May, 2009 – Chicago
Spin, spin! Spin the black circle!
Out of all the record shops in Chicago, apparently these two are among the top; if not the tops. It hovered somewhere in the mid-70′s all day. Naw, I don’t mean ABBA, “Blood On The Tracks”, or the Wailers and BM, all of which were available this Spring day. We intended on taking the Blue, up Milwaukee to… uptown? Not sure what they call it: short of Wicker Park. Well- the mo’ fo’ was closed Northwest bound to O’Hare. Of course we didn’t realize this until after ascending 200 feet to the toes of civilization in buried caverns of the Earth. Back, back, back we go. They, by “they” I mean the city at large (or the Transit Authority, pick ur poison) replaced the Blue Ox with on-going shuttles. Free of charge at least. I believe it took Grand over to Milwaukee before heading North(ish). Our neighborhood came up fast. Most folk on this ride seemed to be going all the way to the airport; meaning, we side stepped our way through locals and tourists alike to let the driver know we’re steppin’ off at Division. And we did.
Now I know it isn’t likely what Townies call it, but this place felt real Uptown-y. In a good way. The light from above was rattling off our shoulders. Bikers and dog-walkers were both out in full force. It felt out of place, a little, being a MN-ite and whatnot: a good thing no doubt. Ya know, this isn’t Memorial Park, or the Sears, or even Rush St. A Saturday, the busy worker bee feeling was gone. Instead replaced by a productive sunny weekend afternoon, still with some hustle and a smaller amount of bustle. The intersection there, at Division, Ashland, and Milwaukee, is fucked up. Really. After taking a heater and finding our bearings we strolled. South on Ashland. Some tags of 10 foot size caught our eyes. “A can of sky blue for the outline”. This was cool, and if I had a photo-do-wobber I’d have documented it. The first of many we’d see this day. It wasn’t far, the first place. Maybe four or five blocks down on the west side of the street. That dusty black plate logo almost breathing in the Spring heat. Put the arm back, I’m feeling some B-Sides. In we go.
This place seemed extraordinarily organized. Simple, subtle, clean cut, odd a titch. The shelves in the main section were not actually on the walls. There was about a 2 foot gap between the backs of the racks and the walls. This likely was for shelving CDs and Vinyl face side up, but still seemed weird. Now this placed specialized mostly in Soul, Funk, and Hip-Hop. Some Jazz, even lesser Blues. Some Rock and Roll, even lesser Reggae and Dub. Though I did see a King Tubby 4 album anthology for about 30 that was very tempting to resist. Not sure why I never got into making my own dub. Dub-Dan? Aynno Dub?? Honestly this was the most, and largest variety, of Hip-Hop I’ve seen. The “new acquisitions” bin alone pissed all over lots of entire Hip-Hop sections at other places. The vibe was incredibly relaxed. A man came in with his two young boys. For a long time I held in my hand a Tribe Called Quest album called “Beats, Rhymes, and Life”. Complete with mind-bending artwork, and a middle finger to the East/West coast shit going on at the time. One of the boys picked it up more than once and stared mesmerized with giant eyes. In the end I came out with:
Ramones (Ramones), Vakill (Single), and El-P (I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead).
The next place recommended to me – by a guy from Texas who recently moved to the neighborhood, don’t worry he’s cool – was South quite a ways, then West quite a ways. We stumbled across even more graffiti that somehow looked even cooler than the first batch. I told Sonji we should have brought a can. Even if it was just black. A high school to the right. A group of Latino dudes laughed and had good times sitting on a bench in front of it. A girl, a white 20-something with huge black sunglasses, basically let her dog hump my leg in an effort to get my friend and I to talk to her. We did for moment, nothing more. In any other case, I would. But this was a mission. Besides, we were hungry too. There was a pretty hole-in-the-wall looking Mexican restaurant on our left, right on the corner where we needed to turn. Now this place was fuckin’ tiny. Wow. It probably held somewhere around 10 people or so. 6 or 7 comfortably. The guys behind the counter were all very nice. A large white woman, sweaty as hell, ordered food before us, and I knew we were in Chi when she looked as out of place as she did. I consumed perhaps the best chimichanga of my life that day. Nothing can stop me now.
Back to the street. Westward expansion. More Mexican restaurants. A hot dog joint that looked like it served a MEAN Chi-Dog. There was a man, thin and fairly weathered, sweeping the front steps of a shop. There were two men sharing a cigar and a story or two in Espanol, backs to a brick wall in the Sun. A broken bike, discarded in an alleyway for the cats to rebuild. We talked about music. About what to look forward to, and what happened last night. We walked past a convenience store which seemed buried in the movement. But the door was wide open and the man inside locked eyes with me as we moved past. It still feels like somehow I made a connection with that man. Light up a smoke, take a breather. Calm those shins and calfs down. There’s an amount of respect one finds in Chicago that isn’t prevalent in most major U.S. cities. Well – maybe just not New York or L.A. I’m sure at least once we discussed the paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago. My God they’re astonishing. Vast. They pop. We slowly came up to the next record shop on our right. Stood outside for a bit. Stomped out the cherries. Walked into the second (of two) shop of the day.
The smell hit me right away this time, probably due to the size of the shop. It felt a little bit cramped in there, but in a good way. They had some Punk, if I remember right, blasting over the house speakers. Which actually was a good change of pace. Even considering I’m not the biggest Punk fan. The variety at this place screamed to be credited. Very impressive mix of vinyl. Trance, Electronic, Experimental, Rock, Metal, Punk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Blues, anything you could think of, they had at least a couple records in that Genre. I kept accidentally running into a guy who wouldn’t leave the “B’s” section for whatever reason. Pretty sure it wasn’t for Black Sabbath or Black Keys though. Sonj and I were really surprised to see William Elliot Whitmore in this shop. Seems fairly obscure. The Metal at this place was off the watch chain. Man. They had some of the most obscure vinyl of the Metal Legion, most of which I’d never heard of or just never heard at all. We kept surfing through the stacks. I saw at least 8 or so I was debating purchasing. But I gotta hold myself to some limits when I record shop. Or I’m toast. There was a beautiful girl working behind the counter who seemed to be DJing the house sound. Which is cool. On the way out I saw a Pavement poster I wanted, in addition to:
Fugazi (Steady Diet of Nothing), Death From Above 1979 (10″, Blood On Our Hands single), and Lamb of God (for my girlfriend).
Next time I go back I’m going to try to hit these again. And the Mexican restaurant too. Cha! Cha! Cha! What a great city.