The death of vinyl was predicted almost as soon as the compact disc arrived, but music downloading and iPods have obliterated the CD’s advantages (convenience and storability) while unexpectedly restoring the allure of vinyl. With music turning into desubstantialized data, the stubborn materiality of the LP—the heft and sheen of the black platter, the cover artwork—becomes perversely attractive. As Marc Joseph observes in an interview at the end of this illustrated book, “The world remains an analog one, and some of the things we see are things we can also behold.”
New and Used goes beyond simply lusting after solid-form recordings and books to a fetishization of the scene of consumption itself. Joseph’s lush-toned photographs of record and bookshop interiors are exquisite but curiously lifeless. Literally: With just one exception, these stores are completely deserted. The shots have a posed quality, interiors bizarrely devoid of clutter, wooden floors seemingly freshly polished. Even the more gritty images—tatty cardboard boxes of blues cassettes with handwritten labels, a shelf stuffed with vintage 7-inch singles in yellowing paper sleeves—have a “distressed” look redolent of the faux-authentic way roots- reggae reissues are packaged.
Interspersed with the store shots are photographs of iconic albums and first-edition books—Trout Mask Replica against a black backdrop, Alphonse Dauder short stories pegged to a clothesline—and guest-written text. Jeremy Sigler’s blank-verse tale of the hazards of book shopping is enjoyably mortifying: sifting through boxes of review copies donated to a Brooklyn store by an editor, he finds his own poetry collection in the pile. Other highlights include Ian Svenonious’s extraterrestial’s eye view of the record industry and Shelley Jackson’s marvelous absurdist inventory of definitions of “book” and “reader.” A short conversation with Joseph reveals that book covers and album sleeves first taught him how to look, and examines the way tangible packaging gives us intangible feelings. Many of us share these stirrings, but readers may still not understand why anyone would want to take a picture of, say, the pristine CD racks at Other Music. Although moving Galaxie 500’s Today album to the front of the rack—a nod to New and Used editor Damon Krukowski, a member of the defunct band—is kinda cute.