David surveyed the street as it lay out before him. He took in the small shops, the nice restaurants, and the chain drug stores and coffee shops. None of these options appealed to him, but if he was going to make the most of his time away from his girlfriend’s family, he’d have to settle on something. “At least the streets aren’t too crowded,” he thought to himself. This was true, as the small skiing community had seen its rush of summer vacationers leave, to make way for the foliage watchers that were yet to arrive. David ambled slowly past ice cream shops and gift stores, until a sign over the side walk caught his eye: “Catfish Records.” “Sweet,’ he thought, “wonder what these guys have.”
As he entered the store, David did a quick scan of his surroundings. It was a relatively small shop, with large record bins in the middle of the floor, discs and cassettes lining the walls, and odds and ends stacked on shelves here and there. Only a few customers browsed the merchandise, and the clerk was behind a glass counter, chatting with a customer. David began to browse the mostly used collection of compact discs.
“Collective Soul? Enya?” he thought to himself. He had been hoping to find some obscure, yet accessible piece of rock and roll, perhaps some rare psychedelia, but this was proving fruitless. He turned his attention to a wall bin marked “New Releases.” He found new, unopened CDs, but none were by any artist he had ever heard of.
“Mudfish and the Honeyrakers?” he asked himself, as he looked at the cover depicting a man in a seersucker suit and straw hat sitting on an abandoned office desk in the middle of a field, banjo in hand, as a girl in a peasant dress sat next to him on the ground, looking down. The font looked cheap and photoshopped, and David noticed that the disc was released on Triptunkstic Records, an imprint he had never heard of. More of these new releases proved equally as obscure, with mixed-gender acts like “Jennyvibe” and “The Jonesboro Depot Alarm” appearing on their equally depressing looking covers, some employing a vintage 60s aesthetic, with most going for a rustic, yet modern vibe.
David decided to make his way into the rear of the store, where he noticed some albums on the wall that he thought might look familiar. As he walked the aisle, he noticed music playing through small, desktop stereo speakers that had been rather crudely hung on the wall. The music they emitted was jangly and disjointed, with a male and female vocalist professing their awkward love to each other while accompaniment from what sounded like drums, bass, violin and trombone played in a time signature David was not familiar with, and could not follow.
As he made his way past the cashier desk, he studied the clerk. He was tall and lanky, with wildly curly hair and the prerequisite record clerk 6 day beard. He wore a tee shirt mentioning some sort of bluegrass festival, and pants that a professional golfer from the 1970s must have donated to this community’s goodwill shop while here on vacation long ago. The cashier was engaged in conversation with a shopper, a young girl, roughly David’s age. As he moved closer, David was able to hear parts of their conversation.
“Weezer,’ the girl said, “you have to have heard of them.”
“Are they American?” the cashier asked smugly.
“Ugh,’ the girl replied, “yes. I’m just looking for their new record.”
With this, the record clerk picked up the phone to make a call, effectively ending the conversation. As the young girl turned away, she briefly made eye contact with David, and from this glimpse he could feel the effects of the accumulated humiliation that the conversation had bestowed upon her. David made his way to the counter.
“Hi,’ he said, interrupting the clerk’s phone call, “I’m looking for the new Tame Impala, on vinyl, if you have it.”
“Hang on,” said the clerk, then, into the phone “I’ll call you back.” He placed his elbows on the table, leaning down towards David and asked “Tame Impala? Are they African?” Before David could reply, the clerk continued “Oh no, right right. Have you heard Spasmodynamic Groove Chapter? Um, a little less boring than Tame Impala.”
“No, I haven’t,” David replied.
“Are you a fan of experimental jazz folk?” the clerk asked.
“Not a "fan" - but it is within the realm of music of which I am a fan. Does that make sense?,” David asked.
“Sure,” he answered, “and for pop music, I suggest you stick to iTunes. Thanks for coming…”
“I am a pop purist,” David stated, cutting of the clerk mid-sentence. “As is the case with a lot of things in my life, my natural tastes may be more ‘plain’ - but the appreciation I hold for them does not diminish. For instance, many jazz fans naturally think that their appreciation of music is deeper right off the bat, simply because it's jazz they appreciate. This is not the case. I don't care what anyone says. I understand jazz, I studied and played it; granted, not at an incredibly high level, but I get it. I would argue that to get much beyond the ‘base’ foundation I have requires either a heroin addiction, the last name Marsalis or a resume that includes several published travel pieces in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Yes, Travel.”
“Dude,” the clerk began, but David kept on going.
“Pop can be appreciated in much the same way,” he continued. “Where you may simply hear ear candy, I may hear something else; I may be able to realize the point of reference the artist is going for. Pop is too easily written off; because everyone thinks they ‘get’ it. They don't.”
The clerk stammered to counter David’s statement, as the pair noticed that a few customers were now eavesdropping on the conversation. With the clerk unable to form a sentence, David again went on.
“This brings me to jazz. Where the same can certainly be said for pop, the following is an epidemic in jazz: musicians who think their music is superior simply because it IS jazz. It’s the attitude. Not just of the fan, but of the fan who becomes the student, who becomes the performer. Superiority is as much a part of jazz as is the trumpet. It's there in the curriculum when the fan becomes the student, and it's too evident in the composition when the student becomes the performer.”
The clerk was now able to respond. Shaking his head, and with a slight grin, he replied “As for jazz musicians’ sense of superiority, which I believe is to some extent purely subjective on your part: it IS elitist. Jazz was culturally relevant for a remarkably short period. It’s never had the kind of broad social impact that popular music has.
“Jazz’s qualities are often opaque to the layman. It’s the same with all art. It can be appreciated both intellectually and viscerally, but having some insight as to what the artist was doing changes your perception of the artwork. I think my dad has pretty good taste in music, but I can understand how he just can’t get onboard with Charlie Parker. I’m OK with that. Not everyone can achieve the understanding."
“Listen, I’m glad you like pop,” the clerk added with audible condescension. “And like anyone who is sensitive and acute enough to really appreciate as pure an art form as jazz is, I have compassion for you. I buy a pencil from the blind man not because he needs the money, but because he has to suffer through life never knowing what the awesome, life-affirming beauty the gift of sight can afford. That poor, poor soul is like you. I’m sorry you don’t like jazz. But take heart! USA Today has just lowered its yearly subscription rate and TMZ is on five times a night!"
Several “regulars” laughed at this, and David simply nodded to the clerk and left the store.
That evening, David, his girlfriend, and her family entered town to have dinner at one of the street’s restaurants. As they walked past Catfish Records, David told the group “Hang on, I’ll be right back,” and walked down the narrow alley between the shop and the building next to it. As he arrived at the rear of the store, he pulled free the newspaper he had stuffed into his pants earlier, and took his Zippo lighter from his left pocket.
Shortly after arriving at the restaurant, David and the others noticed the flashing red lights of fire engines on the street. David smiled, and looked around the restaurant as the patrons all took in the scene through the large bay windows. He saw the young girl from the record store, and again their eyes met.
Her confidence had been restored.