Ask him how he’s doing, and he says, “Okay. I’ve had better days. Better weeks.”
Melody owners Jack and Suzy Menaseposted the announcement on their Web site on Jan. 3. “We are a family owned business and it has been our privilege getting to know many of you so well,” it read. “Melody was not just a store; it was a community where customers shared the joy and magic of great music.”
Neon orange stickers mark every item in the shop, littering the place like funereal confetti. Signs all around the room read “Entire store now 20% off. ALL SALES ARE FINAL.”
Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic, is lingering just inside the entrance.
“Jack told me on Sunday,” he says. “He told me the bad news and we just fell into each other’s arms. . . . I can’t imagine being without them. I came in here the first night I got to D.C.
“There’s not a bin in New York City or L.A. like that bin of classical new releases,” he insists, pointing to the display by the door. “You come here to learn. For serendipity. . . . What you’re looking for turns out to not be what you’re looking for. It’s what’s next to it. It’s an experience.”
It’s true: The cacophony of the store is something the Web can’t replicate. It’s right there in the structure. In Melody, opera is sandwiched between blues and jazz, which sits beneath a giant poster of Justin Bieber’s Bambi-in-the-headlights gaze. Buddy Guy bumps into Gilbert & Sullivan. The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” grabs at the Ramones’ “Rocket to Russia” across the way from Debussy. Chopin backs up to the international section, which may as well be the United Nations, the way every nationality is properly represented.
In the back, Jerry Lanning is mulling over the jazz selections, just as he’s done two or three times a week, every week, for — how long?
“Forever,” he says. “Forever. I was here in 1977, year one. They always had what I’m looking for: the best selection of jazz in town. I mean, most other record shops haven’t even heard about Sue Raneyor Blossom Dearie.” When Melody is gone, he says, “It’ll be sad. Very sad. It won’t be the same.”
He flips through another row of CDs. “You think about it too long, it’s like you can’t even breathe. It’s like you’re drowning.”
* * *
That Melody is closing is not nearly as surprising as the fact that Melody didn’t close years ago. The store had managed to remain, for an unrealistic amount of time, immune to the reality that Melody is an institution almost entirely at odds with the way people purchase and listen to music.
Most listeners demand that music be acquired instantly and transported anywhere. Melody traffics in the art of the browse, the appeal of the bulk. Someone who craves efficiency would sooner download a song on iTunes than wander down to Dupont Circle and search through the store’s stacks. But surely this is news to no one: Try to remember the last time you bought a CD, not at Target or Wal-Mart or Best Buy, but in a small store like Melody.