The Village Idiot

by Robert Charles-Dunne from London, ON
Oct 25, 14

Ten years ago, I wrote you a letter about our record store and the people who shop in it. You were kind enough to read it on your show and that led to a remarkable phenomenon. People from across Canada would arrive at our store, stick their heads in the door and say:

“Wow, this really IS The Vinyl Cafe.”  

How odd that I have been so pleased to be favourably compared to something that doesn’t actually exist.  

That our store still does exist after eleven years of business is itself a minor miracle.  
What are known as Mom & Pop shops, shops like the Vinyl Cafe that Dave runs, have been closing in record numbers. Others teeter on the brink.  

Yet our store is now twice the size it was when I last wrote to you, and it could double again if only I could find the right space.

Much has happened in the past ten years, Stuart. Eight months after my last letter to you, my sweetheart and store partner Patty was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She died five excruciating months later. I will not dwell on this. I mention it to illustrate two important things:

The first is that, no matter the inevitable outcome, and despite some glitches in her medical care, Patty received the finest treatment humanly possible unto the very end. I have always been a hugely proud Canadian, but was made even more so by the respect and love and attention Patty received toward the end of her journey. Even as I mourned her decline and loss, I was buoyed by the fact that we, as Canadians, are compassionate enough, wise enough and realistic enough, to ensure that we are not doubly victimized by the financial disaster that afflicts those in similar circumstances in some other countries.

Terminal illness is bad enough without being compounded by bankruptcy. As imperfect as our system may be, and whatever improvements might be made to it, truly, we are blessed.

The second, entirely predictable point, is that the loss of my so- loved partner reduced me to an empty shell. I was suddenly alone – and faced with raising two adolescent boys and running a small business without the heart to do either. The record store had been Patty’s dream, not mine. Until her illness, we hadn’t planned that I would work much in the store. But with her illness, I had no choice but to take the reins and make the best of a bad situation. I have devoted the nine years since her death to creating a store that Patty could be proud of. Some day I will achieve that goal.

In retrospect, I now realize that these twin responsibilities - the boys and the shop - helped me remain focused when I might otherwise have succumbed to the despair. They were dark and trying times, Stuart, and the greater the gloom, the more I invariably, even unconsciously turned to music to soften the pain.  

In the process, I realized what I had long known but hadn’t ever articulated. There are two types of people who buy music ¬ at our store, and I presume at all the other record stores too: those to whom music gives great joy, and those to whom it gives refuge from pain that might otherwise be overwhelming. For the former group, I run a record store where they can find things they like. But for the latter, I am a musical pharmacist who dispenses reasons to continue in the face of daunting odds.  

Music is tremendously powerful therapy, even when the universe unfolds in dreadful and unexpected ways. I like to think that I’ve become a more empathetic person as a result of my own difficulties, and those that I now recognize more clearly in others. I certainly have become a believer in the potency of music to alter lives.

Scientific studies have shown the importance of music. It can re-wire and stimulate the brain. It can serve as a bridge between us and those who are suffering dementia. It can help teach foreign languages. It can connect peoples of different cultures who otherwise might have little in common. It can help transcend tragedy. It can impart great personal joy. It can spark glimpses of the divine. It can unite nations and it can impart wisdom. It can help people fall in love. And it can save souls. I know, because it saved a wretch like me – a lyrical line I wouldn’t know were it not for music.