Tuesday, August 27, 2013

See Hear Now!

 
        I was lucky enough to work in 1990, for about 10 months, at what was undoubtedly the world's only store dedicated exclusively to fanzines, a 'lil emporium called SEE HEAR.
        The store was located inside a 300 sq ft basement on 59 east 7th st in Manhattan's rapidly gentrifying (at the time) East Village. I'd first heard about the place when Greg Ginn's post Black Flag outfit, Gone, played an "in-store" concert there. I missed said gig, but I can't imagine for the life of me how they fit more than 12-15 people down there, band included.
        
I got to know the owner, Ted Gottfried, through selling my fanzine there & spending countless of hours just perusing every publication like it was some kind of public library. I don't recall exactly how I got the job, probably because I happened to be there just at the moment when someone quit & decided to apply for his position. I had no retail experience, my last job had been as a foot messenger, but my connection to the current HC scene is most likely what drove Ted to hire me. Ted's background was the South Florida HC/Punk scene from the early 1980's & whatever was happening by 1990, scene-wise, was passé for him by then.
         I thought I was bought in to keep him informed on current trends in HC but it was I that got the education. Working there exposed me to all the under the radar influences that helped shape underground culture then and now. Everything from Robert Crumb comics, obscure B-movies, Body Modification pioneers, Apocalyptic Cult Leaders to outsider music like unhinged 50's Rockabilly/60's Free Jazz & Proto-Punk pioneers from decades past.
 
                                                      
           Apart from myself, the store's other sole employee was a DC to NY transplant named Reuben Radding. He'd grown up in the capital's HC scene, even playing in a pre-fame Dave Grohl related outfit called Dain Bramage. Reuben had a stellar taste in music, always making these detailed compilation tapes to play in the store. One in particular sticks out: Goblin's 'Suspiria' soundtrack on one side with Sun Ra's 'Space Is The Place' Lp on the other with a couple of James White & The Contortions tunes to fill up the remaining space. Still the perfect mix-tape in my opinion. I'll always remember when Nirvana's breakthrough song came on the radio in '91, Reuben turned to no one in particular and said: "Man, that Dave's gonna be a millionaire" & went back to reading some Jazz publication. 
 
                                  
      I met tons of legendary performers & writers during my tenure there, some highlights:
- Patti Smith coming down to sell us an unopened batch of her Seventh Heaven poetry books that'd she unearthed.
- Blasting some Gangsta Rap while Thurston Moore waited impatiently outside the door for me to open up.
- Meeting Nick Tosches at a book signing we held, hell of a writer & super nice guy.
- Talking to Twink of the legendary Proto-Punk band The Pink Fairies & having him autograph my copy of his solo lp called 'Think Pink'.
- Taking a picture w/Joey Shithead & Randy Rampage of DOA when they made the cover of MaximumRocknRoll.


      Seeing legends like Allen Ginsburg, Richard Hell, David Peel, Ornette Coleman, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Cecil Taylor, Legs McNeil etc.. come in on a regular basis was incredibly exciting. These pioneers of the whole 1960's-1970's counterculture were all unique characters that represented a NYC that's sadly, for the most part, vanished like subway tokens.

      I got let go in 1991, mostly due to me being chronically late. I was trying to juggle school full-time & also got way too involved with running a co-op record store some friends and I started. In a way it was for the best because I went back to being a regular customer, just going to See Hear with no retail obligations to worry about. Ted kept the store going until the early 2000's when he got some investors together & opened a new location on St. Marks that was about 4 times the size of the old one. I liked the new space, as it meant a hell of a lot more room to carry cool stuff, something the old store sorely lacked. Doing bigger & better meant a lot more headaches: higher rent, bigger staff, the need for security to be on the lookup for shoplifters. A lot of old customers complained of the loss of intimacy in the new space. That location soon folded & I heard Ted tried to make a go of it again on a smaller scale, but for whatever reason, that didn't pan out.

         I haven't seen Ted for a long time but always think of him & the store whenever I go down 7th street on my way to play chess at Tompkins Sq Park. His unique vision helped expand & turn on a whole generation, myself included, to an alternative view of popular culture & for that I'm forever thankful.

                                   
Down the stairs of the old See Hear location in 2013
                                     
Endnote:
My old co-worker, Reuben Radding, is not only a talented musician & astute music lover, he's also an accomplished photographer. A book of his Street Photography is being published by the end of the year, check out his site & pre-order one!
 
 
 


 

4 comments:

  1. Cool store and great read Freddy. Makes me wish I had taken the time to appreciate things more, smelt the coffee so to speak. Interesting how in a place like that, even at only 300 sq ft, you could truly get lost

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  2. I never really got to know See Hear since I was on the west coast for most of it's life. I always appreciated the fact that they carried my fanzine and it was a treat to finally walk into the store soon after I moved to the east coast.

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  3. I think I was the first employee of See Hear and that Ruben followed me. I had a South FL connection, so I could have approached Ted for a job myself, but Mykel Board suggested we all go out to dinner so Ted and I could get to know each other better. So, the three of us went out to dinner around the corner from See Hear and I had Indian food for one of the first times in my life. Really - it may have been the second time. Bottom line: Ted and I got to know each other better and he offered me the job. It was great and I learned a lot from all those "off the beaten path" books and zines, especially ReSearch. I also got introduced to all of Richard Kern's films and became friends with a lot of people due to my working there, at CB's and at San Loco. Three classic punk rock jobs! Freddy - I really enjoyed your blog. Keep it going!

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  4. I used to love this place! Thanks for writing about it!

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