Monday, August 23, 2004

Plays Well But Check Condition

So once again I find myself turning to the past glories of this fair city and reflecting on the marvel that was Peter Dunn's Vinyl Museum. There has probably never been a store more aptly named. With three locations (all now long gone) this warehouse of delights had to be one of the queerest items ever in Toronto. Packed from end to end with every manner of record and music related bric-a-brac, the store also had a very blatant mission which showed itself on every dust jacket, vinyl sleeve and all too often right on the cover. JESUS! Obviously run by a man of born again interests it was like he realized that this kooky rock and roll business that the kids were listening to was the way to get them back into the church.

We here at Alien Girl have recently been asked to add a little music to the lives of the patrons at the fancy new Drake Hotel so I began digging through what is left of my sadly depleted vinyl collection and I was amazed to see how many of my records had passed through the loving hands of Peter Dunn and his staff - all indelibly stamped with various passages from the bible - often stamped on a bit of coloured paper and taped to the cover or the insert. And then there was the mascot. That strange take on Sylvester (of Tweety fame) who wasn't quite well drawn or badly drawn but just seemed so ernest and simple and familiar. I never did investigate any further to get the lowdown on who the man really was or why he had record stores in Toronto and Orlando, Florida and seemingly nowhere else - or why he suddenly packed it in and left an incredible void in the world of record shopping in Toronto.

On any given day you could wander in to the Yonge st or Bloor st stores (and most likely the one in Etobicoke) and find the oddest items, rarities priced like deletes, total pop junk and every so often a strange score like a box of Rolling Stone magazines dating back to 1966 !!! All at super cheap prices. Deleted Funkadelic records still sealed in the days when nobody actually wanted this stuff, every Stevie Nicks record ever released, of course, Jonathan Richman, strange old rock operas from the early seventies, Christian rock... you name it.

I was reminded of how much of a void there really is after I went record shopping. Having spent several years on the east end of town I had the luxury of several good record stores with prices that didn't always reflect the true worth of the music but all too often you get skinned. Mr Dunn seemingly had no interest in that sort of business. What really drove this home was my first visit to Sonic Boom which could be said to be the only replacement for the Vinyl Museum in some ways although the primary booty here is the CD and not the record but they have recently started in on the used vinyl. The point is - it is an example of a huge store that could be full of the same sort of delights but is mostly empty.

And so we wait... perhaps one day we will see truckloads of inventory arriving from bankrupt record stores and warehouses but I have a funny feeling that the moment for this has passed and now the vinyl is in the hands of the premium price collector stores. There will probably never be another Peter Dunn... an honest store full of good and bad all with the stickered message "Plays Well But Check Condition" - good advice for anyone.


Blogger peaceful_harmony said...

Hey!! I'm the daughter of Peter Dunn. I appreciate the nice stuff you posted about his stores. I was actually just searching Google to see if I could find an old postcard of downtown Toronto with his store in it ( there's one with the Yonge St. Store when it used to be beside A&A's - also another record store, and Sam's). I used to play in his store as a kid.

The story behind the mascot: Actually, if you remember (depending on when you first came into to the store), there was a cat that lived in the store - later on he brought the cat home because he was getting blind from old age. My dad had that cat when he first started the business in 1978 (his first location was Kensington Market). The black and white cat, named Mingus - after Jazz legend Charles Mingus, was the inspiration for the funky logo - not to mention that my father also was a huge Looney Tunes fan and thought he wanted his mascot to be a cross between Mingus and Sylvester the cat. (His other cat –also black and white, which resided in the Bloor St. store, was named Alice Miranda “Coltrane” – for the jazz musician)

Also, my dad was originally Catholic, but when he divorced in the late 80's, he switched to a Baptist church, because as you might know - the Catholic church is against divorce and he felt 'awkward' being divorced, he felt that the Baptist church accepted him for who he was. He started the Christian labeling in 1989 - because Baptists want to express their faith in as many ways as they can, and he knew that a lot of people who purchased heavy metal music were likely atheist or agnostic and instead of deciding not to sell that type of music, he though he would at least try to send a positive message to the listener. A lot of these people were also adolescents - and these were before the days of parental advisory stickers - so I guess you could say that becoming a parent and getting divorced influenced his life in enormous ways and it changed the way he viewed music. And the stickers just progressed from being on only rock/heavy metal to everything in the store. Being Catholic, I thought it was a little much as well - but I can't deny that my dad's a really great person and he just loves God a lot and is not afraid to show it.

When my dad told me that he was closing his stores, I cried –not necessarily because of the stores themselves, but because of the fact that to me he had always been known as my “record store dad,” and I had always associated him with his stores and with records in general. The one thing that really sucks is that I started getting into older rock n’ roll/ and stuff life The Cure, The Smiths, the Beatles, Depeche Mode, The Clash, U2, jazz music and a lot of other kinds of music the year that he closed his stores – so I never really got the chance to stock up. Also, I believe that there will never be a place like the Vinyl Museum – they may try, and I hope they do for the sake of records, but the Vinyl Museum stands on its own. I loved the album covers that were plastered from wall to wall and the 45’s that hung on fishing wire from the ceiling. Peter Dunn’s was like the Salvation Army of record stores – so many for so little. Yeah for records!

T.J. Dunn

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a vicious rumour going around that your father wimped out and moved to Orlando, Florida! That's right, Florida, the state to which where all cold fearing old sister boys gravitate!

Say it ain't so....

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I woke up this morning thinking about the vinyl musuem and just tried searching for some pictures here on the internet. I used to love going to the store on Carlton just east of Yonge, back in the mid to late 1980's. I can still remember the smell of that place like it was yesterday, I think it was the vinyl I was smelling? I used to hunt through the racks weekly for the latest British imports during the second great British music invasion. I miss the place and time and have fond memories. Thanks Peter.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely entry Peaceful harmony. Your Dad is/was a Toronto Icon. I am now rethinking letting go of all my vinyl because of what I read about the mascat and the relgious sayings on all the bags I keep on my collection. It sounds like your Dad found peace and that is wonderful, you sound equally wonderful and say hi to him please. Wishing you both peace and blessing.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I certainly remember my forays to the record shops and comic stores of Toronto in my youth. Always a great outing. I certainly remember Mingus. Who hand painted all the signs of him on the storefront? Iconic!

12:43 PM  

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