Monday, March 31, 2014

An Ode To The Record Store

Record Store Day is coming in a few weeks. I'll write about it later. Meantime, let me tell you the story of a record store I once knew.

About three years ago, I heard about a magical place. Not just a record store, but an experience. I had to find it for myself. When I did, I found out the hype was real. This place not only sold music on those big, black discs...people talked about the music. They spent minutes, even hours, talking about not just what they've been listening to, but how it made them feel. They shared stories of acts they saw live. Customers not only conversed with the owner of the store, but with each other, despite being total strangers. It was like no other record store I'd ever seen. It was home.

But as Tom Wolfe said, you can't go home again.

The owner of the store planned to expand to a bigger location. He'd have a second floor with live performances. He'd be closer to the City, and the jazz lovers that called it home and sometimes came out to the Island, perhaps on their way to the East End for the weekend. With two stores, it would be the best of both worlds.

But it turned out not to be at all. The bigger store ran into zoning and occupancy problems and never opened. The smaller store, which had temporarily closed in preparation for the opening of the bigger one, ended up being shuttered permanently, leaving the owner with zero stores instead of the two he'd planned on. And it left us, his customers and friends, seeking the magic his store once had.

I, for one, never found that magic. I'd been to a couple of other stores since, but none were so welcoming, so eager to let you stay an hour after closing to talk music. Yes, they bought, sold and traded records and gear - but no...something was missing in each of them. I doubt I'll ever find it again, but I'd love to be proven wrong. God rest ye, Vinyl Exchange.

"Still I'm glad for what we had, and how I once loved you." - Carole King

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Motown Goes To Motorp: A New Way to Store 45s

"Over there is a stack of vinyl/which is yours and which is mine/forty-five."
- Elvis Costello

Remember a few weeks ago I told you about those Sterilite containers I had my 45s in? And how I said they'd be a temporary thing? Well, sure enough, they were.

I'm lucky enough to live close enough to an IKEA to actually shop there on occasion, if not partake of the meatballs and lingonberries*. So for the first time in about three or four years, I did. I happened upon something called "Motorp." Motorp doesn't anagram into anything useful (mop rot? To prom?), but it is useful as storage decor. They're not far off in size from my Sterilites...but they look so much nicer. And yes, you can label them:

MOTORP Box with lid IKEA Perfect for newspapers, photos or other memorabilia.
Like the Expedits you might use for albums, Motorps come in different sizes. There's a size that's a little smaller, but it has no lid. There's a bigger size that might tempt you into double-stacking your 45s inside if you could find something to serve as an internal shelf. This is the one Goldilocks said was juuuuuuuuuuust right.

It'll take a little bagel-finagling to find the right configuration for your records once they're in there. I have one row down the length of the box, and some stacked on one side perpendicular to them.
That's not just my sucky photograhy. There really is a purple record in there. Guess what it is.
As you can see, it's a little too small in either direction to do two complete rows. But such is the price of being able to use the cover. The bigger Motorp is too tall for my tastes, and like I said, the smaller one has no cover.

It's hard these days to find nice, protective storage for 45s that goes beyond sleeves. But I like to think I've just found it.

Keep the conversation going and tell me what you use for your 45s.

* There's just too damn many places to eat out here for me to eat at IKEA. If I have to go as far as the mall this IKEA is in (it's one of the mall's "anchor stores" if you can believe that), I usually go to Red Robin. Although today I had Smashburger, since I just discovered we have one now.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Video Vinyl: RCA's CED System

It's been just about 30 years since we've seen the last of a format called CED. Capacitance Electronic Disc, as it's more formally known, seems s strange subject for a blog about records. But once you learn what a CED is (if you're not already familiar), it'll all make sense.

CEDs work the same basic way that records do: a diamond stylus reads the grooves on a disc and translates the information into audio (and in CED's case, video). There are two differences: first, the grooves are much smaller on a CED (over 9500 per inch) so it spins much faster (450 RPM as opposed to 33 1/3 or 45). Also, CEDs are in plastic caddies for protection. The player extracts the disc from the caddy for playing. To watch the second side of the disc, you put the caddy back into the player to get the disc back, then flip the caddy over and insert it into the player again. Put the caddy back into the player one final time at the end of the movie to retrieve the disc again and store it until the next time you watch. It's a quaint system, even by early '80s standards.

That could be one of the reasons it only lasted three years. CED was intended for original release in the mid '70s. A change in the top at RCA, the company that invented CED, coincided with the need for further testing and research, and the confluence of events held CED's relesase back until early 1981. By that time, families were fighting over whether their first VCR should be VHS or Beta. That was another thing: you could record on a VCR. You could only play a CED.
It didn't help matters that at the exact same time RCA was working on CED, MCA was doing its own disc-based thing with help from dutch electronics conglomerate Philips. It was called DiscoVision. First demonstrated in 1972, DiscoVision beat CED to the market by three years...and stayed viable until the after the advent of DVD in the mid '90s. You know it better as LaserDisc...the format that gave us Karaoke.

RCA closed the book on CED in 1984 after losing a reported $500 million on the venture. Not two years later, RCA was merged with GE and sold off bit by bit. Today, the TV operations of RCA are part of South Korea's ON Corporation. The rest of the brand is owned by Audiovox.
There's still a contingent of groovy CED collectors out there, and I count myself among them. I don't have the biggest or best collection, but I do have one of the last CED players made and a few dozen movies to watch on it....when I'm not spinning vinyl the other way.

For more than you ever thought there was to know about CED, spend an hour or two (I'm serious - there a LOT there) at Tom Howe's glorious CED Magic site. You'll find complete lists of every player made and every disc produced. There are notes from those present at the creation and even a forum full of people who still keep their machines going.