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Where Music Gets Physical: A Boston Memoir

Tickers in this article: FB P SKUL
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The first time I set foot in Newbury Comics on Newbury Street in Boston, I was about 20 years old and still half a decade or so away from the digital music era. That made that two-room shop between Mass Ave. and Hereford Street something close to heaven.

Whether I drove up from New Jersey or took the Fung-Wah bus from Chinatown up to Boston for the weekend, Newbury was a mandatory stop. It had all the H2O, Sick of It All, Dropkick Murphys and Bad Religion CDs I was really into at the time, but also had early cuts of Letters To Cleo's first album, The Sheila Divine's latest screamer and steampunk album covers made by a strange little band called the Dresden Dolls. Most importantly, they had records -- bins and bins of records tucked off to the side where older heads could thumb through them in peace.

It was, above all else, a tactile experience. There was something comforting about flipping through all that tangible album art and coming across the one record you'd been hunting down for months. There were hours of pacing, flipping, stockpiling and thinning -- of walking up to a counter with a stack of 10, but whittling it down to about four just so you could eat later. The way that fluorescent light disappeared behind the counter, those new releases scrawled in multi-color chalk, the step up to the second room where you're just about always guaranteed to run into someone streaking toward you with a bag full of buttons, a box with a doll version of Bender from Futurama inside or a Black Flag shirt.


To me, that was Boston's epicenter. It was the meet-up point before heading out to house parties in Cambridge, strolls along the Esplanade and through the Common, bus rides out to Jamaica Plain for barbecues and not-so-quick T rides to Harvard Square to pop into Planet Records or for flat-patty burgers at Charlie's. I wouldn't say it was the reason I moved to Boston in 2007, but it made all the other reasons possible. It was a part of Boston I could own, take back down to Jersey in a smiley-face bag, play in the car for weeks on end and rave about to folks back home when they wondered why I suddenly wanted to hit Generation Records in the West Village each weekend.

Years later, it's different. I want to say weird or worse, but that's just not the case at all -- it's just different. I proposed at Jamaica Pond, got married, found a spot of earth near Portland, Ore., and settled in. The copy of Kathleen Edwards' "Failer" I bought at Newbury has a second life as the Kathleen Edwards channel on my Pandora account. I now get giddy when a Sheila Divine song pops up on a friend's Spotify update on Facebook . I'm exponentially more likely to find a new band on Sterogum, Rdio or a KEXP podcast than in the new-release or local favorites racks.

But there's a reason they sell Beats By Dre and SkullCandy headphones at Newbury, Everyday Music and every other local music chain. There's a reason those stores are going to be packed on Record Store Day this Saturday and that people suddenly care about owning Jack White, Fiona Apple and Decemberists records on vinyl. There's a reason vinyl record sales grew 17.7% last year and by 2.1 million albums since 2009 while total album sales dropped by nearly 60 million copies during that same span.