The Mystic Disc: Empowering people for 40 years
The Mystic into which Mystic Disc appeared in 1983 was a very different place than it is now. Touristy, yes. But not yet boutique. There was a cobbler, a pharmacy, a hardware store and a sporting goods. The news came from Lou at Sunrise Farms. The groceries came from the A&P. There was no $35 Sea-to-Table meatloaf or waistcoated mixologists with hibiscus bitters. It was Ballantine bottles at John’s, with its forbidding one-way window, or Cakes and Cackles on the spinning stools at Bee Bee’s where you could see the mortician, the mechanic and Mr. DiMartino (he of wallpaper expertise) telling stories every morning in the corner booth. Yet even in 1983, Mystic had started to become a museum of itself holding its hand up to time.
Imagine then my 11-year-old self and my best friend Hunter walking into the Disc for the first time to find this outspoken radical named Dan Curland selling Australian indie rock, Bob Dylan bootlegs, and pancake thick vintage jazz. It didn’t make sense. Why would tiny, ossifying Mystic, with its preps in whale pants, get the privilege of this madman? This was a Boston thing. Or New Haven. But Mystic? Yes indeed, Mystic. But it wasn’t only location. It was timing.
It was right around 1983 that MTV started to be ubiquitous. Of course, when MTV launched, they didn’t have much to work with. You were as likely to see a live recording of Deep Purple as you were to see a new Bowie video. But MTV rapidly commercialized and started to define pop and metal. And the definition was increasingly narrow. Corporate. Momentary. Often mindless. So you would get a dose of that corn syrup and then go to the Disc on a Saturday and realize there was another entirely different world to mine. And, in this year of 2023, as the Disc celebrates its fortieth anniversary, I write to celebrate what that has meant to me and generations of others. Education. Enlightenment. But, mostly, inspiration.
The years of and around 1983 saw a revolution in underground music, a do-it-yourself movement of bands, zines, tiny vital clubs in dangerous neighborhoods, all fueled and broadcast by college radio. And this revolution wasn’t on MTV. It wasn’t in the pages of Rolling Stone. But it certainly was alive at the Mystic Disc, where Dan was stocking the music and literature that let us know we were part of something vital, that music hadn’t died at Altamont or Monterey, but more importantly that you didn’t have to be Jaco Pastorius to be part of it. And this is the lesson for me that endures. The Disc liberated us. It empowered us to believe that we were entitled to have a voice, to share that voice, but also, like Dan, to have the expansive sense to listen to others and believe their voice just as valid as anyone else. Think of it. Dan was front row at Woodstock. A true child of the 60s. And he, more than any other person, was the most generous in helping us to feel alive to our own moment. Without the Disc, I wonder, would I ever have discovered it? Would I have found WCNI? Would the band 17 Relics have formed to create the local scene that transformed our youth? Hard to say.
Key, of course, was the sense of continuum that informed all this. You didn’t just go down to the Disc to buy a record. You went because Dan and his staff, whether Jim Miller or Mike Logan or Rich Freitas, would help you to see context and history, to see how gospel led to Little Richard and how that led to the Wall of Sound that led to The Ramones. The Disc enabled us to see how the music and voices we loved extended far behind us but would also then continue to extend ahead. I cannot stress enough how this lesson has enriched my life, in that when I think about writing or making music or watching a film all the influences converge to give it depth and meaning. But more, in me, a humility for all those who contributed before so that we could build on their ideas to create something entirely new. The Disc instilled reverence. But it’s a reverence that gave us the irreverence to believe we too were entitled to make art.
It was my job recently to introduce Dan at the Disc’s 40th anniversary celebration at the German Club in Mystic. Due to a combination of nerves, emotions, necessary brevity and the generosity of well-wishers in the German Club bar, I didn’t do justice to Dan, the Disc or the event itself. And I thought it imperative, not just for me, but many others, to here try again with the benefit of a longer form. The Disc changed my life. I actually can’t imagine who I’d be if I hadn’t walked into the store that day decades ago. I carry the Disc with me in my head and heart everywhere. It quietly informs the choices I make. It empowers me to look behind the surface world presented by advertising and marketing to trust my own ear and eyes for worth. When I think about the authors and bands that have brought me so much joy and inspiration, I’m sure somehow it was the foundation at the Disc that led me to them. But most importantly, 40 years on, it is the enduring spirit of the Disc that makes me stay alert for new voices and sounds in the belief that life and art still offer more. Mystic, as I said, is a very, very different place these days. I know I speak for many when I express my gratitude that the Mystic Disc is not.
Dan Pearson is the director of admissions at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and a former reporter and editor at The Day.
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