I don’t know much about music, unless you count the piano lessons my mom made me take when I was eight. I listen to Spotify in the car and when I work out, and I can get down to some TSwift, but while I appreciate music, I’ve never had a hunger for it. But what I can understand is passion in general. I can understand loving a hobby so much that it becomes a staple of your being, a grounding force, and maybe even a career.
For Gwen Berthy, owner of Charlottesville's Melody Supreme Record Store, a passion for vinyl records did indeed become a career. Gwen started his record shop on the Downtown Mall in 2010, after moving to America from France.
Gwen was wearing a colorful (very French-looking) scarf, had a genuine willingness to chat, and carried an evident deep love for the store that, in his own words, he spends too much time in. He has no employees, and most weeks he ends up working around 60 hours.
I don’t know anything about music. And I don’t want to know. For me, it is magic.
He sat across from me at a table in the middle of his store, and we talked more than anything about our passions in life. When I told him that I didn’t know much about music but I really loved books, he smiled and said, “I don’t know anything about music. And I don’t want to know. For me, it is magic.”
Gwen is not a musician. Sometimes I think that I am not a writer. But he is a listener, and I am a reader, and once we established our parallels we sat back to really chat.
We talked about the physicality of books and records, and how the words/music change when they’re digital. Gwen said the pandemic was actually great for his shop because people stayed at home and searched for hobbies to hold. Hobbies like the parallel ones we share: books and vinyls.
In a digital world, sometimes our choices become overwhelming. This is something Gwen helped me to articulate. The endless ability to skip songs and get small tastes of artists without purchasing a whole album is so different to him than the music world he grew up in. He said that as a kid, everyone would buy vinyls without knowing the songs they would hear coming out of the record player. Sometimes the record you chose would be great, but other times it was not at all what you were looking for. And there was magic in the mystery.
I agree with Gwen that there is something to be missed in the unknowing. With Google at our fingertips and Spotify, Apple Music, or Kindle apps on all of our devices, the world is ours. But sometimes, that is a lot of responsibility. Sometimes, it is more fulfilling to have a record you have never listened to or a book you have never read a review about in your hands. Gwen compared it to Netflix, and it made me think of all the wasted moments I’ve spent scrolling trying to find the perfect movie to watch.
With Google at our fingertips and Spotify, Apple Music, or Kindle apps on all of our devices, the world is ours. But sometimes, that is a lot of responsibility.
Gwen asked, “Do we need so much choice?”
I don’t know Gwen, I really don’t. But sometimes, I think about Blockbuster and how the few lines on the back of the DVD were all we knew about the movie we were watching, and how it was all that we really needed to know.
In a weak attempt to be journalistic, I asked Gwen to share what he wanted the world to know about his shop.
He replied with a grin, “Well, only that it is the best shop in the world”.