‘The Record Store Of The Mind’ Is The Most Important Read For Music Fans
‘The Record Store Of The Mind’ is an essential read for any true music fan and record collector. You don’t have to take my word for it; both Robert Plant and T-Bone Burnett, as well as legions of other fans, also think so. If you’re interested in getting beyond the surface of popular music, you’ll find something to pique your interesting in this book. Author Josh Rosenthal digs deep into obscure music and artists who have been cruelly overlooked by the mainstream.
It’s fair to say Josh Rosenthal lives and breathes music, having been in the industry for around 30 years. As well as authoring ‘The Record Store Of The Mind’, Rosenthal also founded and runs independent label, Tompkins Square, now with twelve years and seven Grammy nominations under its belt. Besides giving attention to less obvious music choices, ‘The Record Store Of The Mind’ is also a deeply personal account of one music-lovers’ journey, covering not just artists beloved by the author himself, but also record labels, years in music, as well as growing up in Syosset, NY and what the music scene was like as a teen in a certain time and place.
As you venture into your local record store this Record Store Day and grabbed all the RSD releases you came for, don’t rush out the door. In the spirit of ‘The Record Store Of The Mind’, dig a little deeper and unearth some gems that would otherwise be overlooked. Thumb through the book for some inspiration from the highlighted musicians and their periphery counterparts.
Fascinated by the book and the level of enthusiasm and clear expertise Rosenthal possesses on music, we wanted to learn more about the man behind ‘The Record Store Of The Mind’, what inspired him to write the book, and get more of his thoughts on music…
What inspired you to write ‘The Record Store Of The Mind’?
My record label, Tompkins Square, was coming up on 10 years, so I wanted to mark the occasion. I didn’t want to do a silly box set or anything. So I thought it’d be fun to try a new product category, get some stories down, write about things I was into at the time.
You’ve been in the music business for a while now. Can you tell me a bit about your background in music?
I started working in the business at 15. I interned at CMJ (College Media Journal), and then at PolyGram Records as a high school student. The year or so that I worked at PolyGram in ‘85-‘86 was insane: Tears For Fears, Van Morrison, the first Velvets reissues, Richard Thompson, Bananarama, Trio, Bon Jovi, Mellencamp. Then I worked for SONY for 15 years – 5 years at Columbia and then 10 for SONY.
Did you find it difficult or was it pretty easy given the artists and labels you focus on all seem to have a place close to your heart?
It wasn’t too hard; I got it done in about six months. The fact that I really don’t consider myself a writer made it easier, as I had set the bar pretty low for myself. I tell people that the ‘not writing’ was harder than the writing. I would try and be real disciplined and write every day, but that didn’t work for me.
How did you make a selection of which artists, labels, and periods of music you would include?
I could probably write the book many times over, as ‘The Record Store of the Mind’ is just a reflection of what I was into during that period. My older daughter was learning an Ernie Graham song I turned her onto, so I got interested in finding out more about him. And I was listening to Tia Blake, Bill Fay, Mickey Jupp, and all the other folks I devoted chapters to.
Were there any musicians you would have loved to have included but didn’t quite make the cut?
I really wanted to interview Leigh Stephens from Blue Cheer and do a whole chapter about his album, ‘Red Weather’, which I love dearly. But he didn’t make himself available. Maybe I should’ve tried harder. I think he lives nearby…
The Record Store Of the Mind has some pretty heavyweight fans. How did it surface that Robert Plant and T-Bone Burnett are fans of the book?
I’ve known T Bone since my Columbia days, and he was very gracious to give me such a flattering quote. My friend is Robert Plant’s publicist, so he sent the book to Robert. He loved the book, which kind of caused a problem, because then I really wanted a quote when I heard that. Which took a long time to get – months – but it’s so nice. I felt like I’d accomplished everything I wanted with the book at that point. I mean, if you had told the fifteen-year-old me that someday I’d write a book and Robert Plant would like it . . .
In the Syosset chapter you talk about the lost mystique of bands – has the internet ruined that for future generations? Or do you think we’re in a transitional phase where we’ll get a different kind of rockstar?
I do talk about mystique, and I’m glad I grew up when I did, with the lack of access. It made the bands seem so much bigger. You hungered for information about them, whereas today, the barriers between the artist and fan have eroded. In some ways, there’s a bigger void though. I used to be able to write to my favorite stars and they’d sometimes actually mail me back. Try doing that today.
If you were to write another book, who or what would you like to cover or include?
That’s a good question, and I’ve been thinking about it. I didn’t have any expectations for this one – it was written for fans of my label and diggers and friends. But it’s gone well beyond that, got crazy reviews, and has its own momentum now, with new folks coming to it even eighteen months later.
I wouldn’t want to repeat what I’ve done. As I said, I could just select some more artists and individual LPs and gone nuts, but that would be more of the same. If I do another book, I’ll want a publisher this time. Self-publishing was great, but I would want some help.
Your daughters drew the iconic cover of your book. Are they also very into music and records? What kind of music do they like?
My little one, Hazel, told me she was working on a cover for my book in her art class. I already had an idea for the cover, and I was like, “Yeah whatever.” But when she showed it to me, I said, “That’s the cover.”
We have a family account on Spotify. My older daughter is very into exploring new sounds, loves her Discover Weekly, and takes a lot of sophisticated recommendations from me. We have conversations about Kevin Ayers, which blows my mind. She’s also way into Drake and all that as well. Hazel is more pop-oriented and less interested in taking cues from her dad, which is fine.
Many of the artists you cover in your book are celebrated among fellow musicians and have some pretty big name fans, but never seem to make it to the mainstream themselves. Do you have a theory for why some artists find success while others who are equally or perhaps even more talented never do?
There’s a recurrent theme in the book about this, isn’t there? There’s a lot of personal tragedy in the stories, whether it’s Ron Davies, Jeffrey Cain, Smoke Dawson or Eric Clapton. There’s certainly a ton of under-appreciated artists to write about in many genres, and why some are “successful” and some not is almost irrelevant. At the end of the day, is the music good? Then they were successful. Even very well-known artists have had massive commercial failures. Tia Blake sold about ten records, but was successful because she made a great record. I wrote about it, and now people are telling me how much they love her.
Do you hope to inspire people to look a little further than the obvious when buying records and finding new music?
The book, more than anything, is a meditation on loving music deeply as a fan. We’re in an age where there really isn’t much rigorous discourse about music. There are a handful of writers who uphold a certain journalistic tradition – Chris Richards (Washington Post), Amanda Petrusich (The New Yorker), the 33 1/3 series, etc. I grew up believing that music was tied to the culture, that there was an intellectual component to studying an album – that came from Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs and Ralph Gleason. A reader might not even like the artists in my book, but he/she will pick up on the passion behind the stories, the intrigue in finding people, hearing about their process. ‘The Record Store of the Mind’ is just an extension of what I love to do with my label. Pointing to things. Like this reissue we have coming out April 28. You have to hear Tom Armstrong’s ‘The Sky Is An Empty Eye’ from 1987! You just have to hear this record !!!!