Evan Fleischer is a writer for a variety of publications, including New Yorker, Esquire, and others. His travels writing for these outlets often take him around the world, so we’re having him file dispatches from the record stores he goes to along the way. This edition covers his trips to Massachusetts and Portland.
“You should have seen the look on the man’s face at Barnes and Noble when I brought him a copy of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic,” my mother told me as my parents and I sat around the kitchen table with the LP and Dr. Dre’s upward-turned face sitting between the three of us. I imagined the fifth face at the bookstore, something bearded and vaguely resembling the musician Nathaniel Rateliff, confused at encountering a level of situational discrepancy creeping towards inexorable Mrs. Doubtfire territory. I imagine the transaction proceeding without incident.
That is something I noticed years ago while reading fiction, resolved to do something about, and still feel like I haven’t resolved in a particularly big, satisfying, catharsis-for-everybody sort of way: whenever I sat down to write a piece of fiction myself, I always veered away from the face, often out of sheer boredom at having to find a way to ‘do’ the face in a way that interested me for an extended period of time -- ‘hard,’ ‘angular,’ ‘cutting,’ ‘soft,’ and other adjectives could only take me so far, could only signal with a ping of submarine radar shorthand the way the thing can shift and glow like something warming up on a breakfast pan.
At Dyno Records in Newburyport, Massachusetts, there were so many faces: Curtis Mayfield, with sunglasses, stared down. Marvin Gaye stared beatifically up into the area just next to the lights that bore his name. R.L. Burnside cradled a dog. Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf looked like the moon had found a flash camera and discovered them shuffling about the woods. Bob Marley smoked a thousand-yard-stare joint. Sleater-Kinney hailed a cab. Savages stood aside each other in Bergmanesqe black and white. Sister Rosetta Thorpe smiled in Warholesque checkboards of color. Sam Cooke’s mind was somewhere else as he stood on a rock in the middle of a lake.
A passing stewardess informed her friend on the phone that she’d just come from a flight where they’d had “8 service animals, 3 emotional support animals, and two deaf animals -- it was LITERALLY a zoo." And, a few hours later, I’m in a hotel across the street from a theater advertising a show of female impersonators. A few were taking cigarette breaks. An empty rooftop and light rain with lone instances of light blurred the eventual picture with ease.
It’s damp, but of course it’s damp. It’s green, but of course it’s green. It’s Portland. It’s Oregon. A cyclist, with gentle friendliness, held up their hand to another cyclist coming to the beginning of a four way intersection unable to spot an oncoming car themselves. “Just Trying 2 Survive,” reads a cardboard sign held aloft by two individuals outside Voodoo Doughnuts.
Sleep. Light. Work. A walk. Tender Loving Empire, the sign declared. A record label and a shop. On the inside, I discovered that the band Y La Bamba had found a man from the 19th century who had the head of a cat for a third eye. I saw a giant pair of lips, the name Bug Hunt, and at first I thought ‘a band,’ but the later reality of research revealed: a label. A label within a label. The band itself was New Move, and I nodded, took note, and then all but ran into a band playing through an open door of a bar in the rain.
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