A short film about Murray Gershenz’s record store

Music Man Murray

There’s a million reasons to want record stores, and record collectors, to live on, even when we get most our music from the web. Here’s reason one million and one. Watch the video here. As Stereogum says:

Music Man Murray is the name of a record store in Los Angeles, though the moniker also belongs to the store’s owner and operator, a lovable and inspiring man named Murray Gershenz. He’s a record collector of the highest order, whose personal stash swelled to the point that becoming a vinyl vendor was the only possible (or practical) outcome. That was over 50 years ago. In the time since, Murray and his store of half-million LPs — valued at close to $3MM — have lived out the line graphs we’ve all seen with respect to record sales. Record Store Day is everyday for Murray, but since we’re sitting here in the wake of vinyl’s version of a Hallmark holiday, it’s a proper time to look at the various facets of its attendant culture, and in the case of Murray, of a way of life being outmoded. You may recognize Murray from his recent successes as a character actor in films like The Hangover or shows like The Sarah Silverman Program, jobs he takes to pay the bills because his store barely breaks even. After watching director Richard Parks‘s touching short film, which has just been made available to the internet after a successful film festival tour, you’ll know Murray even better for the content of his character (and his LP bins). In documenting Murray’s story, Parks frames issues related to physical media in a digital age, but also those of fathers and sons and the power of art to shape a life. Music Man Murray traces these lines of thought with a deft, buoyant, often humorous touch, capturing Murray’s magnetic warmth and obsessive intellect, honoring a man whose charismatic manner is the only thing larger than his vinyl trove.

Seriously, watch the video.

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A short film about Murray Gershenz’s record store

Playlists, Nostalgia and the Carousel

I have a playlist of songs that I love the most. It has just under 1,000 tracks, and what a joy it is to play on shuffle. It’s a carousel. The way, every now and then, one song serendipitously segues into another at just the right moment and place to stir up that most underrated of emotions nostalgia. However much marketers try to commoditise it, nostalgia remains stubbornly personal. One person’s sense of deep nostalgia is evoked by the taste of home cooking from a childhood disappearing in the rearview mirror (witness cynical food critic Anton Ego in Pixar’s Ratatouille), for another it’s the stench of creosote on a garden fence, or the sound of a Factory Records 12 inch, or an old TV indent on YouTube.

As is so often the case, Milan Kundera probably explains it best. Here’s the start of the second chapter of his novel Ignorance:

2.
The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return. To express that fundamental notion most Europeans can utilize a word derived from the Greek (nostalgia, nostalgie) as well as other words with roots in their national languages: añoranza, say the Spaniards; saudade, say the Portuguese. In each language these words have a different semantic nuance. Often they mean only the sadness caused by the impossibility of returning to one’s country: a longing for country, for home. What in English is called “homesickness.” Or in German: Heimweh. In Dutch: heimwee. But this reduces that great notion to just its spatial element. One of the oldest European languages, Icelandic (like English) makes a distinction between two terms: söknuour: nostalgia in its general sense; and heimprá: longing for the homeland. Czechs have the Greek-derived nostalgie as well as their own noun, stesk, and their own verb; the most moving, Czech expression of love: styska se mi po tobe (“I yearn for you,” “I’m nostalgic for you”; “I cannot bear the pain of your absence”). In Spanish añoranza comes from the verb añorar (to feel nostalgia), which comes from the Catalan enyorar, itself derived from the Latin word ignorare (to be unaware of, not know, not experience; to lack or miss), In that etymological light nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing. You are far away, and I don’t know what has become of you. My country is far away, and I don’t know what is happening there. Certain languages have problems with nostalgia: the French can only express it by the noun from the Greek root, and have no verb for it; they can say Je m’ennuie de toi (I miss you), but the word s’ennuyer is weak, cold — anyhow too light for so grave a feeling. The Germans rarely use the Greek-derived term Nostalgie, and tend to say Sehnsucht in speaking of the desire for an absent thing. But Sehnsucht can refer both to something that has existed and to something that has never existed (a new adventure), and therefore it does not necessarily imply the nostos idea; to include in Sehnsucht the obsession with returning would require adding a complementary phrase: Sehnsucht nach der Vergangenheit, nach der verlorenen Kindheit, nach der ersten Liebe (longing for the past, for lost childhood, for a first love).

Playlists, Nostalgia and the Carousel

Hard Times (Come Again No More)

I came across this song on the latest mix by Heather Browne on her consistently brilliant music blog I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. Here’s how Heather describes it:

I can’t tell if this song is a marker in the sand of celebration, a fervent wish made under our breaths, or (most likely) both. Eastmountainsouth is defunct now, with each of the pair making their own music, but I saw them live in San Francisco in 2005 and their powerfully-wending voices were part of the first surge of re-realizing that I needed music in my life that made me feel something. The way they sing this song from 1854 also makes me realize that we’ve collectively been wishing the hard times away for a long while now.

I actually missed the bit about the song being written in 1854 the first time round. That’s a mighty long time ago, but I suppose we like to kid ourselves about how modern we are, how much more sophisticated we are compared to what came before. Just like people in 1854 did, I suppose. Here’s a little history of the song, and here are the lyrics:

1.

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh hard times come again no more.
Chorus:
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

2.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.
Chorus

3.
There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er:
Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.
Chorus

4.
Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.
Chorus

Hard Times (Come Again No More)

Do bands make money anymore?

Photo by Andreas Laszlo Konrath / New York Magazine

It’s a question that gets addressed in some detail in this brilliant article about the outwardly successful indie rock band Grizzly Bear:

Sit down with the four of them, and you get the overall sense that the band’s high profile has taken them from ordinary early-twenties NYU grads—working as a temp, a caterer, a coffee-shop employee, and “the guy who edits out the coughs” in audio documentaries—to the early-thirties proprietors of a risky small business: very busy, stuck somewhere between “scraping by” and “comfortable enough,” and unsure how they’d ever manage to do things like support families or pay for any children’s educations, especially given the slim chances that this business will exist twenty or even ten years from now. “If your livelihood is in songwriting, you never know when that’s just gonna stop,” says Rossen. Now that they’ve reached success, they seem to wonder about stability. “There’s people that know they make X dollars a year, and that’s not going to change,” says Bear. “Or if anything, they’ll get a raise. That seems like a pretty reasonable setup, compared to maybe having one really good year, and then who knows what the future is.”

Do bands make money anymore?