A Right on Melrose

I took an alternative route this weekend for my photography walk around Hollywood. This time I found my way to Melrose Ave, a street I usually pass walking south from Hollywood Blvd. This time I took a right turn and headed west on Melrose, uncharacteristically.

The popularity of Melrose Ave on the weekends does not make it so desirable for me. I mostly prefer the quiet ambiance of the surrounding Hollywood neighborhoods, or the main boulevards but early in the morning when everyone’s asleep.

It was a few minutes before piano notes found their way into the urban techno funk blaring from the bohemian clothing stores and cafes. Some Ableton Live Hipster is sampling Chopin, I thought sarcastically.

It wasn’t until a few stores further down when the techno receded into the background and the Chopin sat squarely in the center of the mix. It was like being pulled by the allegorical umbilical cord back into the mother’s womb. The store was a pre-determined stop, I just didn’t know it.

Inside I found myself in a pleasantly well-sunlit vinyl record shop filled with albums towering to the high ceiling. On the turntable, the massive Mid-Centry console variety, sat like an alter in the front of the store. Resting on the console was the album cover: Chopin Valses by Dinu Lipatti.

Enjoying the unexpected musical interlude, a voice from the back of the store shouted, “Do you have a turntable!”

I walked towards the back of the store where I saw a plump and grouchy-looking man with a gray beard and glasses (appearing not too dissimilar to Francis Ford Coppola) seated in a wooden chair, the kind found in elementary and middle schools across this country.

“Do you have a record player!” he repeated.

“No,” I said approaching, “but I plan to buy one soon.”

The man’s face faded to distrust.

“You people are ruining everything.”

I tried to explain I wasn’t one of those. I was like him! A passionate audiophile, a musician, a lover of classical music and vinyl.

He wasn’t completely sold. “Digital’s unhealthy. It’s proven. We need analog. I’m trying to save the world one vinyl at a time!”

“I love analog!” I shouted, pulling out my Mamiya 645e. “See! I shoot film!”

A group of Russian tourists entered the store and the man shouted at them without missing a beat, “Do you have a turntable!”

Not wanting to disrupt his salesmanship, I wandered around the record store, intrigued. The collection was impressive. Most of the albums were recored pre-1980s - everything from Monteverdi to Stockhausen - and a great jazz collection too.

The man’s name is Sandy Chase. He’s the owner of The Record Collector on Melrose Blvd. Sandy wanted to study the violin with Szigeti and had the chance to play for him when the Hungarian musician was in Los Angeles. Unfortunately the Magyar maestro did not accept Sandy as his student. Sandy “The Record Collector” Chase fondly recounted a story about his mother taking him to see David Oistrakh in the 1960s, showing me the brown newspaper clipping pinned to his store wall.

When I told him I studied music in Budapest, he shouted at me that one of his favorite recordings is Bartok’s Contrasts performed by Bartok Bela, Benny Goodman, and Szigeti Joseph.

A few people entered the shop while I was chatting with Sandy. No one bought anything. I wondered if Sandy needed to work or if he did it just because he loved being around his collection - or if he’s really set on saving the world. We spoke a little more about music and I had an impulse to photograph Sandy.

“I’m usually shy about photographing strangers,” I told him, “however do you mind if I take your portrait in your record shop?”

He smiled and said of course I can.

“You’re alright,” he judged. “Can I have a print of the photo to hang here?” Sandy continued.

“Of course but until I get it printed, you’ll have to appreciate it on Instagram.” I smiled.

He laughed.

I took the photo, we shook hands and parted.

Sandy “The Record Collector” Chase