Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
This Saturday, April 13th is Record Store Day. Officially, I mean. And it's cool, don't get me wrong. Record Store Day, which has been going strong for a number of years now as a verified and legitimate pseudo-holiday for music junkies like me, has its lovely pros about it. For starters, hundreds of participating independent record stores across America have a little light shined on them in the good spirit of small business-minded community economic strength and all of that.
Perhaps more notably, and more interesting, is the fact that once a year on Record Store Day: 'participating' record stores also get their hands on very exclusive vinyl that is debuted and sometimes ONLY available on that day itself. It's a magic little time in the life of a record lover, let me tell you. Even if it can all be a bit nerve-wracking as well. Because yes, people line up outside these record stores very early in the morning to get in on the action.
Cough cough...Black Friday anyone??!!...cough cough.
Still, the fact remains, Centre County, and Bellefonte in particular, are for the most part left out in the Record Store Day cold every single year. There is one store in State College that participates, I think. Which is good, because I know there are a lot of music people in these valleys and hills who deserve the chance to celebrate with all the big city record store people, you know? It's just a shame that maybe there isn't a few more involved.
Or is it?
I don't really know, to be honest. Because here's why.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret, okay?
If you love vinyl records; if you understand the blissful gravitas that comes along with embarking on a heart-pounding journey through old milk crates of mildewy-scented 12 inch albums; if you walk into a flea market or a thrift store or wander up onto the lawn of a stranger who's got their kids' outgrown Walmart snowsuits and baby jumpers flung across the grass with price tags made out of blue painter's tape, and you feel the rising feeling of unstoppable electricity coursing through your veins with all the might and power of an 8am double shot of espresso at a tried and true Roman cafe because you are suddenly transported back to a time when absolute joy and insatiable optimism were once things familiar to you on a regular basis, back when you were a kid enamored with baseball cards or Christmas morning or whatever the heck it is that feeds our childhood spirit, all because you are now- as a full fledged grown a** human being- incredibly excited that you might be about to stumble into some jazz records that only you would care about, or maybe even a long lost copy of The Stones' 'Sticky Fingers' with the real zipper on the cover....if any of this sounds like it happens to be speaking directly to you, then listen to me closely, okay?
You probably already know this, but just in case you don't.
We are living in a record lovers paradise here, my friend.
I'm dead serious. We really are.
Oh, okay, don't let me mislead you. You are NOT going to find rare 45s and valuable mint condition LPs from artists that you cherish and love (or much worse: hunt for so you can sell them on eBay...ugh) all that often in these parts. The rural-ish counties of central Pennsylvania are not vinyl Meccas anymore than almost anywhere is. Because guess what? Pretty much nowhere is any more. People hunt records down with merciless gusto. Mostly for profit, mind you. But sometimes for the love of crackling vinyl too. I know. I'm one of those latter ones.
And this area where we live has made my heart soar into the record-hunting heavens way more than I can tell you. Why? Simple. People sell stuff here. Lots of stuff. In Bellefonte alone there must be 6 resale shops and booths alone right this second that have at least a decent box of records, if not way more.
Have you ever walked into Plaza Centre Antiques, 124 W High Street, with vinyl music on your mind and been horrendously disappointed? I seriously doubt it. And if you have, if you ask me, you're barking up the wrong rock-n-roll tree, partner. For reals. Because if you want to scrape up against the philosophical with me for just a moment, maybe dance with me across the fields of space and time in which every desire we have or will ever know is filtered down through a simple couple moves, a few steps to lead us towards the truth, I reckon, well then, hear me out on this, will you?
Record hunting is, in and of itself, a gift from the cosmos that rarely requires us to be presented with some Holy Grail of collecting or whatever.
You see what Im saying?
Just the very act of being thrilled to be looking at records, to be flipping through hundreds, maybe even thousands of them, often all on your own, is a very wonderful way to spend an hour or three. Some would even say there is an element of bona fide Zen to it, a meditative quality very rarely found in anything...and I mean ANYTHING even remotely related to shopping or purchasing, short of the very brief jolt we get from spending money. Which is almost inevitably followed by the nauseating feeling that comes with realizing we probably just spent too much. Again.
It's so American it smells like freakin' apple pie, huh?
But also very American is that feeling I get when I'm just searching in that second floor back corner of Plaza Centre. There are records there and whoever put them there is a Centre County Legend if you ask me. Maybe even a saint. I've gone there at times when I was so blue, running from life, from depths of sadness or fear or anxiety I couldn't describe even if I tried. There though, left to my own devices; no sales people bugging me; no pressure from other people running alongside me, trying to find whatever it is we are both looking for first; I am enveloped in a blanket as calming and good and familiar as any I have ever known.
I am this person, you see. I am this guy looking for old used records in the back corners and lots of a certain little stretch of land where old used things are treasured. Not simply for the fact that they have use or might even be 'worth something' in the eyes of the rest of the world, but more because I am happy when I am among these things, these old and beautiful things. Even if they aren't worth a deer's crap. Even if they only speak to me in the same ways that ghosts speak to sleeping babies.
"You never knew me. But I was here before you," they whisper. "And I'm still here. And I'm glad you are too."
Is that nuts?
Maybe. Maybe not.
All I know is this. If what I'm saying to you makes you sit up in your chair even a tiny bit, then heed my call. Record Store Day is coming. Then it's going. It won't really matter. Each and every day around here is Record Store Day in a way if you let it. We're so lucky for that too. Elvis. Little Richard. The Beatles. Billie Holiday. Hank Williams. Frank Sinatra. The Cure, The Clash, TV On the Radio, Madonna...god forbid...even Jim Neighbors and the Tijuana Brass Band, they all live here in Bellefonte. And they'll be alive on summer lawns at yard sales and flea markets very soon too. Some music you love, you will find it if you look.
We live in a place with so many chances to flip, flip, flip until you stop dead in your tracks. There it is. A record to make you smile! A record you never thought you'd run into today, but there it is. In the crates at Iron Star Trading Company. In the box on the floor at Centre Peace or the Faith Centre. In the small stacks over at The Great Mish Mosh, down at Victorian House Antiques or the back corner of Plaza Centre.
Hunting for records is magic. Finding them is cake icing, dude.
Record stores are lovely and we need more if we can.
But what we do have around this town is more than so many of us have ever realized.
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