Sunday, January 15, 2017

Black Cat: That crime noir bookshop & 70s music lovers

Black Cat: That crime noir bookshop also for swinging 70s music lovers
by rick olivares

A bookstore, a quaint and real one and not those faux ones that sell school supplies, is a product of love, utter geekiness, and well, dreams fueled by prose, coffee, and music.

Among the hidden gems of Manila’s answer to New York’s East Village, is an unobtrusive bookstore up in the second floor where most people don’t even know there is a store.

“I ought to fix that one of these days,” promises the shop’s owner, Bob Araneta.

The “Black Cat” is the name of his bookstore right above the Grey Market and UVLA in Cubao X. The shop opened in April of 2016 and is the product of 30 years of dreaming. “I’m an avid reader,” Bob says belaboring the obvious. “After I retired from a long career in advertising, I though the time is right to make that dream come true. On and off for 30 years, I thought about putting up my own bookshop. And now, it’s here.”

And “here” is the “Black Cat”, so named for Cubao X’s collective pet black cat Lala that is actually owned by the proprietors of Habanero Kitchen and CafĂ© that is a stone’ throw away from Araneta’s shop.

“I was stumped what to name the bookstore,” shares the bespectacled and pensive Araneta. “All the original books I sold were from my personal and vast collection of crime books so I was thinking of a name for the shop along that line. But I couldn’t come up with anything. I noticed at the time we were putting up the shop that this black cat hung out in the premises. So it hit me, ‘Black Cat!’ And that’s the story behind it.”

“I intended Black Cat to primarily be a bookstore that specialized in crime books. The simple reason being that crime is my favorite genre. And there are a lot of quality books in this genre that doesn’t get a lot of attention. I have many books that do not appear in the mainstream book stores and if they do, it isn’t much. I had in stock more than half the bibliography of Ruth Rendell and PD James among many others. However, in the past few months, I’ve added books about medicine, motoring, entertainment, and music not to mention selling vinyl records also from my personal collection.”

He has on sale biographies about Brazilian musician Cayetano Veloso, the Rolling stones’ ageless guitarist Keith Richards, Fleetwood Mac, and film director Martin Scorsese among many others.

While most of the books are from his collection that he started out as a teenager, some have been sourced from collectors of the same tastes. “As much as possible, I do not carry the books you will find in the regular bookstores but I guarantee you that you will not find a bad book on my shelves. Besides, I cannot compete with them so I dabble in the rare, hard-to-find, and personal.”

So personal that it has been a little difficult for Bob to sell his books and records. Last Christmas, Bob sold one of his favorite books, “Into the Red: 22 Classic Cars that Shaped a Century of Motor Sport” that was written by Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason. The book came with a bonus CD that recorded the sounds of these classic race cars.

Outside his career in music, Mason regularly took part in motor races. He drove classic cars and parlayed his love for them in that book that was published in 1998 to great acclaim.

“As a fan of motor sports, I loved Nick’s book and it is a little difficult to come by nowadays. The fellow who bought it was quite insistent. Selling it… was hard. At least, I can take consolation that it is in the hands of someone who will love it just as much as I did.”

So why sell a personal collection?

“For so long, I was straddling the line of collecting and hoarding. I have leaner collection now. But don’t think selling them is easy. You can say that they are all a piece of me. I have this mania for protecting my books so if you notice, they are covered in plastic. The browning of the pages I cannot help because of the humidity in our country.”

“I still have some 80 boxes to unbox. Hopefully, I’ll get to that soon.”

Here are five pieces on sale at Black Cat that Bob Araneta says define not only him as a person but his shop.

Boom boxes.
Araneta has several on sale. “They are emblematic of my love for music. Aside from vinyl, I still listen to cassettes and make mixed tapes the old fashioned way -- from vinyl records to cassettes! If the boom box breaks down, there are spare parts available. The problem is finding people who know how to fix them.”

A mounted Austin Powers movie poster.
I bought that in Times Square New York in 1997. I love pop art. And there are a few others in the shop that are also for sale.

Bound books and magazines.
The bound volumes on top reflects a period of my life when I would collect magazines and have them bound. I have bound collections of Spy magazine, Stereophile magazine, and comic books like the old Stan Lee Daredevil.

The Getz-Gilberto vinyl record.
Originally released in 1964, this record by American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto introduced the latter’s music to America. It is the first non-American album to win a Grammy Award. “This is a pretty special album. It stands the test of time. It isn’t that rare as it is still available. I kept most of my good stuff. What is for sale covers a pretty much wide genre from rock to pop to Brazilian music to jazz and classical. They haven’t sold that well. The classical does well though.

The “Oscar the Grouch” type trash can.
This actually isn’t for sale. It’s a decorative trash can. It looks old but it’s new. I found them in this Japanese surplus store in Cavite. It isn’t for sale unless someone makes me an offer.

The Black Cat is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, most Saturdays, and Sundays from time to time from 3pm onwards.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Re-discovering vinyl

Re-discovering vinyl
by rick olivares

As an old-time music fan, audiophile, and collector, the return to popularity of vinyl records has been a welcome development.

As early as in sixth grade, I would save my allowance and on weekends do some extra work like delivering newspapers around the neighborhood and selling this magazine called, “TV Times”. The money I earned I placed in this juniors savers bank account while most I used to buy my records which sold anywhere from P21-24 for single albums and P45-48 for double LPs.  

The first time I ever went abroad and that was in Hong Kong and I was in second year high in 1983, I purchased U2’s “Boy” and “War” albums which I incidentally still have and are in great shape today.

Eventually, through that decade, I amassed a collection of several hundred LPs. Ironically, when I began working, I stopped buying vinyl records as different priorities came to fore. More so when compact discs became popular and I shifted because of storing concerns. I eventually moved abroad and over time, lost much of that collection with less than 50 of them remaining.

In the last few years, it started out while on vacation – coincidentally, in Hong Kong – and I purchased a new vinyl copy of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Legend”. Then a friend of mine gifted me with one of those portable turntables. Ultimately, it led to me getting a proper and new turntable after my old one was in terrible shape after decades of disuse and poor maintenance.

While I have no desire to get back my old collection to what it once was – and that is impossible as most of them were original American and British pressings – I’m fine with picking up a few stuff that I totally enjoyed listening to on vinyl.

It seems timely that in a recent interview with U2 guitarist the Edge in Rolling Stone magazine, he said of his love for vinyl: “I’m aware that sales of vinyl records are going through the roof. It’s just crazy to see that. That speaks about so many things about what the artifact, the object of a vinyl record signifies to people versus a digital download, a file. People in the end, have an emotional connection with a great record and with the artist.”

Well said. And here are five albums that have a great emotional connection with me and that I loved playing on my turntable and what new audiophiles should try.

Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout (originally released in 1985)
One of my all-time favorite bands with a remarkable tune and wordsmith in Paddy McAloon. Love the intricate and multi-layered songs that sound great on vinyl. It’s like every time I listen to the album, I hear something new. It helps that perhaps save for “Faron Young” that I always skip and unfortunately opens the album, all are fine pop concoctions.

Synchronicity – the Police (originally released in 1983)
When testing out my new turntable, amplifier, and speakers, I pulled out the Police’s fifth and final album, “Synchronicity”. The track that I played was “Wrapped Around Your Finger” which is perfect for its high and low dynamics.

The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd (originally released in 1973)
This album by these British art-prog rockers makes a case for why vinyl was always a great format for music. There’s that great album art by Hipgnosis and some great music that at the time made use of novel approaches such as loops and multi-track recordings. And speaking of music, “Money” is a great starting off track for a side two.

What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (originally released in 1971)
The eleventh album by Gaye was a concept album where every song flows into one another and is about the point of a view of a returning Vietnam War veteran. It’s powerful. You sit down and just listen. Even four decades after this album came out, the songs and the lyrics remain strong and sound just as timely as ever.

Souvlaki – Slowdive (originally released in 1993)
This album came out in the post-New Wave era when alternative had taken over. Slowdive was one of those dreampop/shoegazer bands that came out when 4AD Records made the weird fashionable. And this kind of music just shines on vinyl.

Obviously, there are more records that will make any list as perfect choices on vinyl. But these are stuff that I enjoyed years ago and are once more on heavy rotation on my turntable at home.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reminiscing about some old records Part 1

In this summer of 1985, New Wave was about to end as we were entering the post-We Are the World. Heavy metal bands like Quiet Riot, Ratt, Van Halen, and Def Leppard to name a few were the rage. And other pop acts like Prince and the Revolution were popular.
Heading into first year college, these three albums all came out literally within three weeks of each other. I thought that these were the albums that really changed my tastes. 
Prefab Sprout's "Steve McQueen" introduced me to the music of George Gershwin. Gershwin begat the Rat Pack. You know Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. etc. From there I listened to Satchmo and Ella Fitzgerald.
Sting released his first solo album after the Police broke up and it was a jazz album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. That introduced me to saxman Branford Marsalis and drummer Omar Hakim who played drums for jazz outfit Weather Report and in Dire Straits' mega-successful album, Brothers in Arms. Both of course were part of Sting's new band. 
The Style Council, I knew of and liked because of Paul Weller. I had their Cafe Bleu album that introduced me to lounge, jazz, and French music. But Our Favorite Shop also got me into that Tamla-Motown sound. 
Save for Our Favorite Shop, I lost the Prefab Sprout album over the years. I managed to get a new one. And listening to them all over again, it's like not only being in a time capsule but remembering good days and loving great music.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Re-discovering a love for vinyl

I was in 2nd year high when this record came out. Back then single vinyls cost P24 while double albums fetched P48. Imported albums sold for a minimum of P100. The first New Order single, "Ceremony" was being sold for P120 at the old Odyssey shop at Shoppersville. Now that was a lot considering there were only two songs. Asia, this prog rock band featuring former members of Yes, the Buggles, and King Crimson, was selling for P110. If I wanted to buy the record it meant not eating for over a month considering my allowance was -- I could be wrong here but not by much -- P20 a week. And Asia was a hot band then.

I collected the deposit from soda bottles after class and did the homework of some of my classmates (I'd draw their art requirements or write their book reports). Took me three weeks but I managed to buy the album. Thank God no one bought it! To this day, I have no idea what happened to that album. But I did buy this in London last January 2016. Listening to it now on my turntable... I'm transported back to high school. The CD, and I have all of Asia's albums from the classic line-up to the later iterations, didn't make me feel this way. Sure I enjoyed it. But this was a Ratatouille moment.

This portable turntable was given to me years ago as a gift. While I like it, I prefer the real deal!