Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Ends


Given the state of the industry, The Washington Post headline was unsurprising and got straight to the point -- D.C. Barnes & Noble closing, leaving no more big bookstores in the city -- yet I still couldn't help but feel wistful. Maybe it was because the news came just after hearing that the defunct Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard -- a store I had all but lived in just up the street from my home prior to moving to Washington -- was re-opening for one night only just to celebrate a film about its demise. It got me thinking about my post-L.A. life in D.C., where I'd spent hours and hours at an incredible local record-and-book chain called Olsson's. This was pre-Internet, mind you, but Olsson's had a "special orders" counter that acted as my world-wide search engine before I even knew such a thing existed. It was there at the location across the street from the Homer Building in downtown Washington, where I worked from late 1993 to May 1998, that they delivered me Bananarama's UK-only "Please Yourself" album. It was there they they got me Everything But the Girl's "Amplified Heart" ages before it came out in America. And it was there they tracked down Boy George's "Tense Nervous Headache," which was the original title and track lineup of what became "High Hat" in the U.S. Walking up to that little counter felt uncomfortably like approaching an airline agent. They were never friendly. And what they did for you rarely seemed to warrant the amount of typing, sighing and wanton attitude involved. But every so often -- like a reservations bitch suddenly being able to move you from a center to an aisle seat on a cross-country flight -- it was shear bliss, as they'd bestow you with the news that they could order you a new CD single by Saint Etienne that would never see the light of day stateside. These days, I can do my own searches -- and virtually everything I want is right at my finger tips. I like being a control freak, so it's not like I long for the "olden days." Still, every so often I do miss the feeling of walking into a record or book store and discovering something new -- like when I heard an unfamiliar female voice singing "Songbird" one afternoon on my lunch break. The woman turned out to be a local singer named Eva Cassidy, whose angelic voice and untimely death made her famous shortly after she succumbed to melanoma at just 33. The death of book and record stores could hardly be untimely -- the writing has been on the wall for nearly two decades. But seeing Barnes & Noble -- and Olsson's long before it -- die makes me sad just the same.


My brother's second book, "The Elephants of Style," got the royal treatment at Olsson's at National Airport.

2 comments:

martlet530 said...

Many thanks for the comment on Eva. You may be interested that a new recording (Nightbird) will be released in December (US) and November (UK). There is a new video from this release that is available on Youtube. Search for "Eva Cassidy - Nightbird [previously unseen performance footage]"

The Polar Beast said...

Kenneth, are you saying the Politics and Prose closed too???? That bookstore was my favorite place when I lived in DC. If it closed hat would be a real loss. I don't really consider Barnes and Noble a real bookstore since the staff aren't always knowledgeable.

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