East Village’s Birdman Abandoning His Nest of CDs and Cassettes
“Hello, this is Rainbow Music,” said the stooped man in the rumpled clothes, as he answered the phone in the middle of what could safely be described as a Grand Canyon of CDs.
“Yes, this is the Birdman,” he said. “No, that’s my name, I’m known all over the world as the Birdman.”
For 17 years, the Birdman was known among East Village music collectors as having the messiest CD store imaginable: Rainbow Music, on First Avenue.
During a visit to his shop recently, the Birdman reluctantly confirmed that his given name was Bill Kasper, and that he was closing for good at the end of the month, after running the shop seven days a week with little time off.
“I don’t need the aggravation anymore, and this is aggravation,” he said, looking around at the clutter. “It kept me busy, but now I’m tired.”
Collectors are already mourning the news that yet another mom-and-pop shop that added to the eclecticism of the East Village was disappearing.
“There used to be 20 record stores down here — J&R, Bleecker Bob’s, Rockit Scientist — but there are very few of us left,” Mr. Kasper, who is 73, said.
He estimates that he has crammed 250,000 CDs and perhaps 50,000 more video and audiocassettes into the small space. Just to enter the store, at 130 First Avenue near St. Marks Place in Manhattan, seemed to risk setting off a cascading avalanche of thousands of plastic cases.
“The store is so jammed, people are amazed by it, but then they see I got good stuff,” he said. “I can dig out anything I want. The thing is, I just don’t want to dig anymore.”
Even disorganized, the collection is clearly skewed toward jazz, blues, rock and reggae. Artists like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix are well represented in the inventory, but randomness seems more the rule.
In one tall stack of CDs near the door, a quick glance showed an album by Philip Glass atop one by Engelbert Humperdinck next to another titled “28 Soul Ballads.”
“I know where everything is,” the Birdman boasted. “I just have to find it.”
Indeed, Mr. Kasper would often take a request and disappear for perhaps 10 minutes of foraging, and then emerge holding a rare blues or jazz recording that a patron had requested.
“To me, it’s the only place to go for music,” said one customer, Gabor Molnar, 34, a Romanian immigrant living in Queens who was looking for rock and punk. “You give him a list and he’ll find it.”
Mr. Molnar had asked Mr. Kasper for recordings by the band White Zombie. Sure enough, Mr. Kasper rustled around the rear of the store and a few minutes later handed over the requested CDs.
“He found it,” Mr. Molnar said, beaming. He bought two White Zombie CDs and one by Boogie Down Productions, a 1980s hip-hop group from the Bronx.
Mr. Kasper said he retired at age 35 from a successful career on Wall Street and spent years doing very little until he opened the shop when he was in his late 50s to stay active.
“I’m just coasting on my dividends,” he said, adding that he disliked turning down good deals on CD collections, leaving his shop perpetually packed. Some time ago, he said, he simply threw out 25,000 CDs to carve out a larger entry to the store.
Still, it can be challenging for some customers.
As Mr. Kasper spoke, a large man stuck his head in and, perhaps realizing he could not squeeze into the space, said he would return later.
“If someone comes in with a big belly, they have to give me a list,” Mr. Kasper said. “Heavy people can’t fit inside, but they can tell me what they want, and I’ll get it for them.”
“Half the people open the door and don’t even come in,” he said. “They look in and laugh, and I couldn’t care less.”
His steady customers know enough to enter gingerly, moving carefully through a narrow alley, formed by tall heaps of CDs teetering perilously, stacked nearly to the ceiling. Even the checkout counter was largely swallowed by piles of disks.
Mr. Kasper said CD crashes occur regularly, requiring lengthy cleanups.
“It’s an avalanche once you pull the wrong thing,” he said, adding that a major slide a few years back left him trapped for five hours in the back room until he managed to dig himself out.
Mr. Kasper opened the shop in 1998, and has been on a month-to-month lease for several years. He said his son had expressed interest in taking over the inventory and selling it online; the final week of September will be spent moving everything into storage.
In fact, the Birdman said, looking over the mounds, “I’d really be happier if it all disappeared.”
PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE ON THIS MAILING LIST PLEASE RESPOND WITH 'REMOVE' IN THE SUBJECT LINE. IF YOU ARE RECEIVING DUPLICATE EMAILS OUR APOLOGIES, JAZZ PROMO SERVICES ANNOUNCEMENT LIST IS GROWING LARGER EVERY DAY.....PLEASE LET US KNOW AND WE WILL FIX IT IMMEDIATELY!