A few months ago, Bill, the owner of Rainbow Music, spent several hours trapped under collapsed piles of CDs in the tiny back storeroom of his tiny music store in lower Manhattan.

You want that whiney Titanic song? Sure, it's on the bottom. You go get it, chump. Author's pic

He wasn’t pinned down by the weight. Rather, he was trying to carefully extricate himself, like a human Pick-Up Stick, so he would not upset the “order” of the CDs that had fallen around him.

Bill, who declines to give his surname (“I never give it to anyone”), claims everything inside Rainbow Music, located in the East Village just off St Mark’s Place, is carefully arranged. If so, the filing system is Mayan. Or Byzantine. Possibly Han Dynasty. It is not any known western methodology.

“The order is only in my mind,” he says.

People are welcome to browse but there’s a chance that the shopper will become overwhelmed and feel a sudden urge to flee.

“The average person gets nervous looking through the door,” he says. “The collectors come in and find plenty of stuff. They come back all the time.”

The other danger is there is so much great music here you will greedily start plucking CDs from the stacks.

Which is fine until you change your mind. He will become annoyed because he’ll have to put them back in their allotted places, which requires deep concentration as he enters the Kasbahric maze of his mental classification system.

There are no phone or mail orders, no online shopping. The ideal way to shop at Rainbow Music is not to shop there at all.

Rather, Bill, 70, prefers you hand him a note with a wish list of the music you are chasing and he’ll spend several days fossicking about the calamity-poised CD towers to see what he can come up with.

There’s really only enough room for two customers. There’s not even space for a chair. “If I want to sit down I have to go outside,” he says.

Bill opened the store 13 years ago, not from any wild passion for music but to give himself an interest. “We used to have a lot of Polish music when we started,” he says. “My ex-partner was Polish. People didn’t want Polish music.”

The shop may look like a hoarder’s traumatic nightmare but it has only been this way for a two or three years. When the CD stores of New York, big and small, started shutting down, Bill started buying stock.

His own musical love is jazz and New York dance hall music. His interest in rock and roll hit the wall in the 70s so he takes advice from younger collectors on what to buy.

I pick up a CD by Calexico, the alt-country band from Tucson.

“That’s very good,” he says.

“How do you know?”

“Because someone told me it was. And whenever I have a Calexico CD, it sells straight away.”

For the most part, he knows what people want.

“They look for Dylan, they look for Hendrix, they look for Iggy Pop,” he says. “Pink Floyd sells heavy, the Beatles sell, Iron Maiden sells. Kiss still sells. The Italians and Saudi Arabians like Kiss. Anything on Leonard Cohen I sell right away. Johnny Cash. And box-sets.”

Bill, who is also known as “Birdman”, not for any attachment to the prototype Australian indie band but for his fondness for chicken and turkey, says he was once a star on Wall St.

“I made a lot of money and retired at 35. I’m a multi-millionaire,” he says without any noticeable pleasure.

Bill says he’s been living off dividends all these years, but would never buy shares these days. “It’s too dangerous now,” he says.

Bill’s in the shop seven days, surrounded by 120,000 CDs, plus LPs, VHS cassettes and tapes. He is a small clue in a big puzzle.

“I’m not in it for the money,” he says. “I’m just keeping busy.”

One thing noticeably absent from this music shop is music. It’s more or less banned, for the benefit of the customer. “If I play music, it fouls up their minds, they can’t concentrate.”

I ask him if he’s ever thought of cleaning it up, putting everything in order – perhaps organizing things alphabetically, or by category.

He stares at me. “It can’t be cleaned up. There’s too much stuff in here. How could it be cleaned up?”


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6 comments

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    • TimB says:

      10:22am | 13/05/12

      A few years ago when I moved to my new place, we giving the bathroom a bit of a touch up. (Some new fixtures and replacing a few missing tiles). The issue was that the tiles in question were no longer in production. But there’s places around that stock spare tiles from back in the day, so we wandered over there to see what we could find. 
      The place was basically a giant storage unit stuffed full of hundreds if not thousands of boxes of tiles, with a single cash register at the front. There was no apparent organisation or ordering system to the boxes. Surely it woould have been impossible to find any specific tile design…

      But we handed over a sample tile to the guy out the front, he passed it to his assistant , and in under a minute they’d located and returned with a box stuffed with identical tiles. Incredibly impressive.

    • Jenni Higgins says:

      10:49am | 13/05/12

      Great article. Sounds like a quirky guy and an excellent place to visit, will put it on my “to-do” list for if I ever reach the Big Apple.

    • TheOzTrucker says:

      11:53am | 13/05/12

      I could clear it up. With a front end loader and a tip truck. Nice story. Not a political issue to be founf. smile

    • LaDiva says:

      12:31pm | 13/05/12

      This place reminds me of Da Capo Music in Glebe.

    • Mijanur says:

      02:04pm | 02/06/12

      71dI merely haenpped inside your blog while looking for any digital in the cowboy ad. I believed the ad was funny really laugh aloud funny. After around the week, I still laugh when it’s on.I’m not too sure To be certain along with your premise that an excellent author makes her site visitors feel smart I’m not a real fan for something which adds for the further dumbing lower of america, but possibly I’ll address that another time. For me this ad is not mean being over-examined it’s a joke and just you obtain it otherwise you don’t. And like every jokes, they’re never funny if you want to explain them. Really Ls was stretching when suggesting that how large the hats had something connected to the overall message. Further stretching if Ls thinks any kind of Dish’s audience knows they’re hq’d in CO. I’m taking a chance both genesis and reason behind the ad is always that when you find out about the completely new streaming feature, the hats and mustaches develop, all supported having a deadpan delivery. Either you think that’s funny otherwise you don’t.I’ve been a v . p . of marketing for 25 yrs and imho the ad was edgy and certainly memorable. I’ve posted the ad close to twelve pals. Sure, it’s mother-in-law general market trends but everyone believe it is funny save one my mother was without it either (she’s 80) and he or she usually likes off-the-wall humor .It’s interesting that u can funnel Liz Lemon yet miss that certain. Maybe I merely haenpped on something Liz’s humor commonly has a location which ad’s punchline is a lot more .oddly esoteric(?). Rather think Kenneth Parcell!Appreciate giving me the opportunity to comment.Rob21

    • No Hemingway. says:

      06:16pm | 18/11/12

      Congratulations.
      A piece of content previously known as journalism.
      Imagine this:
      Paul Toohey went out, found a great story and wrote it up.  He took a pretty good pic, too.
      This used to happen quite a bit in the old days.  It’s actually pretty cheap if you have good people doing it.
      It’s a joy to realise there are still little slivers of colour journalism in the world.
      Kids these days spend looking for something they can have an opinion about, rather than what makes a great story.
      Me?  Here’s an opinion which probably undermines my argument, but what the hell?
      As a reader, I don’t want to be told what to think.  I do want to read about what a good journalist observed rather than how they happened to feel.  I want it to be written.  In words - with structure, tone and discipline.
      Thank you Paul.  Thank God your piece is getting such a strong run.
      Maybe a little light bulb flickers for our modern editors?
      Could this (be still, be still) be a sign of a Massive “New “Trend?
      I hope so.  Whatever else, it was a really lovely, inspiring piece of reporting - and writing.

 

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