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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2004/04/27
by Mike Gruenberg


One of the great joys of growing up in Kew Gardens, New York in the Borough of Queens in the 50’s and 60’s was the closeness of the people in the community and the ability to get where you wanted to go quickly. A kid’s life revolved around the Public School playground, the corner pizza place and the big park called Forest Park. All these areas were easily reached by either walking or riding your trusty bike. The terms "car pool" or "play group" were not in use at that time. You wanted to play in a basketball game; you went to the P.S. 99 schoolyard and got chosen in if the bigger guys would let you play. If you wanted an egg cream and a pretzel, you went to the corner candy store. Life was easier because there was always someone you could meet going or coming to the same locations you wanted to visit.
As a teenager, a new interest in buying music was quickly developing. I still played in the park, met my friends at the pizza place and played stickball in the schoolyard, but I also began to collect 45’s and LP’s. The easiest places to buy these nuggets of music masterpieces were the department stores. The albums and 45’s were prominently displayed in those stores, but for me, these stores were too antiseptic. By this I mean that they only stocked the hits and I was looking for someone knowledgeable who shared the same love of music as I had. Someone I could talk to and relate my musical tastes, someone who could recommend the latest and the greatest.
I began to travel to New York City to Greenwich Village to the record stores there to not only find the latest and the greatest, but to discuss all aspects of those groups with someone who understood my musical tastes. I remember shops like Bleecker Bob’s on Bleecker Street. I remember going to the East Village and St. Marks Place to find record store nirvana. And, I did!
While in college, I found a local record store that satisfied all my needs. The shop wasn’t in the West Village or the East Village; it was in Queens of all places. The name of the store was "Larry’s Record Shop" and it was located off Springfield Boulevard and the Long Island Expressway in Bayside. Larry was the most knowledgeable music person, outside of myself that I had ever met. Larry was the one who sold me my first Who record. He predicted that "My Generation" would be a hit record a year before that happened. It was Larry who sold me the first album released by Pink Floyd. When I hesitated buying it, he told me I was making a big mistake if I didn’t buy it. And it was Larry who gave me a copy of the Beatles’ Butcher Block album cover which I had framed and is still one of my favorite pieces of my Beatles memorabilia collection.

The best part about going to Larry’s was the long conversations we had about the music and the groups. Many hours were spent with Larry. We never socialized outside of the store. We never had dinner or lunch together. I never knew his last name or where he lived or where he came from. All I knew was that we shared a love of the music and we were happy to share our thoughts. I had heard that he moved to Florida after he had closed the store but to this day, I have no idea where he wound up. Larry, I miss you wherever you are.
In the years after Larry’s store closed, I resigned myself to buying my records at smaller stores, but the lure of endless aisles of music at the Virgin Megastore or BMG Music was hard to ignore. I admit that I do buy my music there occasionally, but I still long to have a clerk speak to me at a music store who has some knowledge of music. Earlier this year I wandered into a music store in Grand Central Station. I was looking for a CD by a group that I had heard on WFUV-FM. I particularly like this station since it plays a good deal of the new music. Fortunately, they had the album I was looking for. As I rummaged through the limited amount of stacks of CD’s on display, I was taken by the fact that the music being played was really good and it was by a group that I had not previously heard. Almost immediately, I was taken back in time to Larry’s where he often played the newest music for his customers. I spoke to the clerk, who much to my surprise was quite knowledgeable. He told me the group he was playing was called "The Leaves" and that the name of the album was "Breathe" and that the group was from Iceland. He likened their sound to "Coldplay" and "Radiohead." To me, that was a pretty good recommendation and by then, I had heard 3/4 of the album and liked what I heard.
There are a number of great bands that have some out of Iceland. Of course, Bjork comes to mind, but Leaves sound more like a British band than the Icelandic bands that have recently come over here. The album is well produced, the tunes are well written and in essence, the album is good representation of solid rock’n‘roll. There is nothing fancy or obtuse about the album. I admire people that have the ability to say what it is they want to say in the most direct way possible. Tell it simply and tell it correctly and the listener will be grateful. The Leaves seem to have translated that thought into an excellent album.

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