When Kristine and I moved to New Haven in 1989 so she could run the about-to-open Sam Goodys on Chapel Street (whose 20% off Saturdays are still legendary), we were on the verge of having seven record shops in a town of roughly 120,000 people. Think about that. We have one now. Most towns this size have none.
But on this national day of celebration (I’m sure many would think of it as a national day of mourning), I prefer to talk about the great majestic record shop of my impressionable years. Of a store that started in a second floor apartment on Bank Street in Waterbury, Connecticut. I’m guessing on the year here, but thinking 1978, give or take. It lasted there for only a year or so, then moved up the block into another second floor apartment over the Thom McCan shoe store on that same street, then after a few years in that location, moved into a sprawling space on the third floor of another Bank Street building that housed a jewelry store on its first floor, and an Arthur Murray dance studio on it’s second. Its original name was Cheapskate Records, and sometime during its run at its third location (yes, there would be a fourth, and now a fifth) became Phoenix Records. But it always remained Cheapskate Records to me.
Cheapskate was started and run by a silver-haired gentleman (gray way before his time), with crazed and brilliant eyes, and the ability to print in 6-point type. He was one of the funniest, most sarcastic people I’ve ever met. The missing Monty Python. His name was Professor Morono. Or simply The Professor to those who knew.
If anyone in my life has deserved the title of “professor” it was this man. He influenced my career, my art, as much as Holy Cross’ Sister Noreen who handed me Vonegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” and Brautigan’s “In Watermelon Sugar” during my Junior year of High School. As much as Donald Spotto who made me marvel at the wonders of Alfred Hitchcock during his course at the New School for Social Research. This Professor would on a weekly basis hand me the vinyl eucharist that would make me believe, make me see, make me into who I was destined to become.
Where should I begin? (Where could I begin!) The “I Will Dare” 12-inch from The Replacements, and later “Let It Be,” all the early Elvis Costello, it was where I bought “London Calling” for Christ’s sake. The first R.E.M. EP, Nick Lowe’s “Jesus of Cool,” The Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, Pere Ubu, Devo, Siouxsie, Tom Waits, countless picture sleeved import singles, live recordings (that amazing Springsteen boot from the Bottom Line). At one point before moving to New Haven, I had a wall of vinyl that measured about 15 feet wide and 6 feet high, with another few dozen crates in my grandfather’s basement. Don’t know how many albums that is exactly. But it’s a lot. And a good part of them came from Cheapskate.
But it was more than just about vinyl. It was about the friendship. The never-ending dialog. The Professor and his cohort, the lovely Diane. Music was our politics, our religion. And no one was a republican or a democrat. We were Clash fans or Pistol fans. Punks or lovers or modern rock, or even hard core. Hell, even heavy metal, or old time country. We were old school, new school, any school. It was about the music. The music was all that mattered once you walked through that door into the collection of crates packed so tight you had to remove a dozen albums just to be able to flip through. The walls lined with those breathtaking 4×4 posters. Could I possibly fit another on my apartment walls? But how could I resist Paul Simonon smashing that bass in 4-foot-square glory? (Quick answer: I couldn’t. And damn I wish I still owned that now.)
When time came to write my first novel, “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told,” I made The Professor a fictional character (as I did The Replacements), one who would have a profound effect on the Daughter of God during her teen years. Turning her on to what was truly important on this planet: Patti Smith (that opening line to “Gloria” so made her laugh), the aforementioned Costello or The Replacements, and of course Husker Du, and with a song called “Green Eyes” how could they not appeal to our lovely green-eyed savior? The Professor was her John the Baptist. Perhaps he was mine as well.
I miss those days. When traveling around with my Replacements documentary “Color Me Obsessed,” the one stop I always make in any strange town is at a record shop, if one even exists. A couple of them, if I’m lucky. I’ll buy something from a local band. And I’ll think back to the days when I’d walk in to one of those less-than-glorious locations — okay, they were glorious to me, Cheapskate Records was a cathedral. My church of rock ‘n’ roll. I’d be handed a stack of vinyl. It was what The Professor had for me that day. A respite from life. Or perhaps the gift of life. A little salvation. And a whole lot of inspiration.
Thank you, Professor. For everything.