Norton Records, back in 1988. It's hard to remember this now, but at the time the two main formats were vinyl records or cassette tapes. CDs were an expensive medium for classical and jazz fanatics, and if my memory is correct the earliest CD players cost something like two thousand dollars. LP's were definitely waning in popularity, and cassettes were the highest selling format....and don't forget the most miserable format of all, "cassingles," the majors' feeble attempt to replace the 45 rpm record with a two-song cassette tape. If you were a normal alternative rock or heavy metal band in 1988, you put your new release out on cassette, and it would possibly be released on vinyl if you were signed to a big indie or major label. There was no "hip" association with vinyl at the time. It wasn't cool like it is today. Mainstream people hated it. A lot of people thought the pressing plants for vinyl were going to go out of business (and a lot of them did) during that time.
I remember asking Billy Miller if the Untamed Youth album would be
released on cassette, since I was very worried (insert sad horn sound
here) about our band's commercial potential in the marketplace. Billy's
response was that "cassettes are for Madonna." When the Untamed Youth
came to New York to play, Billy took me in the Norton-mobile to the
pressing plant to see our record being made.
Billy Miller looked at a stack of reject 45's and pulled out a red vinyl
45 called "Roaches" by the Court Jesters. "Hey, this one is a good
doo-wop song about Roaches, you have it?" I replied I did not, but I
knew I certainly needed it. Soon my world would revolve around doo-wop
sounds about Roaches, one-man band songs about government cheese, and
surf songs about monkeys.
Somehow I knew, though, that this was my place. A world where a
pancake-shaped molded vinyl particulate would be obsessed over as though
it were the Shroud of Turin by a group of unemployed, broke jackasses
that really, god bless 'em, really really cared about the music. They
could tell you about alternate takes, they could tell you about which
pressings were vinyl and which were noisy styrene, they could wax
philosophical about how Hasil Adkins and Jerry McCain had been separated
at birth, even though one was white and one was black. I felt all the
same things, and I knew that Jerry Lee Lewis alternate takes were
important to me, too, even if they didn't mean a damn to the friends I
had back in Missouri. For that moment of recognizing and accepting my
fellow species of lowlife music-obsessed, record collecting miscreants, I
owe Billy and Miriam and Norton Records a huge thanks.
It saddens me now to think of the Norton Warehouse, submerged under
Hurricane Sandy bilge water, those precious biscuits of vinyl
waterlogged. Some of those priceless nuggets have my own precious
teenage angst garage band music recorded on them. I remember lugging
those boxes down the stairs nearly 25 years ago, and it makes me damn
proud to know that Norton Records has hung in there that
long--prospered, at that.
I know that the good people will come together and help save what
records can be saved, and people will help Billy and Miriam recover from
this tragedy. Norton Records is too damn important to let some flood
water put 'em out of business, where Madonna had failed to do so. You
can't drown the loud sound, indeed!