Dan Curland's Mystic Disc was recently named one of the best 50 record stores in the country
There are ghosts in those grooves.
Vinyl recordings — albums, singles, EPs — operate on an Edisonian principle of a stylus that rides the endless groove burned into the plastic. Presto! Music! Now, think of all the millions of records that have provided much solace and triggered emotions across the spectrum of human experience.
If you're of a particular temperament — a true Music Head, for example — you can almost get spiritual about the revenant power represented by the history contained on all that vinyl. This is particularly true in a used record store like Mystic Disc. The iconic and influential shop — not much bigger than Leslie West standing next to a few stacks of Marshall amplifiers — has been a source of pleasant refuge, tucked away in the touristy Steamboat Wharf, for almost 37 years.
And, last month, Vinyl Me, Please, an influential online site dedicated to the vast tribe of vinyl record collectors since 2013, chose Mystic Disc as the Best Record Store in Connecticut. The honor is part of their "50 Best Record Stores in America" essay series. There's no recipe for a "best used record store," but it goes far beyond just having a wide variety of stock. It probably helps, too, if the clerks are not the hipster snobs so accurately depicted in "High Fidelity."
Mystic Disc owner Dan Curland is far from a hipster snob. In fact, Curland's nonjudgmental philosophy of music is best captured in one of his favorite sayings: "There are two kinds of music: Music I understand and music I don't understand."
A longtime bass player who was actually at Woodstock and counts Graham Nash as a close friend, Curland is an incredibly popular part of the Mystic community. For almost four decades, from the stool behind the counter in the Disc, he's served as guidance counselor, community activist, guru/advisor, optimist, raconteur and musical cheerleader. There are no days off for Curland, who's 67, grew up in Norwich, and graduated from Norwich Free Academy — and he doesn't want any days off.
Curland spoke by phone about Mystic Disc and his life adrift in music. Comments have been edited for space.
On hearing about the Vinyl Me, Please essay:
I'm very humbled in the best of ways. There are a lot of good stores in Connecticut. Rich Martin's Telegraph in New London. Rich isn't my competition. He's my friend and I'm glad he's got a store that turns people onto music. So many stores. Red Scroll Records in Wallingford.
On his philosophy of stock:
Some places have millions of records and, you know, 20,000 records online. We don't do that. I modeled my store after the hole-in-the-wall shops in Greenwich Village, and I keep it that way. We're limited in what we have and we're a used record store. We don't sell books or have in-store concerts, and I think it's cool that a lot of stores DO do that. But I let things take their own course and I've always done it that way.
On the — OK, maybe slightly snobby — Curland Cardinal Rule for Mystic Disc:
If you don't have (Miles Davis') "Kind of Blue" in your store, you're not a record store.
On the opposite side of the coin and how he's still learning:
I bought a record collection a few months back. It had original pressing of "Midnight Marauders" by A Tribe Called Quest. I had no idea! You know where that record is right now? It's on my turntable! Where was I in 1989?! I'm an idiot.
On his reputation as a bit of a Wise Elder — albeit in the context that a lot of parents wouldn't have immediately thought:
I think it took a while (laughs). All the time, I hear, "My kid used to hang out in your store, and I was terrified — and now I'm thankful. It was a great place for them to hang out." That's what I love to hear and that's what I love about music and selling records. If I've been lucky enough to have influence over some of the kids over the years, I'm proud. I love that a lot of kids have worked here, or became musicians, or just met friends here and hung out. It's all about people and music and communication.
On the elixir that is music:
Face it, music keeps you young. Period. I'm 67 and I feel like I'm 40. I am NOT going to end up on a beach in a floppy hat. I love coming to my store. I get here and I plop on a record. Maybe it's old and classic; maybe it's something new. It's fun every day, even if it's a slow week. There's no angst.
You know what I like? I like it when someone comes into my store. Buying a record is low-investment. You don't have to buy a record. We'll talk a bit and listen to music. But I definitely appreciate when someone wants a specific record or discovers something in my store. You want the Carpenters? Punk? Jazz? Michael Jackson? It's all got value. I'm honored you come to my store to invest in any of that.
If you want music, you don't even have to come to my store. But go find it somewhere because that means music is important to you and I want you to have it.
A few more sonic tidbits from Dan Curland's Mystic Disc career:
The one disc he'd love to see come through the door: John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" or "Blue Train" ("But so many more!").
Among the famous musicians who've visited Mystic Disc are: Graham Nash, Dr. John, Charlie Hall (War On Drugs drummer), Flo (of Flo and Eddie, not the insurance commercial), Kerry King (Slayer), Johnny Winter (twice), Joe Louis Walker, Jai Johanny Johanson (Allman Brothers Band drummer), and Joe Vitale (drummer/vocalist with Joe Walsh, Amboy Dukes, the Eagles, and Crosby, Stills & Nash).
The albums in his private collection that are "untouchable": "All 2,000 of them! Understand that not every LP I own is rare; I do not keep stuff that I don't like, so some are very rare and some are worth $10. But I Love them all the same."
Did he ever sell something at a cut rate pricecheap and then find out it was worth a LOT? Not that he knows of, but Curland says he's bought in bulk, later discovered something in the collection of great value, and then called the original customer to give them more money. "Keeping my karma clean," he calls it.
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