shangri-lowell -- the best place on earth
today, after putting in a long (cough cough) day at the home office, i decided to venture forth and do some errands. i had already been out a couple of times earlier: once to drive a friend to the train, another time to put out the recycling bins, and though it was a little chilly, it's my favorite kind of weather, so what's not to love. so far just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.
my first stop was the mail room downstairs, and i know it's less sensible for me to grab mail on my way out instead of back in, but i'm all about the instant gratification about such things, and i can never wait. sometimes things fit into my pockets, and sometimes they don't, but it's a small price to pay for what i want when i want it. so what did the us postal service see fit to deliver to me today? well, waiting for me in my little locked mailbox was a white tyvek bag, the contents of which have better words silk-screened onto them that could ever be found to describe it: a black cotton t-shirt bearing the inscription "shangri-lowell, the best place on earth".
i don't mean to brag, but does anyone have anyone who loves them more than that?
(i cannot wait to be wearing it tomorrow night at the benefit mt&tfm show at the elks club in billerica, and it'll be even better than the time i was at the show in portsmouth wearing the fresh killed poultry one).
but, enough about t-shirts, next came serendipity of the most sublime sort as i took an unusual route towards the train station, which was not to intend to go to the train station, but the industrial clothing outlet in the rustic mill building next door to the train station. you see, my favorite flannel lined cotton canvas shirt had finally begun to give up the ghost, (once cotton fabric starts to break down it's remarkable how it does it so widely across an entire garment, and, in this case mine had from the sleeves to the collar to everywhere in between, and it was becoming critical that a replacement be procured asap, because i wear the thing almost everywhere), and i further needed some replacement boot laces for my favorite work boots, and i figured i could hopefully kill two birds with one stone and enjoy a nice, brisk walk in the process. flipping a mental coin instead of taking the usual more-direct route, i opted instead for a little stroll around the canal and up central street just because.
on central street in downtown lowell is a remarkable little audio brigadoon known as rrr records. it's never open on any discernable schedule, and, in having lived here a year its fair to say i had assumed it wasn't hardly open at all. but there it was today, with the lights on and the door unlocked as i walked past, and an inspiring thought crossed my mind that compelled me to stop in my tracks and return to the door in order to open it. you see, back in 1981 or thereabouts, my boston music fandom knew no bounds, and it most naturally extended to a remarkable little combo fronted by a trio of zamchecks (erika, betty and mark) known as "the make". (guitars by fritz drayton, because, you know, to me, it's all about the guitars, but we'll give some love to dean cassell and jim treacy on bass and drums, too, so nobody feels left out). the make weren't particularly famous among the retinue at bosstown records, just a good, honest band playing good, honest music, but they were talented enough to have put together a little ep called "democracy", and a tasty little hit single contained therein entitled "amy's home tonight".
how or why do i remember all this, you ask?
i'll tell you. i've been walking in the wilderness for 28 years... 28 years... because i made the fatal mistake once of putting off my purchase of said ep for just long enough for it to be sold out and run out of print. (such pressings didn't last long, and there weren't any mp3's to tide us fanatics over, either). by coincidence i had even run across a copy of it while canoodling with one of the dj's at the wellesley college radio station a couple of years later, but my motivation for sex had trumped any capacity i might have had for larceny at that moment, and even when they unloaded all their vinyl years later, and i was prescient enough to show up to try to bag that tasty biscuit, the holy grail of obscure boston music history had once again eluded me. and the yearning had come back to me, over and over and over again over the years. i've googled and i've ebay'd and i've looked and asked everywhere, (even pumping greg hawkes about it during last year's ukulele noir at johnny d's), but it's as if the music had never happened, except in my own imagination. people don't even remember the band, let alone the ep, let alone the single, and i'm always getting that "creepy old guy" vibe from folks whenever i start to go on about it...
back to shangri-lowell, the best place on earth:
ron, the twinkling-eyed proprietor of rrr records, asked what he might be able to do for me, and i started in with my usual don quixote spiel: boston band, the make, ep, democracy, amy's home tonight... he smiled a smile that, in retrospect, was clear that he knew it was there, and right where there was, but i was still not going to believe anything so fantastic to be possible right up until i was able to see it with my own eyes...
he went right to it. the exact cubby. pulled a handful of albums out to be able to read the titles... VOILA.
the make. democracy. amy's home tonight.
shangri-lowell, the best place on earth.
i bet there isn't another record store you could ever find in all creation that will have a copy of this EP. not even rrr records anymore, because i have ron's last copy. nowhere. no how. (28 years of searching would stand to prove it). and there it was, right around the corner from me, right downtown, in the best place on earth.
the rest of the story, as much as i can remember from the cloud of euphoria swimming before my eyes, included a carhart lined work shirt that fits exactly right and a set of chippewa boot laces of just the right sort and length, but that's all just gravy.
if it wasn't for headphones, there'd be a serious noise violation in shangri-lowell tonight.