Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ode To A Long-Lost Rock Music House of Worship: Freebeing Records (NYC, March 2009)

One of the greatest record stores that ever existed, the late, great "Freebeing Records," once stood at this exact location (129 Second Ave., just South of St. Marks Place, in New York City). Today, the location is hosts to a falafel joint, bizarrely named "Cinderella Snacklicious." Do you suppose that they misspelled it and meant to call it "Snackalicious"?

Freebeing Records was in business from the early 70s through to the 80s. It was a pioneering record store that sold good-quality, well-preserved, previously-played (used), Rock Music albums (vinyl LPs) along with a smattering of singles and new, still-sealed LP records. The store was there during the waning days of 60s-era "Hippie” Rock Music and served as a bridge to the 70s-era Punk Rock & New Wave moments which were born at the store’s home-turf: The East Village. Along the way, Freebeing featured and promoted albums by many local, unknown "East Village Bands" including The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Ramones, Talking Heads, Television and Blondie... to name but a few. In fact, Freebeing occasionally hosted record signings by some of these little-known local acts, such as the Ramones. Of course, they also served up more than a few tasty 70s/80s Classic Rock platters.

For much of the 70s and 80s, I spent hundreds of hours at and purchased hundreds (perhaps thousands) of albums at Freebeing. My first two purchases there were in 1973 when I got my 14 year-old hands on The Beatles two brand new greatest hits collections: the Red and Blue double albums (two albums that literally changed how I felt about and viewed the world). These two early purchases instantly turned me into a vinyl LP addict, a lover of 60s/70s Classic Rock, 70s/80s Punk and New Wave, record stores in general and, eventually, to all things HiFi.

Freebeing was a tiny space -- but it was always well organized and stuffed to the rafters with amazing music including rare, limited-run, reviewer or promotional LPs as well as independent and import records. Browsing through the bins at Freebeing was encouraged and was always a complete thrill (though the staff itself was never very helpful or friendly… but then again, this was New York and this neighborhood did have enough attitude to give birth to Punk Rock in 1975). Throughout the years I did many victory dances in its two short aisles as I found the "perfect record" for sale -- usually at a steep discount!

Adding to Freebeing’s Rock credentials was its proximity to several other NYC Rock institutions: The old Filmore East (just two blocks south, though it closed in 1971, its legend lived on); CBGBs (a 5-minute walk away); and Gem Spa (featured on the back cover of the New York Dolls debut album as well as on a well-known Ramone's photograph and T-Shirt). One block to the East, on St. Marks, is the tenement building that was used for the cover of Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti" album and, later, for the Rolling Stone's video for "Waiting For A Friend." Just a few blocks to the North and West were the Ritz (one of the preeminent Rock clubs of the 80s. It featured Rock Videos on giant screens before MTV existed and is where U2 had their US debut in 1981 -- I was there!) and the Cat Club (where I once happened upon a performance by a young, then unknown Rap act, Public Enemy). Finally, just a few blocks to the North was the Palladium (formerly the Academy of Music) which famously featured acts such as the Clash and Johnny Rotten's Public Image Ltd. in the late 70s (Yup, I was there for those as well). For me, this hole-in-the-wall store, Freebeing Records" was always the epicenter of all of this phenomenal Rock Music activity.

I discovered Freebeing Records while on walks with my dad to the East Village. We lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and, on occasional Sundays, dad used to take me for a walk to St. Mark's Place. I was only 14 years old then but I now realize that Dad enjoyed these walks because, back then, St. Marks Place was lousy with late-period Hippies... and Hippie chicks were rather free with breast feeding in public. Sometimes there would be 3-4 of them breastfeeding, back-to-back-to-back, right there on the curb at St. Marks Place. Ha! Well, dad's voyeuristic jaunts led to my discovering Freebeing Records which led to a life of record collecting and a deep and abiding love of all things Classic Rock. It also led to a lifelong affection for St. Mark's Place and Hippies (the idealize, "Hair" musical type Hippie, not the dirty, real-world type Hippie). Thank you Dad, thank you Hippies, thank you St. Marks Place, thank you FREEBEING RECORDS!!!

I would love to see some photos of the old Freebeing Records if anybody's got some! Also, I'd love to see photos of St. Marks Place and surrounds from back in the Hippie and/or Punk Rock days.

Meanwhile, I'll be posting a bunch of up-to-the-minute photos of St. Marks Place: NY's traditional home to the counter-culture: Beatniks, Hippies, Punk Rockers, runaway teens and occasional porno queens (I've seen Vanessa Del Rio, Annie Sprinkles, Heather Hunter and others there... don't ask me how I know what they look like!).

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