To Know a City through its Music

pic1I’ve wanted to write about music for a long time. I think everyone does a little bit — thinking about music is so fun. Montreal is a big city, a musical city, so this seems like a good opportunity to write about music. I want to go to record shops. I want to talk to people who are passionate about music. I want to talk about records. Right now I want to talk about Melody.

Melody Nelson.

A few years ago I was voraciously devouring albums left and right, bouncing between genres, decades, and languages looking for something to really grab me. Finally, one night just after midnight, the first bass plunks of Serge Gainsbourg’s L’Histoire de Melody Nelson came floating through my headphones and grabbed me. It hasn’t let go yet.

Melody Nelson is the greatest sandwich ever recorded. It has hearty, delicious bread and fresh, cohesive innards. Melody Nelson is bursting with flavor, originality, and charm to rival any great album. Sitting at a lean twenty-eight minutes, Melody Nelson certainly packs more flavor per second than anything else you can put into your ears. The album has myriad strengths, but really, ultimately, it’s just cool. The music would sound corny from any other artist, but Gainsbourg is so indestructibly confident in his delivery that the listener can’t help but feel a little embarrassed at how cool the album is. Melody Nelson makes James Dean look like John Boehner.

Suffice it to say, I love the album. I also have a bad habit of giving it away, like some kind of Francophile evangelist. I’ve bought the vinyl three times, and given away all three. Two of the people I gave the album to never listened to it, and the third never spoke to me again. It’s okay, it was worth it. Maybe one of the two will give it a listen someday. Maybe they’ll never talk to me again. Maybe they’ll call me up right away. That would be really swell.

Now I want a copy for myself. I want to say that I’ll hold on to this one, but I’ll probably give it away. The pic2album is really hard to find. I’ve only ever bought it online, I’ve never seen it in a store. I figure there is likely no better place in the world, besides maybe Paris, to hunt for a vinyl of Melody Nelson. So this is my quest. I will scour the record stores of Montreal, seeking out my white whale in the form of a dirty French record. If I can’t find Melody, I’ll get a local album recommended by someone at the store.

Today I went to Atom Heart, on Sherbrooke and St. Denis. It’s a small, cozy place, with a nice variety of vinyl and CDs — mostly recent stuff. As I walked in I was greeted by Raymond. “Allo, allo,” he said. “Allo,” I replied, trying my best not to say “hello.” “What can I do for you?” Damn, my H must have been too strong. I told him I was looking for Melody Nelson. He gasped, “My god, you won’t believe this. We just sold our only copy last week. It had been sitting on the shelf for months. The guy that bought it didn’t even know what it was. He asked me for a French album that would last a long time. I gave him Melody Nelson. If I had known you were coming…”

I told him it was okay, I didn’t really expect to find it anyway. He offered to order it for me. I told him I would think about it. In the meantime, I told him, I was interested in music from Montreal. He thought about it for a while, “Do you know Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arcade Fire, Tim Hecker, Timber Timbre…” “Oh, I don’t know the last one, Timber Timbre.”

“Really? Well their new album is really great. I think we… oh damn. We only have the CD, the vinyl is sold out. Anyway, it’s a really great album. It sounds like a high school prom gone horribly wrong.”

While Atom Heart’s selection may not be the most impressive in the world, Raymond was up there. For the next hour or so he went around the shop naming Montreal bands and picking out records for me. We listened to samples from a bunch of them. He had no reservations about opening brand new records for me to have a listen. One of his first selections, Siskiyou’s Nervous, ended up being my pick to purchase. “It’s kind of like Arcade Fire,” Raymond said, “with a little bit of Beach House in there. It’s nice.”

At one point Raymond grabbed his coat and got ready to leave. “You’d have to be insane to smoke in this cold — oh well. Feel free to listen to anything. I’ll be back in a minute.” I was the only other person in the store at this point, so I was dumbstruck by his generosity and trust. It felt great. I had been thinking about this store since the beginning of last semester — reminded of its existence every time I made the trek from the residence to the academic center and vice versa. I never went in. I was scared. Of what exactly, I don’t know. I guess some vague sense of francophone elitism mixed with music elitism. That was not what I found at all. The store is a warm, friendly venue for those interested in any type of music. If I can’t find Melody elsewhere in the city, I will likely be ordering it from Atom Heart.

– David Johnston, Game Programming Major, Official Blogger, Spring 2015