At long last, an article by our own dad. No one knows more about buying CDs than does Papa Redcloud; rumor has it that he has a dark empire of buyers up and down the east coast. Armani-clad men in his employ often intimidate record store owners into "letting a box of Shostakovich piano concertos fall of the truck, you know what I mean?"
Smells Like Newbury Comics
If I were to be taken blindfolded and ear-plugged into Newbury Comics, anywhere, with just one breath of air, I could identify where I was. Well, I could tell you that I was in a Newbury Comics; the specific store or locality I couldn't tell, even with my eyes open. Ah, the sweet punk-incense odor of Newbury Comics! With its cavelike dimness, streaked with neon-sparkle illumination. And the beat of the latest hopefully-subversive rock band hovering so poundingly round the ears. I can't tell one rock band from another, and differentiation among the various styles of popular music (except rap, which I can identify because I really dislike it) is a mystery to me. But they don't offend; and, even if they did, they could not overcome the smell which draws me inward, towards the back of the store, to the classical CDs, the jazz, and other esoteric novelties, crying in my ear, louder than any amplified din, "buy, buy, buy!"
Because of the smell I don't even care that there is something decidedly odd about me being in this store at all. If I were in Borders (Oh, eau-de-Borders! books and CDs!) I would be in the middle of the age spectrum, at least on a school day. But, in Newbury Comics, I am, by about twenty-five years, the oldest sentient being around. I am also, topologicaly the least interesting, since I have my body pierced in far fewer places. Moreover, at home I would never voluntarily play any of the music that is aired in Newbury Comics. The posters, cards, dolls, action figures, shirts, and other miscellaneous items offered for sale are uniformly tacky, mostly tasteless, and otherwise garish and unwholesomely appealing. (It must be admitted that I have a fondness for the comics. I check them out, but since I still think they should cost twelve cents, I rarely buy.) I should feel as out of place and intimidated as I do on the rare occasions when I wander into Home Depot, Jordan Marsh, or a mall candle store. But in Newbury Comics the smell tells me I am at home: CD heaven! Nothing but jewel boxes as far as they eye can reach.
Every chain of book and record stores has its own unique fragrance. I imagine that when a Waldenbooks is installed in a new mall the first thing the franchise proprietors must do, before installing any shelves or carting in books, is do spray around a good dose of secret-formula aerosol eau-de-Walden. Or better yet, apply the smell using a fogger or insect bomb. After that the staff must fog once a week. The merchanising fragrances, which I recognize to be about equal parts toxic and enticing may have a recipe that goes something like this:
1) Insecticide. Nothing is more repellant than seeing a bug crawl out of a book. And imagine if the book was about computer software! Purchase aborted right there.
2) Miscellaneous cleaning products, wood polish etc. The store has to appear clean if new merchanise is to be sold. All ingredients are to be non-organic and preferably poisonous. A commestible smell would make you feel hungry and cause you to leave for a restaurant. Rather, they want you to feel ecstatic to be there, as if you had sniffed some solvent or glue. But just a little bit-excessive brain damage would be deleterious for the sale of intellectual property.
3) Dirt and inorganic decay. In a used book store gobs of dust are, of course, de rigeur and the smell of dust goes into the store aroma. If there is not enough dust, or if the owners are unteachably tidy, essence of dust is added to the formula. Record store owners spray around not dust, but a mildly sticky grime which adheres to plastic and shrink-wrap, and stays on the fingers for days, defying repeated washing, reminding you to come back again.
4) Incense and perfume. Incense is to make you feel spiritual (if old) and countercultural (if young). It also mildly suggests drugs (the illicit kind like marijuana, not legit stuff, like Pledge.) Perfume arouses a bit of sexual urge, in a decorous way, as it must do with old ladies and gents. It makes one want to read about sex or listen to someone sing about it. Stores love their customers to be romantic.
5) Lithium blocker. As long as you have the cash or plastic, stores want you as manic as you can get. No checks larger than 12, 000 dollars please.
6) Sodium pentathol. Enough said.
The proportions will vary from store to store, based on the particular audience desired and to give the store a unique signature. Each time I enter Tower Records, the aroma tells me right where I am, disarms all my inhibitions and good intentions, and programs me to buy at least six CDs. At our local Strawberries (with a classical room!) the olfactory signal prompts me to buy just one or two, but of course they are local and know I can come back often. At Newbury Comics, on the other hand, I am looking for bargains. I generally find a few. You see, I have a nose for them.