All The World’s A Used Record Store

A short essay from Haruki Murakami’s Murakami Radio.

I collect old record albums, mainly jazz. No matter where I travel I seek out used record stores in my free time. We recently travelled to Stockholm for three days and I spent the whole time hanging out at record shops while my wife spent the whole time pursuing her hobby, antique tableware hunting. By the end of the trip we’d amassed such a heavy collection of old records and tableware that I felt like I was going to get crushed to death on the way home. We didn’t do any sightseeing the whole time we where there. We make a strange couple.

The best way to find quality used record shops is to approach locals and ask them if they know any good spots. I circle them on a map of the city. I’ll ride the subway, hop on a bus, and drag my suitcase all over town on foot. I plan out my route and hit up a bunch of shops in a day. Sometimes I’ll rent a car. I’m not discouraged when a place ends up being closed for the day or turns out to be a heavy metal specialty store. “No big deal,” I tell myself. I should probably channel that energy into something more productive.

I might be exaggerating a bit, but used record shop owners are a strange bunch. Maybe I’m stranger. The guy who ran one of the shops in Stockholm was this completely bald crotchety old man. At first he was unfriendly, but by the third day (because they had so many records it took me three days to go through them) he warmed up to me. “Hey, wanna see the good stuff?” he asked. “You know it,” I replied, and he led me into the back storeroom. There were ask many records back there as there were in the front!

The back room had a little bed and a sink area just big enough to maybe make some coffee. I seemed like lived here alone, sorting through records day and night, examining their condition and assigning prices. The unprocessed records waited in piles. Those records that were too precious to be put out in the front of the store sat on a shelf. They were sorted by artist and were preserved with the utmost care. Seeing the way this guy lived made me sad, but I didn’t say anything. It’s not really my place judge. He let me spend the whole day combing through his special collection. I had a blast. Now that I think about it, that day spent in the back room of some used record store is more of a journey than going to sightseeing spots everyone says you have to visit. Shakespeare’s great insight was that “all the world’s a stage.” I, Murakami, wish to state that “all the world’s a used record store.”

When you go to used record stores for many years like I have, you can pretty accurately identify when a record was first sold just the way the jacket smells and feels. Its weight and texture is enough to immediately identify it as an original or a rerelease. I know I’m repeating myself here, but I’m sure there’s something more productive I could be pouring all this enthusiasm into…