Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Two jobs I liked
I am very fortunate to have had a lot of jobs in the non-rock world that were great. A lot of people dread waking up and going to work, but I lucked out most of the time.
My record store jobs were like second families to me. I began working for Jean and Joe Reznick at their Thruway Shopping Center store when I was about fifteen years old. I'd already shopped there since I was a teeny lad, so getting a job there was a little like a dream come true, the proverbial "kid in the candy store". It was in the Reznicks' listening booth that I first heard Lick My Decals Off Baby and Sweet Baby James; I grabbed the first copy of Paris 1919 the day it came in (knowing full well that no one in Winston-Salem at that point would be beating down the doors to get it for themselves). I devoured the subscription copies of Billboard magazine and the Schwann catalog. I learned how to find replacement Pfansteihl phonograph needles from their illustrated catalog, a talent that would last long into the eighties. I learned about green stock to inventory singles and how to order the hits. Mr. Reznick sent me home with a couple of Maestro guitar pedals to try them out, including the magnificent Ring Modulator. It was a great place to work, I did the job well but I wish I'd saved some of the cash I made there which got spent on records from Reznick's ("Where It's Been Reznick's For Records For Years"). Years later, when I'd return to visit the store, Mrs. Reznick would look up over her half-frame glasses, behind her desk and declare that her bad pennies all came back to her. (There is now a Borders store where Reznick's sat at Thruway, with a small music selection.)
When I moved to New York in 1978, I tried a couple jobs that I hated (temping in banks and as a dogsbody for a decal printing operation in Soho) before I found the Musical Maze on 23rd Street and Third Avenue. It had the School of Visual Arts down the block, and the Gramercy Park Hotel a short walk away. Somehow I impressed Burt Goldstein, despite interrupting him with a customer, and he gave a naive emigre musician a job. He'd done it before with George Scott from the Contortions (and eventually John Cale, 8 Eyed Spy and the Raybeats), in whom I found a kindred spirit. The manager was Martin Rosen, who was also the cashier most of the time. He was like my big brother there (and, as it turned out, was friends with my own brother who lived in the West Village), gently chiding me for showing up out of sorts by blasting Ashford and Simpson records. Burt's girlfriend Jan DeGeer was also a big part of the store and my life there. Since Burt was busy elsewhere much of the time, running the store on a day-to-day basis fell to Jan. There were many hours after the store closed when Jan and I would be changing the displays on the walls. And it was at the Maze where I learned about boxing up returns (I'm not sure the Reznicks ever sent anything back.) Single City was a small alcove in the back that George stocked and ran. It was also a nice refuge from periodically crazy customers, although "I'm looking for a song, I don't know the name or who it's by, but it's got 'love' in it" was a frequent refrain. Down in the basement, our superintendent at one point painted the plaster cast that housed our horizontal water heater so that it resembled King Tut's sarcophagus. In the front window on 23rd Street hung a beautiful neon rendering of the logo which worked some of the time.
Every year, we would drag the old unreturnable stock from the boxes in the basement and set up shop for the Third Avenue Street Fair. You'd find me, clinging to a lamppost a couple feet up, haranguing passers-by to shop for records. That day would inevitably start with the ceremonial playing of the album by Danny Peck (Heart and Soul), for some mysterious reason lost to time. We had hellacious Christmas parties at Junior's Restaurant in Brooklyn. Garland Jeffreys, who was a neighbor, did an in-store there one Sunday and was able to complete the New York Times' crossword puzzle for all the traffic we drew for him. I got to help find records for Count Basie, Elliot Murphy and Joe Butler from the Lovin' Spoonful. I even got Lance Loud a job there that lasted about three days. I heard everything that came in the store, fell in love a hundred times with both girls and records, and learned that few things clear a store faster than the Shaggs or the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. I was on tour with The dB's when the Maze closed, but Jan sent me some memorabilia--and I recently found my silk Musical Maze embroidered tour jacket that my parents had had in safe keeping for thirty years! (Don't expect to see that on me anytime soon, it's still not really my style.) There is an upscale falafel restaurant on the site of the Maze presently.
What both stores had in common for me was the fact that the owners always seemed to understand that I was a musician first and that I would have commitments to my music that would periodically supersede my ability to perform my duties as a retailer. Sometimes that came in the form of a two-week tour and sometimes it just meant that I was too hungover from a late night to make it in on time, or at all. So consequently at these jobs, I gave freely of myself and my time and my creative energies. It was a good trade-off for both parties, I think, and I'm always grateful and mindful of having had such wonderful work to do and the bosses that took a chance on me.