Josh Rosenthal is best known as the founder of Tompkins Square label although after reading this book I think that may well change. From picking up a copy of The Record Store of the Mind you’ll be taken on a grand tour of Rosenthal’s music loving life. Described as part memoir, part “music criticism,” he’s not short on stories and revelations and I’m pretty sure there’s plenty more where that came from, seeing as he has spent his entire adult life in the music industry. He started at 16 when he worked as an intern at PolyGram Records. From there he went on to work for Columbia then Sony before setting up his own label in 2005.
His writing is engaging, full of great anecdotes and humour including crate digging confessions (and justifications for having such a passion). Whilst I certainly wouldn’t lump him into the same eccentric slot as Joe Bussard, he has nevertheless, like Joe, introduced into my world some great music that I would never have otherwise heard. He has more than helped brighten the light on the world of American Primitive Guitar through the likes of the now legendary Imaginational Anthem compilations and he has a canny knack for choosing some great curators: from the likes of Frank Fairfield to Ryley Walker which have led to some inspiring releases. The beauty of letting others curate is that he himself gets the joy of getting turned onto some great new music… I suppose such kicks are a bit like happening upon the best record store you’ve ever encountered, you just don’t know what groove that needles going to drop into next… and that’s pretty much how this book unravels. You’re not too sure where you’re being taken next but it’s one hell of a journey!
Alongside chapters that will excite those already familiar with Tompkins Square such as Obscure Giants of Acoustic Guitar and a fantastic final Old-Time List are plenty of surprises. As you’d expect, many of the chapters are musical landmarks for Josh, tied to a specific moments in his life. His coming of age album resulted in a surprise chapter on Eric Clapton (not a name I expected to see at all) that was inspired by his double live album Just One Night, prior to his “spectacular creative descent few rock icons have rivaled.” The discussion kicks off around what if the live album is the purest distillation of an artist, and the studio is actually the canned version?… Such musings set this out as a real music lovers book. This is just one small unexpected moment in the book but also one that typifies why this book works so well. It’s also a reminder of the importance of music in our lives… landmarks of our youth and ‘older age’ and all of what life throws at you in between.
In the opening of the book he writes
“In this book, I write about some stuff I’ve done in and around music over the past thirty years; records that I found or that found me; and records, people, and live music experiences that have forever changed the way I listen.
I hope you’ll be inspired!”
There are few books I can name that actually make such an impression as to change the way I think about music but Josh Rosenthal’s ‘The Record Store of the Mind’ is one. Part of the reason for that working so well is not just the rich musical history he can call upon but also his very frank and honest approach to talking about it. It’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. Buy this book, it’s like re-discovering music all over again!
“Josh Rosenthal is a record man’s record man. He is also a musician’s record man. He is in the line of Samuel Charters and Harry Smith. In this age where we have access to everything and know the value of nothing, musicians need people like Josh to hear them when no one else can.”
– T Bone Burnett