The unmistakable sound of a needle tasting vinyl and digging into a groove may be forgotten to some—and unknown to others. But it’s an integral part of The Beat Coffeehouse, precious enough to render vivid the otherwise inauspicious occasion of hearing Side Two (another lost sensation) of The Who’s lamentable 1981 vinyl release, Face Dances.
The coffeehouse is part of Emergency Arts, the new downtown “creative collective.” And while diverging slightly from the The Beat’s literary-hip theme, the turntable is a perfect tie to the adjoining vinyl shop, Heritage Poster and Music.
Record-store owner Jerry Keogh runs a successful vinyl shop in Calgary, Alberta, and expansion to Vegas is natural to him. “We had a sample opening at a First Friday, and it was fantastic,” he says. “Downtown Vegas has no vinyl store.”
Some might argue that vinyl is obsolete (CDs aren’t doing too well, either). But Keogh sees vinyl as part of a culture that transcends nostalgia and boutique collectibles: “Kids today have nothing to collect,” he says. “MP3s are compressed music. … They discover Mom and Dad’s records in the basement, and they realize this is how music is supposed to sound.”
In the end, it isn’t only the sound that Keogh thinks has helped vinyl. “It is hip. It is cool. And people develop a passion for the object.” And downtown Las Vegas—East Fremont, specifically—is where hip and cool can be sold now.
The appeal of vinyl is not just for classic rock, which Koegh euphemistically prefers to call rock “that has stood the test of time.” Many current bands choose to offer vinyl issues.
One album that has both stood the test of time (and was just reissued last month, including in vinyl) is the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.
Exile cover designer John Van Hamersveld recruited Robert Frank (famed for his austere photos of worn-out Beat writers) to shoot the Stones. Van Hamersveld then tarted up the result to symbolize the decadence of the ’70s.
Frank’s participation was pure chance, or at least as much as can be involved when a famous photographer happens to be ambling past the world’s most famous rock band. Van Hamersveld recalls:
“[I] was sitting with Mick Jagger on this ottoman and I just looked up and saw Robert Frank coming down the carpet into this beautiful villa they were renting. He had a camera. And so I leaned over to Mick, and I said, ‘Why don’t you have him do the cover?’ They went off to L.A. to do the photos that were recycled into the album.”
On June 18, Van Hamersveld will appear at the record store to sign his Exile cover as well as advance copies of his new book (pending availability), and any of his other vintage work. He created the cover for The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and a Jimi Hendrix concert poster, for example.
As for the shrunken art of CDs and MP3s, Van Hamersveld is not impressed: “It takes a beautiful cultural symbolic thing and turns the box into a tiny disc. … It’s not the same thing.” So, vinyl is hip again in 2010, and amazingly, in the midst of the Great Recession, downtown has its own version of urban Bohemia, complete with vinyl soundtrack.