Grandma’s Clever Strategy.

A big way I got hooked on original Broadway cast albums involves a store that used to exist in Manhattan called The Record Hunter. I grew up in Baltimore. My NY grandmother (my mother’s mother, widowed at 47 and never remarried) would mail me the cast albums of the latest Broadway hits, and they always came shipped from The Record Hunter. I loved getting those 12 X 12, stiff cardboard boxes with The Record Hunter’s label on them.

She lived at 86th and Broadway, so The Record Hunter, on Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd, wasn’t necessarily more convenient for her than Sam Goody’s or King Karol. I suspect the reason it was her store of choice was the name! I think she found something clever about it. The idea that they would “hunt” for you, for the unusual record you sought. It would have tickled her particular sense of humor, and she would have wanted to reward them for their intrepidness in the hunt.

west side story original cast albumMore often than not, the records that arrived were for shows I didn’t know about. And that was great. When, as a child, someone sits you down to tell you a story, you don’t expect it to be a story you’ve already heard, and you might be disappointed if it were. Well, each of these albums was a brand new story. I immersed myself in them, imagining the plotlline the songs told, believing in the reality of the characters, constructing scenarios to account for their dreams and ambitions, building stage sets in my mind to show me how the show looked, how it felt, as I listened.

I think my grandmother’s hooking me on cast albums was a quite conscious strategy on her part. On the most obvious level, she wanted to bring me closer to her by sharing an experience with her. (The album was always for a show she’d attended and enjoyed, and, having seen the show alone due to her circumstance, she wanted to recruit an ally in this pleasure, as we all might.) But on a deeper level, she was looking to create another, permanently inescapable bond with her, to make sure I’d never stop thinking about her despite the miles that separated us. She was NY. The shows were NY. The association was unbreakable. Every time I listened to one, she’d know she was in my thoughts. She still is.

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