Greg came in the kitchen and in the tone of voice you use when someone has died, told me The Magic Shop was closing in March. It feels like someone died. Even to a minnow in the vast ocean of the NY music scene, a carpetbagger from the north who wandered downtown occasionally to see what the hubbub was all about. For those of you unfamiliar with The Magic Shop, this studio has been an icon not only of NYC, but of music in general for 28 years, recording an astonishing number of seminal rock records and archiving and preserving historical folk and world music treasures. (A sample of the artists who recorded at the Magic Shop: David Bowie (both The Next Day and Blackstar), The Ramones, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters, Norah Jones...)
Every time a legendary studio or club closes, there is always a sense of great, irrevocable loss, of mourning, interspersed with the usual discussions of how it's a new world now and the business, the city, everything is constantly evolving. The times they are a changin', and nowhere is this more true than in NYC. There's plenty of blame to go around: technology, the economy, consumer apathy, greedy landlords...
I'm not so much of a Luddite to bemoan the technology that has enabled us to create and consume music with an ease and convenience never before available. Indeed, I wouldn't have been able to make my records without it. But for all the opportunity afforded to DIY with home recording technology, with the internet, there's still no substitute for sitting in a great sounding room with other like-minded individuals, and creating something out of the voices in your head and the ghosts in the room. Great music, like great wine, comes with a sense of place. Places like The Magic Shop are our musical terroir.
As artists, we feel the weight of responsibility to take up the torch of those greats that have blazed trails before us. There is an indescribable feeling of history, of inspiration, of, as the studio name implies, magic, when one enters spaces such as these. If music is our religion, studios are our cathedrals.
A few weeks ago I re-watched the closing episode of "Sonic Highways", the fantastic music/travelogue series by Foo Fighters. I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to gain inspiration and a better knowledge of the great music cities of America. That last episode featured NYC, and particularly The Magic Shop. Steve Rosenthal, the owner, spoke candidly about the financial pressures facing the studio, and how he doubted the future of a studio that had survived 9/11. Dave Grohl even stepped in and offered millions of his own money to help The Magic Shop buy their space and thus ensure their future. The offer was declined. I went to bed thinking, "If even a rich, famous rock star like Dave Grohl can't save a place this amazing from the inevitable, what hope is there for the rest of us?" I don't know the answer.