While I was growing up, my third favourite place – after the library and the bookshop – was our local record store.
I loved the cathedral like silence in the place, quieter than the local library. I loved the way everyone spoke in hushed whispers and the chance to browse through rows upon rows of vinyl without anyone rushing me or looking over my shoulder. When it wasn’t busy I could even ask the sales lady to put one of the records on for me, so I could don headphones and listen while leaning on the counter as if it was a bar. Just without the drinks, of course.
Every now and then I’d scrape together enough money to buy a new slice of music or two. On those days I’d track in proudly after school, pick the record I’d been pining for from the rack and present it for wrapping before carrying it home like the treasure it was. Because back then, pressed music wasn’t cheap. And since I still have most of those black slices – minus a horror or two – I can attest that it wasn’t disposable, either. Music, like books, was something to choose carefully, save up for and cherish once I’d got it.
My measure of being “well off” has always been the ability to buy books and music when I want to, not when there’s money. I don’t think that will ever change, but for years now the bookstore has not been a place I frequent daily, just as the nearest record store is at least half an hour’s drive away and seems to stock more games than actual music.
I’m more likely to buy books and music with a click these days and a visit to a book or record store has turned almost into an event. So it’s understandable that I was looking forward to sticking my nose into Tokyo’s Tower Records store.
I had a shopping list of Japanese and Korean albums and concert recordings that are tricky to get hold of on our side of the world, and I was anticipating a couple of hours of happy browsing in a cathedral of sound. Not something that adequately prepared me for Tower Records, of course.
Korean boy band EXO were a day away from releasing their Japanese album, so some of the hype was understandable, but still… record store, right?
Tower Records sports the required cathedral like proportions. But cathedral like silence? Not on your nelly.
In fact, ten minutes in I was convinced that Tower Records had to have cut a special deal with purgatory.
The place wasn’t crowded. Not even by my standards where five people in a store can constitute a crowd. And yet… you couldn’t hear yourself breathe let alone think.
Each one of the seven or eight floors – and I lost count there somewhere – was pumping a different soundtrack through ceiling-mounted speakers, loud enough to send vibrations down your spine. Each aisle of music had at least four listening stations, preprogrammed with the latest releases and with the headphone volume so high I could listen to the songs without problem just by walking past.
Now multiply that with at least ten or so aisles per floor, add a couple of screens showing music videos at each end and… yeah. My brain was past its ability to take in anything useful before I reached the third floor.
A cathedral of sound in the most extreme sense. One, moreover, I’m cured of hankering after ever visiting again. Did I find any of the items on my shopping list? No. For that I had to go to Shin Okubu – and that’s a whole different day with a wholly different story! For now, I’m convinced that my kind of purgatory is found in Shibuya.
I still love music. I still like cathedrals. Even cathedrals built from noise. But there’s noise… and then there’s Tower Records. 🙂