Friday, June 22, 2007

Neighborhood Record Store

The little photo of Sea Level Records that's been in the permanent right column of this page is there along with photos of Echo Park because it's one of the places where the neighborhood expresses its ethos. After five and a half years, it's closing, on June 25th. Sea Level has been basically a piece of art, and you can read about its reluctant auteur, Todd Clifford, and his reasons for closing, in the June 7 issue of the Los Angeles Record. You can't call Sea Level anything but a success; at a time when almost no one thinks about opening a small independent record store, it made a modest living for over five years by knowing and helping to consolidate a community and a style. It was consciously competent in doing so: it became a gallery space, a place to get haircuts, a performance space, and a mailing list that suggested music events for the weekend where the list members might encounter each other. It promoted local bands, especially The Silversun Pickups, and vice versa (this match is no coincidence: The Silversun Pickups are very much the community band of Los Angeles inclusiveness and sweet hipster depression). Sea Level was free of the self-congratulatory insiderism that you find in a lot of video rental stores and independent or used record stores, where the staff are trying to keep up some desperately cheerful false performance. As you might guess by its name, Sea Level had a persona--"Sea Level Todd"--and a poetics of kind diffidence. Strangers talked to each other at the in-store performances, and you'd usually find people such as older security guards from the bank down the street who'd wandered in and were tipsy, bewildered and appreciative, and would start trying to tell you something about how anyone can communicate with anyone. Sea Level knew what was nice about the neighborhood, and reflected and multiplied it. If the message of Sea Level's closing is that all this competence and desire can be just too hard to sustain, its ever having been there demonstrates something remarkable, that even at this very late date in our civilization, a community and an aesthetic can be the same.

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