My parents, like many unaccustomed to the oft-suffocating experience of metropolis life, hate New York City. Hate it. I've lived here for seven years now, and in that time, they've visited for approximately one full day, broken into two half-days: When I first toured the NYU campus (or lack thereof, its classrooms are spread throughout Greenwich Village and beyond) to ensure that it was the university I wanted to attend, and when I graduated.
The latter was more oppressive than the former, with my parents criticizing the entitlement evident in many of my fellow graduates—only the well-to-do, scholarship-less, rich ones—quick to leave, but not before chugging the free champagne placed around us. The apple did not fall far from the tree.
The first half-day was much more hopeful. It was the summer of 2009. We flew in from Frankfurt, Germany after making the two-hour journey from our village of Etschberg in a southwest corner of the country, slightly north of Alsace-Lorraine in France. My parents work for the Department of Defense and my childhood was similar to that of a military child—moving every two-to-three years, the kind of youth that forces you to learn how to adapt, quickly, in both physical and emotional spaces.
Etschberg was a place I'd learn to compare to a suburb of a suburb. There was only one stop light in town, which was in between the church and cemetery. It was a far cry from Manhattan and most of the people within it.
Still, my parents supported my ambition (shout out Griselle and Charles, you're the best), and made the 7-hour flight in the dead of August. I remember my mom referring to riding the subway as "descending into hell." My father and his cold-blue Austrian eyes weren't a fan of the humidity.
It's funny, I don't remember the tour at all, save for the view in the student center high above Washington Square Park, but I do remember our walk to it. We found ourselves parading down 2nd avenue and turning onto West 4th Street. We were running late. I stared at my phone's map and at one point I looked up long enough to see a bright blue flag with orange letters, "Other Music," above me.
I stopped and told my parents, "This record store? I'm going to work here."
I didn't. I never even tried. I knew of Other Music before ever stepping foot in New York City because of my tragically uncool—and completely fun—singular interest in all things pop-punk and emo. These genres won't get you far in the store, but it's how I discovered it: In 2007, I pre-ordered a book titled Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide To Emo Culture, co-authored by Alternative Press Managing Editor Leslie Simon (one of the few female music writing voices at the time, in that publication, in that scene, in music journalism) and leading Alt Press contributor Trevor Kelley, who I naturally formed a crush on.
The book explained everything I already knew, but did so with self-critical humor that felt revelatory. Two years later, Kelley would get a gig elsewhere and Simon would publish another book, Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide to Your Favorite Music Scenes—from Punk to Indie and Everything in Between, each chapter given a city designation. Page 157 began the New York, New York conversation (not to be mistaken with the Long Island chapter that precedes it.)
In it, Simon jokes about asking the clerk behind the register at Other Music for something “people have actually heard of.” After they pay her no mind, she writes that the store's employees "go back to discussing some unknown band on Gold Standard Laboratories that will take the rest of the world months to discover — that is, if they ever discover them at all.”
That level of elitism and exclusivity may seem unattractive to most and humorous to others, but to me, it felt distinctly radical. Here was a place that would give someone I considered the ultimate authority on music ("alternative" is myopic if you don't have someone/somewhere to learn and grow from) a hard time. It meant there was more to learn, bigger and better ways to strive towards "cool." Let's face it, when you're 16, "cool" is the end-all be-all.
So passing Other Music for the first time, seeing the place in the flesh, I was immediately intimidated. My parents offered to walk me in, but even that was too much. The one dusty-black elevated step at its entry was too high, too foreign. I was a teen who'd recently overcame a crippling social anxiety disorder and Other Music made me feel like I'd spiral back within it, but with one real exception: I wanted to feel good enough to go in. I didn't need to feel good enough to go in.
Eventually I'd go, with the temporary support of people who lived on the floor of my freshman dorm (the kids I've lost touch with, and the ones that now send me demos to review). The real music snobs wouldn't give me the time of day, even when I pretended to be well-versed in Pavement's discography (never been especially good at lying.) That feels like an unimportant haze, a blur in neurosis.
The next year, I took part in Record Store Day. I went to Other Music twice, just in case. I was told exclusives might re-appear later in the day, which is a really brilliant way to make lonely nerds frequent your space. The first time I went, in the afternoon, I went alone. I was on the move for a limited edition Dum Dum Girls / Male Bonding 7-inch (those were easy indie bands to get into, Male Bonding a cool, English, reverb-heavy version of Blink-182.)
I reached for the last copy only to have it grabbed out from under me by the actor Jason Schwartzman. I didn't know who he was until someone told me. I was only interested in the music.
When I returned that evening, I nearly toppled John Norris, former Fuse anchor and future co-worker... more importantly, future friend. Other Music made those connections possible.
“I wanted to feel good enough to go in. I didn't need to feel good enough to go in.”
Near the end of 2010, I discovered college radio. Not just college radio, but WNYU 89.1 FM, New York University's station. We had an FM signal, an increasing rarity for university radio, and a central East Coast location—our reach was vast. The people I met there were kind and weird. They were mostly seniors, gearing up to graduate and leave the station without crucial management positions. I was immediately embraced by them (unlike the folks from my dorm). They remain some of my best buds, and one of which just waxed poetic on her own experiences with Other Music at Pitchfork, here. I started with an online show and was bumped to FM in record time.
I hosted a three-and-a-half hour new music program, the New Afternoon Show, where discovery was the name of the game. As Jenn Pelly writes in her Pitchfork ode, the rules were, "Don’t play anything popular. No major labels. Don’t play the same song more than once every six weeks." I loved the search, and three months later, I became music director of the station.
My main job was to listen to all submissions, from demos to proper label contributions, to determine what was unique and interesting enough to air. Where most college radio stations enjoy similar indie rules, WNYU was strict. We wanted to rival New Jersey's WFMU station with mature eclecticism. And we were great at it.
One especially fun part of the job was taking care of the underwriting. Other Music provided us with a certain allowance to shop at their store every month to purchase records to play (the weirder, the better), and it created a beautiful relationship between my dream student job and my dream job (a shop that again, I never applied to nor would ever been accepted into, even now. And I love it for that. The first record I bought was an almost unlistenable Hospital Records release, Alberich's Psychology of Love.)
In return, each DJ who hosted the same show slot as I did, every weekday, for 3.5 hours, was asked to read the following statement:
“Some of the music heard on the New Afternoon Show has been provided by Other Music, located at 15 E. 4th St, between Broadway & Lafayette in the East Village. Other Music features domestic and imported CD and vinyl releases in a wide variety of styles including psychedelic, progressive, krautrock, electronica, funk, jazz, soul & indie rock. Other Music also carries books and fanzines. You can reach Other Music at 212-477-8150, and on the web at othermusic.com.”
For almost four years, every week, I was reminded of Other Music's greatness, its weirdness, its specialty.
Today I walked into Other Music for the last time. With the exception of one of the founders, Josh Madell, it seemed like most of the staff were new, recent hires of the last few years. The store was more crowded than I've ever seen it (save for the in-store performances—I've seen everything from Danish pretty punks Iceage make one of their American debuts at the shop to The National DJing in relative privacy.) The amount of bodies made it decidedly less intimidating. Or maybe I'm finally cool enough.
As I check out with $100 worth of final purchases, an upbeat Peruvian dance groove playing in the background, I tell Madell that walking around the shop is like being the best possible voyeur, because everyone is excited to share their stories. I tell him that Other Music was the first real place I loved when I moved here seven years ago, a fresh 17 years old, unaware of that statement's truth until I said it to the man responsible.
That's when he looked up from behind the register and said, "Thanks, we love to hear that." The "we" referred to the store and all of its clerks, but it felt like it meant me, too. The place I fetishized so much as the ultimate space of cultural elitism and musical obsession was, and is, anything but: It was an oasis, a place for all us weirdos to find real resonance. We love to hear that.