Today would’ve been Record Store Day, but just like all other notable “holidays” that I usually celebrate around this time of year—Pi Day, April Fools’, Charlie Chaplin’s birthday—it was overshadowed by this pesky global pandemic and I very nearly forgot about it. (Technically, Record Store Day 2020 has been postponed to June 20, so hopefully we’ll get another chance to partake in crate-digging soon.)
Anyway, in celebration of what was supposed to be RSD 2020, today I donated to my favorite San Francisco record shop, spun some vinyl while reorganizing piles of paper in my work-from-home office (Paul and Linda’s Ram and the Stones’ Goats Head Soup, because I will never grow out of classic rock Saturday mornings), and then wrote a rambly homage to my favorite record album poster, this absolutely iconic image of Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends:
I still catch myself marveling at the presentation of the record album in general: the fact that every cover is a mini work of art, every vinyl disc contained in its own sleeve, and every once in a while, they’re accompanied by a full sized poster folded up neatly inside, an added bonus you didn’t even ask for. And yes, I’ve blogged about this before, but here I go again!
We bought our copy of Bookends on a brisk spring day in Lausanne, Switzerland, at a used record shop called Belair. I say “our” copy because I seem to recall upon sliding the record out of its sleeve and seeing the folds of a mint condition poster inside, Alex and I looked at each other in immediate and mutual recognition, making a silent decision that this was something we had to have. This was our first international trip together, a Genco family vacation to Venice and Tuscany with a little bit of Switzerland and France sprinkled in—and my first international trip, period—so I’m sure my memories are colored in a bit of a rosy tint. I’m not actually certain at all if that’s really what happened that day in the record store, but that’s what I remember. It was 2011.
We exited the record shop, which was located at the top of a graffitied flight of stairs. Back outside, a group of street musicians sang and played guitar in a plaza that overlooked a sea of terra cotta roofs. Kicking down the cobblestones in my coat and scarf and boots, newly acquired record tucked under my arm, I felt exactly like the type of person who would buy a Simon and Garfunkel record in Switzerland.
Back in our hotel room, we pulled out the poster and admired it in its full glory: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel floating in nothingness, their bodies becoming the 59th Street Bridge and East River at sunset (or is it sunrise?), a sprig of flowers artfully placed above Art’s shoulder. The bridge, the flowers, the turtlenecks: it perfectly embodied the aesthetic of late-1960s folky New York, a time and place I desperately wish I could’ve experienced.
When we returned from our trip to our little San Fernando Valley apartment, the carefully packed record and poster were waiting for me in my suitcase. Instead of buying a new frame, I repurposed a cheap plastic frame I was using to display another favorite poster: a black and white photo of the Beatles from the Mad Day Out session, the one of them huddled together in the London wind, their signatures scribbled below the photo in gold. The frame was very slightly too big for the S&G poster, so instead of having the cardboard backing peek out around the edges, I put the Bookends poster directly on top of the Beatles poster, which from far away made it look like it had a nice white matting. The bottom of the T in the Beatles logo peeked out from behind, along with pen strokes from Paul and Ringo’s signatures, but they were hardly noticeable.
Simon & Garfunkel, sandwiched between the Beatles and cheap plastic, have graced the walls of four apartments and one house since then. They presided over my cinderblock-and-wood bookshelf in the LA house Alex and I shared with three musicians, in a bedroom of Ikea furniture and tablas and a boxy TV with a rabbit-ear antenna. Then when Alex got a job in San Francisco and we moved into a tiny studio in Cole Valley, they were the first thing you saw after climbing up our stairwell, greeting each visitor to our cozy one-room home. They followed us to our Inner Richmond apartment, hanging prominently from a picture hook and fishing wire in our sun-filled Victorian living room. And when we moved to the top of a foggy hill in the Outer Richmond, they took up residence on a wall in our “dining room,” named that only because it’s where the dining table was, not because we ever ate there. They’ve made their way into the background of so many photos I’ve taken over the years that Google Photos includes both Simon and Garfunkel in the personalized “People & Pets” album that it created for me:
Now, in Bernal Heights, we’ve leveled up to a two-bedroom apartment. The second bedroom was originally intended to be a recreation room/guest room but now serves as a work-from-home office. I had grand ideas for the rec room when we first moved here, which involved framing and hanging all of our Fillmore concert posters, the enormous 2001: A Space Odyssey poster Alex got from an executive at his company, and the six Star Trek posters we bought online: one for each TOS movie. I didn’t get much further than the Fillmore posters, and then the record player got finicky, so we ended up spending less time in the rec room than we originally thought we would. In an effort to fill up blank wall space and keep the room from looking too depressing, I put our trusty Bookends poster above the futon, where it’s been hanging slightly askew for the past year and a half. As a result, S&G now watch over me every day while I work, occasionally making an appearance in a Zoom meeting, always there to transport me—even if for a second—back to another time and place where my nostalgia can run free.
It’d been a long time since I’d actually listened to the Bookends album itself, but one recent night (pre-quarantine) when I was home alone and accidentally got too high, I put on Side A and let “Save the Life of My Child” rattle my eardrums as I lay on the futon in a daze, staring up at the 59th Street Bridge and the East River as “America” morphed into “Overs” morphed into “Voices of Old People,” which seemed to carry on forever until I found myself in a silent room, the record having stopped 10 minutes prior. Listening again today, the album feels like a collage: snippets of sounds cut and pasted, images of park benches and Greyhound buses and Kellogg’s cornflakes, all of it glued together with the simple and heart-wrenching “Bookends” theme. I had forgotten how lovely it is.
I’ll be forever grateful to that record shop in Lausanne for gifting us with this album and poster. It’s not a rare album by any means (although it can be tough to find with the original poster in good condition), but something about the circumstances in which I came across it makes it feel more special than most records I own. I hope Belair is doing ok these days, and that record stores everywhere are able to come out of this in tact. It’s been a quieter RSD than usual, but I’m still thankful to be able to celebrate it.
Bonus material, thanks to Google’s People & Pets album: