As soon as I pushed open the doors of Academy Records Annex in Brooklyn, it was the first time time since being in New York that I recognized the feeling of nostalgia and felt at home. Never in my life had I been in this building, and I was 3,000 miles from home, but this place – the overflowing bins of records, the posters with once vibrant colors now fading, and the seemingly unorganized CD stacks – was all too familiar. The store gave me an overwhelming sense of comfort in a city I was trying to know quickly.
I familiarized myself with the layout of the store. Rock ‘A-Z’ on the right column of records. Disco ‘A-Z’, soundtracks, and international music flooded the middle sections. I walked the aisles in a way similar to the universally recognized museum stroll, slowly putting one foot in front of the other, shifting weight to and from each leg at an easy, unhurried pace. I walked up and down the isles, recalling what music I had wanted to own – the music I needed to buy that day in Brooklyn.
When I was 14, my mom was sick and tired of my asking to be driven to our record stores. “You just went last week,” she’d say. “Those records are expensive,” she’d argue. I continued to roll my eyes but as the span between trips to my safe haven lengthened, it only enhanced and encouraged my obsession with music. This obsession defined my middle school experience and early years of high school. The songs and bands I listened to completely enveloped my life – I lived for Patti Smith’s exuberant poetry, St. Vincent’s zany guitar riffs, and Florence Welch’s graceful belting. I don’t know why I was drawn to music, but I knew that it was an obsession so intense that it could only healthily exist at that age.
So, I found myself wanting to be surrounded by this world. As I scoured through every record store in Los Angeles, I fell into a new method to decompress from the traditional and required chaos of middle and high school. Record stores became my second home. It wasn’t one store in particular that comforted me, but instead, any and every store that I wistfully waltzed into.
After visiting Brooklyn’s Academy Records Annex and flipping through bins while staring at the inviting yellow walls, I decided to visit another record store much different than this one. I exited with my friends, and we walked past charmingly rustic businesses and apartments. We’d smell coffee at every corner, and I often would recognize the indie songs that leaked from the cafes and flowed through the sidewalks of Brooklyn. I came across a high-end store that seemed to be busy with young people. On the side exterior of the brick building, there was a faded sign that barely could be read. But the discolored remains looked to be was all that was left of a family business that came before.
These trendy, gentrified streets reminded me of Silver lake/Los Feliz, a formerly poor neighborhood in Los Angeles where my grandmother grew up. One summer, Grandmother dropped me off at a concert in Silver Lake only to discover that venue used to be her favorite Mexican restaurant as a kid. It was daunting, yet comforting to learn that we both had important experiences at the exact same coordinates, but very different places.
This generational change of surroundings in my neighborhoods is similar to the one that Brooklyn residents are sensing. As the gentrification persists, it becomes harder to find places with personal, rich history. Despite this, the 27 record stores sprinkled throughout Brooklyn act as museums. Through the music they sell, they stand as the forces preserving and honoring time periods that came before. Whether the record shop is decades old, or brand new, the dusty smell of the air is inevitable, and it never fails to make me think about the past – both my own, and the years I’ll only ever know about from those much older. It’s the music that provides an appreciation for history and brings generations together in Brooklyn; people of all incomes, ages, and races filled the borough’s music shops.
We all know the power of music, how it can bring us together, and how it can unite us with the past.This isn’t a new concept, but as these record stores are slowly shutting down, I’m only more sure of their necessity to culture.
Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, penned a love letter to dying record stores in honor of Record Store Day in 2013. She articulated the need for record stores and emphasized their power. She wrote that by celebrating record shops, you are promoting “the belief that time spent exploring a small, lovingly curated record store, discovering artists, music and ideas can arm you against anything that ever threatens to overwhelm or engulf you. In a world like ours, where we live increasingly isolated lives behind the lonely glow of our computer screens, [Record Store Day] reminds us all that an independent record store is worth protecting and fighting for. They are a haven and a harbour for all curious and wandering souls.”
That day in Brooklyn, I thought about Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Heart’s Dreamboat Annie, and Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods. I casually searched for these, but I wasn’t successful. Nonetheless, I welcomed the uncertainty of the hunt. A new discovery could present itself to me. A brand-new find was like a an opportunity for change, acceptance, and reflection.The style of songs change. Bands break up and new ones from. Record stores shut down and move. But the feelings and experiences associated with music as a form of storytelling will never cease their power. My definition of home was changing too, and I realized that I could find a home in more places than one. And every time I walk into a record store, whether it be in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, I’ll feel at home.