Vin Maskell
Record store, Melbourne, 2011

I’ve got to be careful when I visit my CD shop.

I’ve got to make sure I don’t reach for my wallet.

Lunchtimes on Friday, usually.

The weekly visit takes me down from my city office on the 16th floor, into a side street and then a laneway .

I’ve got to resist buying some bargain bin CDs, a few new releases, some T-shirts, a couple of DVDs and maybe even vinyl albums.

I’ve got to tell myself that such purchases would be indulgences rather than imperatives. No, I don’t need the latest Martha Wainwright album. No, I don’t need another Leonard Cohen concert DVD. No, I don’t need a T-shirt with a picture of a record.

I’ve got to be careful. What does Springsteen sing on Nebraska (in the $10 bin): ‘I’ve got debts no honest man can pay.’ I’m lucky enough not to be in quite so deep but, nonetheless, as Kelly sings on Stolen Apples (Australian artists, under K), the bills ‘just won’t go away’.

I’ve got to remember those bills piling when I’m browsing, say, the vinyl albums. I could buy an album right now, just for the fun of walking back to the office with it under my arm, just for the heck of placing its large cardboard cover, so much more visible than colleagues’ iPods, on my desk, beside the humming computer, the blinking phone and the never-empty in-tray.

But, no, I’m only here to look, to breathe in enough to keep me going until five o’clock.

Standing in anonymous office clothes I flick through the shop’s T-shirt collection, thinking: I’d like to wear my music this close to my chest every day. I could buy a pile of these T-shirts for a year of casual Fridays but I don’t even check their sizes, because then I’d start reaching for my wallet.

As the lunchtime ticks away I notice other customers, some in suits, some in neat-casual. All of us are revealing a little of our non-work selves, latching onto something invisible — a riff, a chord, a chorus; holding onto something intangible — a melody, a key change, a lyric.

To thine own self be true, before returning to the desk. But is the visit, the pilgrimage, a simple break from a working day or an all too brief respite from fading dreams, from ambitions gone astray?

We each have singular reasons, I suppose, as well as a collective constant craving.

I’ve got to be careful when I’m in my shop’s DVD corner. I’ve got to tell myself that watching Woodstock at home can never be the same as sitting at the Ballarat Rd drive-in all those years ago, gazing through the windscreen at the stars.

And as my hand reaches for the DVD of George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh I’ve got to realise it won’t be the same as watching the concert movie at the Pix Theatre in West Geelong in the mid-1970s with the massive silhouette of Dylan’s mop of curly hair filling the big screen.

No, content yourself with very occasionally playing the Dylan songs in the three-album box-set at home held together by sepia-toned sticky tape.

Sometimes — birthdays, Christmas, and those weeks when I’ve gazed out the 16th floor office window too long at the lost horizon — I do reach for my wallet. I might buy a $10 CD, a new release, and maybe even an impulse buy. But I’m careful to measure out my indulgences.

There was a time when I soaked up so much music it seemed to seep from my pores: a time when a week wasn’t complete without seeing a few bands, talking music with mates until dawn, watching Night Moves and Rock Arena, reading Juke and Ram and Rolling Stone. Without going to the local record shop and buying a few albums: new, second-hand, imported.

And now? The clichés come true, as they always do. A family, a house, a job. Bills. Love. Tiredness, weariness, poor hearing.

But one day I just might give in to temptation. I just might yield. I just might crack (isn’t that how the light gets in, Mr Cohen?).

I just might put a big pile of CDs and records and DVDs and T-shirts on the counter and reach for my wallet and forget about all the bills falling off the kitchen bench, and swipe my credit card and press my PIN and watch the shop assistant neatly package everything and then I’ll pick up the riffs and the chords and the choruses, the solos, the key-changes and the middle-eights and head out the door.

I won’t turn the corner to the office. I won’t ring the boss. I won’t look back. I’ll just go home with my music and my hopes and my dreams.

I should be so reckless. I should be so careless.

This story was first published at Eureka Street in May 2011.

Nicholson's Record Bar, Sydney, Mid-1960s. Photo sourced from inaugural editon of Australian Music Directory, 1981-1982.

Nicholson’s Record Bar, Sydney, Mid-1960s. Photo sourced from inaugural edition of Australian Music Directory, 1981-1982.




Vin is founding editor of Stereo Stories and director/MC of Stereo Stories In Concert.