Updated: Aug 2, 2021
“ My mother and I had passed this place, which we called “The Purple Building,” for years on our way to Grants Department Store or to McDonalds, but my adolescent curiosity finally stopped us one day and I pushed open the squeaky door and walked in. "
John called to tell me that he had scored a box of records that I might like and that I should come by. His used record and collectibles store was painted purple over stucco, and inside it showed the signs of years of neglect and cheap rent. It sat along a broken sidewalk in the neighborhood of Westover, before Main Street made its way quietly out of our lower middle class downtown and disappeared under the guts of the new highway. There was no heat in his store, which John said was good for the stacks of vinyl pressed recordings and shelves of cassettes and 8-tracks. More expensive memorabilia and “bootleg recordings” were in a glass case to show off and protect their value, pointing up to show the handwritten “Journey Live at the Syracuse Dome” or “Bruce Springsteen in Japan” labels. My mother and I had passed this place, which we called “The Purple Building,” for years on our way to Grants Department Store or to McDonalds, but my adolescent curiosity finally stopped us one day and I pushed open the squeaky door and walked in. I had hundreds of records, so this place was gold, with stacks of recordings for only a few bucks or less. I felt drawn to the dramatic songs of Stevie Nicks and the revealing poetry of her lyrics, and bought every ‘45 by her that I could rummage, happy that I would know b-sides that most people would never hear. I bought Donna Summer, Kim Carnes, Gladys Knight, and every Barbra Streisand single and album. Without any judgment toward a chubby teenage boy collecting female singers, he took my number and began to call when there was a new girl record in, my collection growing cheaply and exponentially. It was comforting to me to hear their strong voices singing of lost love and heartache. I had never experienced any of these emotions with another person, but I understood loneliness and pain in my own secret way, and their suffering became mine when I sang every word along with them in my room. I would turn the treble up on the stereo receiver my brother had passed down to me, and sing “I’ve been cheated, been mistreated, when will I be loved,” at the top of my lungs with Linda Ronstadt. I sang “Songbird” with Barbra and wondered if anyone ever sang to her. I saved money and bought a 4-track mixer and a microphone at Radio Shack, then mixed my own back-up vocals into their melodies. This is how I got to know these women in such an intimate way. I spent most of my teenage years hanging out with them, and through the raw emotion of their voices, I came to understand them. We sang together. We shared experiences together. We became friends.