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The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz
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's review
Dec 03, 2009

it was amazing
Read in December, 2009

The Vinyl Princess
By Yvonne Prinz
Harper Collins
ISBN# 978-0-06-171583-9

"I've always loved independent music stores because the staff is usually there because of a genuine love and appreciation for music…some of my greatest music discoveries have come from picking up an album at an indie store and the cat behind the register saying "You like this man? Have you heard of so-and-so?" I prefer to shop where people understand me and the music--the music I like."

--Brother Ali

“Folks who work here are professors…”
--Tom Waits

Armed with wry and delicious cynicism, a deep and bottomless emotional sensitivity and more musical smarts than a multi-degreed musicologist, Allie--Yvonne Prinz’s record store-working main character of her new book The Vinyl Princess--is the coolest narrator of any book in recent memory. Gainfully employed at Bob & Bob Records in Berkeley, the street smart sixteen-year-old lives to hover a needle over the rotating black body of a well-chosen piece of vinyl and lower it into the groove. She’s an L.P. purist, a throwback, a vinyl-only girl walking lonely through a digital age. In a time where music is flashed back and forth from email to iPod to hard drive, Allie reminds us of the days when the listener was involved with the physicality of music; the days of making a mix in real time or tilting a piece of vinyl up to the light, holding your breath and hoping not to find a scratch.

Although Allie’s records are in fine, well-kept shape, the real scratches in her life come from other areas. She lives with her divorced mother, who studies Russian poetry and dabbles in disastrous computer dating; her realtor dad is remarried to a snooty new wife with a seemingly limitless trust fund and her best friend Kit is beset by boyfriend-in-a-band problems. To make matters worse, Allie’s mom rents a room to a mysterious exchange student who seems to be in secret league with their cat; the object of her affection may or may not be as shady as he seems and her love of music aside, Allie knows retail is retail and work is work and the two may very well be cramping her style. “Don’t get me wrong,” she says, “I’m well aware that most girls my age wouldn’t be relishing the idea of spending the summer in a musty record store. Certainly this isn’t the most happening environment for a girl in the prime of her adolescence.”

Whether it’s the colorful cast of record store employees, the resident Telegraph Avenue oddballs who parade around in old wedding dresses, or the quivering clientele who approach the record store intelligentsia trembling and witless, Prinz knows how to populate a book. Even the folks who don’t say much speak volumes. For example, the macabre backroom-processing Aidan, Allie tells us: “…takes misanthropy to a whole new level…He’s tall and whisper thin with a sort of bloodless look to him. He disappears into his environment like a chameleon. It seems that his only desire in life is not to be noticed.”

Assuming the identity of The Vinyl Princess, Allie begins to blog about vintage vinyl and as the book progresses, so does her fanbase. As she blogs away about everyone from David Bowie to Randy Newman, the vinyl junkies of the world begin to marshal together and suddenly Allie has a viable audience. She also has an audience of potential boyfriends. One follows her around with homemade mixes and arcane minutia about bands, while the other looks like he’s in a band although he never really talks about music very much at all.

When a string of robberies on the avenue start to make their way closer and closer to where Allie works, eats and hangs out with Kit, Telegraph begins to take on a more sinister look. Prinz deftly darkens the streets with the finesse of a skilled painter and each new burgled business marks a wrinkle of fresh understanding for Allie. It is, in effect, the slow loss of innocence and it’s done with elegant and expert precision. Never has a coming of age novel used its surroundings so effectively to illustrate the unexpected ways we end up getting older.

Far more sinister than the robberies is what is becoming of the independent record store and the beleaguered Bob, whose business hangs on the precipice of breaking even and oblivion. “In the old days,” Allie tells us, “when dinosaurs roamed the earth, students actually shopped at Bob & Bob’s for their music, but that was before downloading became de rigueur, effectively killing independent record stores.” Prinz’s book is the first to address the ever-shrinking roster of record stores and while Bob & Bob’s potential demise hangs in the background of the novel, by the end it moves front and center and never has this issue seemed more pressing.

“God only knows what I would be doing now had it not been for the records that l have discovered and loved as a result of buying records and being turned on to new music from independent record stores,” says former Ride singer Mark Gardener. He continues: “If we lose the independents then we lose a total culture of people who are aware that all the interesting bands and music start at this place and are fed by music lovers directly on a personal level rather than a sea of corporate mediocrity.”

And if we lose indie record stores we’d never get a chance to meet people like Allie. And that would be a shame.

--Alex Green

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message 1: by Mel (new) - added it

Mel I loved your review so much. I agree with you all the way. I need to go to the library right now and pick up this book.

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