reminding myself that it is Sunday, and this is the Sunday ritual, so I deserve to indulge a little. I also get the Sunday times from the porch, which I usually ignore in favor of the sections of the Saturday times I have saved overnight: the book review, the magazine, sometimes the real estate or business sections. I read the paper and sip my coffee and smoke my spliff, like a king. I am a picture of the ideal American man, my blood runs red white and blue.

After reading the paper, it’s time to go get some records to sample. I was very lucky (though it was also on purpose) to live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn with like 3 different very excellent record shops within a spliff’s distance from my apartment. Walk to the record shop, maybe get another macchiato on the way. Find a few records (ideally before 1980, cool looking cover, under $5) and walk home with a pep in my step. At least that was before the pandemic hit, and the option of going to get coffee or records seemed suddenly alien and anxiety-ridden. Now I pick up my delivery of coffee and records off the front porch, delivered by my hero the postman.

With my records (and coffee) and all their potential in hand, it’s at this moment, every time, that I remember a portion of an episode of Rhythm Roulette that features Mac Miller. Every episode has a different producer making a beat, and in Mac’s we are in the garage of his house, musical equipment splayed about.

Before I get started, when I’m working on a beat, I like to start with a good, just, listen. And some reading. Like so…

The concept of Rhythm Roulette is that the producers are brought to a record shop, blindfolded, and told to choose 3 records. Then they need to make a beat from samples from those blindly-chosen records. “You can make something great from anything” is the optimistic subtext, and it’s a show I love. The moment that sticks with me is after Mac has chosen his records and taken them back, and it’s time to listen to them. He drops the needle on the first record and kicks up his feet.

I drop the needle on the first record and kick up my feet.

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