That is how I discovered Manny and Iona Brozen’s The Fixit Shop.
I’d known The Fixit Shop was there and that it sold records, but I was loyal to Ezra and Rae Rubin and A Matter of Art. Also, The Fixit Shop had a tawdry name and looked tawdry – a grimy store front with placards in the windows for college concerts from the year before – and I kept avoided tawdry, especially when it came to music.
As I browsed the bins in The Fixit Shop for the first time, pointedly ignoring the two Vassar girls I had followed in, I found that the music there was not tawdry, not at all. The Fixit Shop had much more music than A Matter of Art did, bins and bins full of albums I’d never seen and artists I’d never heard of: mostly classical and jazz, but also a large international section with Greek music, Caribbean music, Italian music, even German music, plus the obligatory bin – Ezra Rubin had one too – of left wing folk music, Leadbelly, the Carter Family, the Weavers. I knew that I had graduated into a higher realm of record buying from that of A Matter of Art when I found an LP that had been made in Russia, with the notes on the back in Russian as well as English of David Oistrakh playing the Khachaturian Violin Concerto.
Manny Brozen looked exactly like Rembrandt in his self-portrait of 1660. I have no idea why I was familiar enough with the picture to make the comparison, but I saw the resemblance as soon as I walked in. Manny looked so much like Rembrandt that, no matter how often I visited The Fixit Shop, it never failed to strike me as a marvel. After a while, I realized that the Brozens were sick and tired of my remarking on it.
Although my allegiance shifted from A Matter of Art to The Fixit Shop as my record store of choice, Manny Brozen certainly did not replace Ezra Rubin as a cultural mentor. In fact, if anything, the relationship was reversed. I soon discovered I knew more about the music that Manny was selling than he did.
I did my best to enlighten him – about how Dave Brubeck broke the Western rhythmic mold in “Take Five”, about the riots in Paris after the first performance of The Rite of Spring, about how Tom Lehrer was great, but it really wasn’t music – but Manny wasn’t interested.
Manny enjoyed the record business – as much as a grumpy cuss like he was allowed himself to enjoy anything – but not because of the music. It was the records, the albums, that captivated him, the solid twelve-by-twelve or ten-by-ten squares of cardboard, available by the multitude, each with an artful cover, some quite striking, and each of which – thanks to the miracle of capitalism – contained a black (usually) vinyl disk that had intrinsic value and could be sold.
Manny’s impulse to fill The Fixit Shop with as large a variety of records as possible was more akin to that of a stamp collector than a music lover. He knew that the music inside the record cover determined whether it would sell sooner rather than later, and he read the music reviews in The New York Times and The Herald Tribune and had a subscription to Billboard to determine, with varying degrees of success, what the Vassar girls would be looking for each week, but what he loved to do was pore over catalogs from odd labels and small importers. How could he not order an album of Swedish jazz with a Klee painting on the cover or Balkan bagpipe music that pictured an old man in a fur cap blowing into a bloated sheep carcass?
Iona Brozen was the bright, bustling, over-attentive wife that grumpy old men often have. Her outgoing, busybody, “helpful” retailing instincts jarred with the cluttered, highbrow atmosphere.
A pair of Sophomores, French majors, enraptured with Un Voyage à Cythère and looking for some music to go with it: “Debussy, you think?” “What about La Mer?”
“La Mer is very popular,” piped up Iona, hovering nearby.
The girls hurried out. Popular was anathema.
I realize now how class-conscious I was then. I wouldn’t have used the word, but class was the reason that the Rubins, for all their political baggage, were still in my parents’ social circle, while the Brozens were not. How could they be, with the way they looked – Manny, unshaven, in plaid flannel shirts, Iona, with a perm, wearing voluminous flower-print peasant skirts – their “Brooklyn” accents and their topics of conversation? Iona liked to describe in detail the funny things their cat got up to. In my parents’ circle, pets might be mentioned fondly, but only in passing. It would have been infra-dig of my parents entertain their guests with lengthy monographs on how smart our beloved dog, Chuck, had been.
Although I was conscious of the difference in class or perhaps because I was, I felt comfortable with the Brozens, more comfortable in some ways than I did at home. For example, I could suggest to Manny what records he should stock, or even recommend, for example, that the blues section should be here and the Gregorian Chant bin there (not that Manny would follow my advice), but I would not have had the guts to suggest anything, anything at all, to my father about running his business.