It was much like the old days, when I would make my rounds in Greenwich Village, going from record shop to record shop, flipping through the stacks and bins for those hard-to-find gems that had somehow eluded my grasp along the way. It was much like those hours on end, when conversation with a record shop’s owner could extend from the end of daylight into the beginning of night. It was the aroma that made life so much sweeter–the particular smell of vinyl and cardboard sleeves slid into plastic sleeves, slid into plastic bags just before you shook hands with the owner and bid him a fond adieu. “Until next time!”
It was a short, happy trip to just outside Baltimore in a quaint little town called Catonsville in Maryland, up 495 to 95 and on to 166–almost a straight shot along a couple of I’s and an MD. This part of Catonsville seemed like a sleepy, small college town. All sorts of handy shops lined the sides of the narrow street. And there, amidst the quiet of the middle-afternoon, cold and crisp air alight, was Trax on Wax, a shop stocked full of vinyl that spanned the ages. Old, rare, new; rock, pop, jazz and belly dancing; the popular, the left-of-center and the rites of summer, fall, winter and spring. A lost colony, if you will–something akin to a kind of Brigadoon, perhaps. A place out of time and, at the same time, in synch with the world. Or at least the part of it that swings, rocks and rolls.
I was already familiar with Trax, having conversed online with the owner Gary Gebler and enjoyed his posts of record-related pictures on Facebook for some time, so a trip to the store was one that seemed to always be in the cards. A fan of Pure Pop Radio, Gary had the station playing in the store as my wife and I approached it, so I knew we would be in good company. The door opened and it all seemed so much like the black and white of Kansas changing to the color of Oz–thousands of vinyl record albums all of a sudden present and lining the walls and making themselves known in the center area and behind the counter–all immaculately arranged and displayed. This was the land of milk and honey.
“Alan Haber?” Gary and I shook hands and my wife and I said hello. We talked awhile about the store, about music, about those things that one chats about when those sounds are all around them. I noticed a poster aside the counter that was promoting the music of Jacob Panic, whose songs play in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. “I don’t know if you know,” Gary offered, “but that’s my son.” It becomes a smaller and smaller world every day, right? Jacob was out for awhile, but would be back soon. I couldn’t believe my luck. Jacob had quickly become a favorite of mine–a multi-instrumentalist who is part power pop, part bluegrass, and part other stuff. He was the original banjo player in Graham Elvis’s Sgt. Popgrass collective. Truly a most talented individual.
We browsed and we bought–an self-titled album by a group called Glass Moon that I didn’t own–and met Jacob who, like his dad, was quite the warm and friendly sort. It was a great pleasure shaking Jacob’s hand and chatting with him. And then we took it all in some more. Trax was the kind of place that any music fan would be happy to get lost in or order from (the shop does mail order, too). We took a few snapshots (lensed by award-winning, Daily Planet photographer Janet Haber) and we talked some more. I wanted the visit to continue, but darkness was falling outside and it was time to go, time to become one with the straight shot back to Virginia.
I understand what people mean when they shout “Vinyl is back!” Truth is, it never left. It’s always been there and continues to live and breathe inside shops like Trax–shops that are run by people who know and love the music and live for those platters that matter. Trax is not a job for Gary Gebler–it’s a calling. It’s the air that he and his customers breathe when they’re feeling the urge to spin a slab of black vinyl–when they can practically feel the head of the tone arm between their fingers; when they can feel the needle resting comfortably in the grooves of the music that gives them that certain feeling that can be felt more than it can be verbally explained.
It was indeed much like the old days for my wife and I, but these are the new days–the days on offer today–the days that we can count on to carry us on to tomorrow, when the urge to soak up those sounds that move us grabs hold of us and make us seem brand new. The romance of vinyl–the art of feeling the vibes that we are hunting for–is still with us. The art of putting the needle down into the grooves and laying back with the cover and liner notes and lyrics and posters and stickers and such is still with us.
It is the art of being alive.