It seems like a life time, but it was just three short years ago. An old acquaintance came to London. It never fails; people that I only knew as a passing, 'Hey girl, what are you up to?' when out at a gig or the bar in my homeland of California ALWAYS want to suddenly take our relationship to a deeper level when they come to foreign soil. This person suggested we meet at a place her friend had recommended: The Society Club. 'What is The Society Club?' I asked. 'It's a book store with a bar in it. It’s in Soho. Adam Ant and Steve Strange hang out there.' It could have been in Antarctica: the possibility of running into either of the former Blitz kids had me half way out the door to check it out.
Though neither of my beloved 80s heroes were there when I arrived, a much more important person was: one of the owners of the Club. I quickly found out that she was a literary agent, and, upon some quick google stalking, an amazingly accomplished one with an impeccable track record. My number one dream that I have not fulfilled, besides going to the Olympics for swimming and marrying Ricky Schroder, was to 'be a writer.'
Like a real official writer that has books in stores. Someone who could say as a profession when you must fill out a form that you are an 'author.' The agent, Carrie Kania, gave me her email address, and, so generously, offered to look at any 'ideas' that I may have. Little did she know- or really, to be fair, DID I KNOW that my life was going to majorly change because of this random meet up. Fast forward to 2017: Carrie is now my agent, and has secured me an amazing book deal for my new book, Why Vinyl Matters and is shopping another idea we have worked on together. I have now been to the Club many, many times, and basically use it as my meeting place for all appointments I have. When my friends come into town, I immediately bring them there. The Club is a throwback to how I imagined the salons of the 1920s, where interesting people would gather to exchange ideas, lubricated by fabulous cocktails.
Or I should say it WAS a throwback. A couple months ago, I went to meet a friend there. The bartender, who I knew well by this point, dropped the bomb: the Club was closing. WHAT??? The rent had been raised to some insane extent, three or four times the current rate. They had been told they needed to be out of the premises in a matter of weeks.
This was a crushing blow for a community of artists, writers and thinkers- and for those artists, writers and thinkers who have yet to be as lucky as I was and connect with an industry insider. I really could not believe it. A place like the Society Club is a self-selected tribe: you knew that the people who frequented the spot, who were a part of that scene, were equally cool, and valued a lot of the similar things that I did (mainly books and booze). What were the options going to be to connect with like-minded souls post-Club?
Where would someone like me, a want to be writer, have the chance to meet someone like Carrie, a knowledgeable and well connected professional? I am sorry, but the anonymous nature of Starbucks, Cafe Nero or any other chain just lacks the correct atmosphere, and is far too prescribed and sterile for anything real to be substantiated, for a community to evolve and prosper in the same way as it did at the Club.
A couple weeks after the Club had shut down, Carrie and I planned to meet up for dinner at a restaurant we often frequented in Soho. I arrived late, so Carrie was already there, waiting for me. As I approached, I yelled out, 'Why aren't you already inside?' I got closer, and she pointed to a sign on the door: closed. This place, too, had been pushed out by a steep rise in rent. Carrie and I walked around, trying to find somewhere else to eat, past Rag and Bone, past (yet another) Pret A Monger. I like those places too; but they are interchangeable, market to market, lacking soul and character that reflects each individual location.
On the back of this, I was sent a link to a newspaper article from my hometown of Santa Cruz. Logo's, the independent book and record store which had been the ground zero of my own emerging music fandom as a kid, was being forced to close, due to declining revenues, having been majorly impacted by the on-line book economy.
I seriously felt like a part of my identity had been trampled underfoot. Just as I was starting to contemplate the possibility of a world without Logo's, I then heard that another lifelong favourite, Cafe Pergolesi, was also being forced out; one of the main reasons being that the landlord refused to re-sign the coffee houses lease at a decent price.
These two businesses in my native town formed the foundation of my love for art, writing and music, for the sort of sharing of ideas and cobbling together seeming far-fetched plans that the Society Club later provided.
I was moaning to Carrie about all of this. She pointed me to an article in the Times about Bleeker Street in New York, where a similar thing happened: high-end designer shops came in and pushed out the long-time independents that had given the neighbourhood its personality and functionality. In the long run, though, the punters started choosing on-line shopping over going to the real-world location chain stores; after all, it was all the same product. Now, many of the formerly luxury storefronts are empty, as the rents are still high and out of reach for the small mom and pop business looking to get off the ground, and the Big Boys have moved on to plunder another trending borough.
All of this makes me think: are we doomed to live in a world where everything is just one big homogenized, sanitized conglomerate? What will happen to the generations coming up, that don't have the framework of the independent venture, the dream of doing things a bit different or wacky to go off? Places like the Perg and the Society Club forced you to look at things differently, as they were different. They were one-offs in an ever more vanilla world. How can you come up with anything original if all we are offered is the same bland thing, over and over, the world over? The very elements of the places I love so much are being stripped away. It’s like a big cultural Lorax is coming and crushing the thinking person’s landscape. What has made Santa Cruz, London, New York and San Francisco- another place I lived- interesting and purveyors of the weird and wonderful is being exterminated. What made them attractive is becoming an endangered species.
Now, I am all about convenience. I appreciate a good on-line shop, some Amazon Prime action, some ASOS binging, a bit of Discogs love. But the person I am, the person I have become, is based almost entirely around interactions I have had in the physical world. I would not have a book out and be able to lay claim to the title of 'author' without The Society Club being an incubator and conduit for those sorts of situations to occur.
All of this relates to Why Vinyl Matters: materiality grounds us. The places we choose to make the effort to go to, the vote we cast with each of our hard-earned pounds: that is what creates the kind of world, culture and neighbourhoods we want to live in. Deciding that I will shop at my friend’s independent record store, the place that he saved up for, mortgaged his house to keep open during lean times, and is a straight reflection of the unique elements of where it is located is a vote for thinking, for silly seeming dreams coming to fruition, for really participating in actual, not virtual experience. Going to The Society Club on one random, very hot summer day changed the course of my life in a way that probably would not have happened on-line or even in a more transient place like a Costa Coffee. The quickly shifting landscape of Soho, of Santa Cruz, of San Francisco, of cities big and small from being individual and quirky to just mirroring the wishes of someone at some head office of a mega company somewhere is important to take note, as, just like in the Lorax, what makes a place distinctive will disappear, possibly forever if we don’t start investing time and money in the small ventures that gave rise to the idiosyncratic character of what drew us to a specific place originally.