When we were kids, there was one music store in town. Mr. Hagedorn’s shop was right on Main Street, in one of those little, dark and crowded spaces that felt welcoming and homey, like going into someone’s living room. And Mr. Hagedorn was always there, tinkering with something and ready to sell me the clarinet reeds I needed on a fairly regular basis.
Like all the other stores on the street of our quiet little town, he was the owner and, as I remember it, the only person working there. That consistency is important to a kid–knowing and learning to trust the adults with whom you connect beyond your parents and their circle of friends is important.
The reeds came in a little mint-green cardboard wrapper and, as I recall (it’s been a while), they came in different measurements that correlated with their rigidity– a 1-1/2 being soft and a 3 being much harder; it was probably a measurement of thickness, but I’m not really sure.
No matter their strength or their softness, they always tasted the same when popped into the mouth to soften them up a bit–a sweet, pleasant woody flavor that still reminds me of summer band nights when I think about it now.
Aside from buying the reeds, I’m pretty sure Mr. Hagedorn carried 45’s and albums, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I spent most of my time in the shop. Saturdays always involved afternoons
spent with friends in the village, hitting the movie theatre (going to Marley’s for candy before because it was cheaper; buying a ticket for the single selection–no choices of films back then–you got what you got; sitting in the balcony and making noise or making out until either Lurch or OutchaGo came and yelled at us to settle down). Then we’d head back across the street to buy the latest 45’s on the Top 40 (back in the day when there was only ONE list, and everyone knew what was on it)
Mr. Hagedorn’s store–and I don’t remember if it had a name–was one of the two dozen
or so that lined out two main streets in town–all run by local business people: the drug store, White’s; the shoe store run by (I think) Mr. MacElroy; Marley’s Stationery and little Mrs. Epstein’s and Claire Rager’s (I googled her and think this is spelled correctly), clothing stores for women that were so full of stuff you couldn’t part the racks; Mark, Fore, & Strike for the country club set; Tony’s Sporting Goods, which early on had gas pumps out front; and later, the Teen Scene, Brother’s Four Pizza, and Second Nature Health Foods, where we used to get our Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap for our hair when we were in junior high. I think it’s one of the last places still standing after all these years…along with Dreesen’s and Sam’s (who could ever forget them??)
Whatever the case, it’s a different Main Street now. Rents have gone through the roof, forcing the local businesses to close or move elsewhere further out from the village. Stores open for the season, and many don’t ever come back. There’s a Tesla dealership in a store front on Newtown Lane, the second main street, and real estate offices everywhere, galleries carrying overpriced art, designer clothing and accessory shops (with recognizable names), showcasing a handful of pieces artfully placed–shirts hanging all alone on a rack (if they could see it, the Madames Epstein and Reger would not believe the waste of space).
As the town grew, new businesses came in, and soon Mr. Hagedorn’s shop was joined by another store almost directly across the street–Hampton Sound. It had more albums than any of us had ever seen in one place. And posters! Ohmygod blacklight posters! I don’t even want to think about how much allowance was spent there (I really don’t want to think about it, because as I was emptying out the house prior to our divorce, I took almost all of the music to a second hand record shop here–probably 200 albums and twice as many CDs–and I got a hundred and twenty five bucks for ’em. $125.).
Some of those albums got listened to once and put away; they had a title track everybody knew and after that, not much to listen to. But that’s how you found out about an artist you liked–you put that record on your turntable, a quarter taped to the arm so that there were no skips, you lifted the gadget that held the records in place so that once dropped, the discs would just repeat and repeat into the night, and you played that single or album until you wore the groove deeper into the vinyl than it was when you got it.
I know we all had records we played to death. But would we want to hear them again, over and over, the way we did back then?
In 1978, Greil Marcus put together a book called Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. He asked 20 music writers to list the music they would take with them if they had to spend the rest of their lives with only five selections. I picked up the book and read it cover to cover, amazed at their choices and the reasoning behind each one. If you haven’t read this book, you should. I’ve never forgotten it.
So when something pops up on social media, asking you to list the top five or ten of anything (movies, types of pizza, tv shows), it does get you thinking. And recently, that Top 5 album question came up and I thought of Stranded, and the music in my life, and what I would take if I had to choose.
So I thought about this, and decided to challenge myself. My rules? No greatest hits or best-ofs (which makes it hard to select classical entries, because I may like the composer, but I would want an entire collection of “greatest hits” and not a solitary symphony).
So here’s my list, this week, right now:
The Eagles’ Hotel California is always and forever one of my favorites, and the one that is the first one I think of when I think of this list. From the title track to the songs that spoke of the excesses of the time (“Life in the Fast Lane”) to how we were wrecking the earth even back then”The Last Resort”), there isn’t one song on this album I don’t like. And every time I hear the start of the title track, I just have to crank the volume up.
Talking Heads ’77 When I first moved to New York City at 20 (and right around the title year), it was the era of Blondie and the Cars, Joe Jackson and the Sex Pistols…and the Talking Heads, who were just getting known in the clubs around town. I remember a boyfriend (a musician himself) telling the story of how he saw them perform at Max’s Kansas City and how absolutely weird they were. He said people were laughing at their act. Sure, they were a little quirky, with David Byrne and his big suits and little Tina (who was also with the Tom Tom Club) on that bass guitar that was almost bigger than she was, but wow. Who’s laughing now? I played this one to death.
Carlos Montoya, Aires Flamencos. I googled this and it seems as though this might be a “greatest hits” CD, but I’m sticking it in anyway because I don’t think anyone will argue with me over flamenco music. I saw Montoya at a concert in Calgary once, probably in the very early 90’s; because I was alone (so what else was new?), I got a seat dead center in the third row. He sat center stage and I remember he had shiny black shoes and those skinny socks like my grandfather’s, and when he sat, I could see the tops were held up by mini suspenders, probably connected just below his knees. I also remember his fingers as he strummed and drummed on his guitar–just beautiful. Little known fact: he died in 1993 in Wainscott, NY. So I’d take him along too.
Ramones Rocket to Russia. Holy cow, these guys were great. I remember when we used to go to the Ritz, they were there all the time. One night we sat with Joey,
although if he were alive today, I know he wouldn’t remember it because he was passed out. I think. Never could tell with those little glasses he wore. Too bad we hadn’t figured out selfies yet. Best played as loudly as possible. Again, every track a great one, and none more than three minutes. So quintessentially New York, all around.
Carole King, Tapestry. This was one of the those albums, along with Don Mclean’s American Pie, that came out when we were in junior high, and it got played and played and played. It was one of those albums where all the tracks were good, and we all felt as though Carole knew what we were all going through, and she likely did. Now when I hear pieces from Tapestry, I get really nostalgic and homesick for a time I can’t get back (and probably wouldn’t want to, now that i think about it). Being a teenager sucks.
Tough choices to make, yes? Well those are mine right now, today; some may change —-although I doubt I’ll ever find something new, my choices will most likely change with my tastes and my age. I mean, whoever thought these would be oldies? But they are. And so are we.
Now if I had five artists to choose from and could pick the greatest hits selections, I’d probably go for: Bob Dylan; Beethoven, Bach or Tchaikovsky; Frank Sinatra or more likely Tony Bennett; maybe Billy Joel (don’t judge, it’s a Long Island thing); Stones, Aerosmith, and so on….
If I had ten to pick from, I’d expand my reach to include Zappa and Traffic, some blues, even some early hiphop or rap (back before it got nasty), and some foreign stuff (ever heard the Run Lola Run soundtrack? Check it out.). But no jazz. It’s too disorganized for me.
What about you? Could you pick only five, and if so, what are they?
PS note: After my clarinet lessons were over, years later, when I was in my first year of college, when I thought I wanted to be a teacher, I got to observe in a classroom taught by Mr. Hagedorn’s daughter, Olivia–she was a few years older than me. I know she doesn’t remember that time or me specifically, but it was the weeks I spent with her and her second graders that makes me wistful for the career I did not pursue.