New record and book shop in Winston-Salem champions ancient ritual and community spirit
Maybe 18th Century Scottish philosopher/economist Adam Smith’s famous concept of the “invisible hand” was a mystical, occult thing. The idea helped explain the cold mechanics of capital, labor, profit and business, giving it a poetic flourish. The author of “The Wealth of Nations” envisioned an unseen force that moves markets and balances supply and demand, keeping prices and resources and work all dancing together in the name of commerce guided by everyone’s own self-interest. Smith probably wasn’t thinking of pagan energies or mystic symbolism, but who knows. The people behind Mesmerizer Records, a recently opened record and bookstore that also hosts live shows and other events, are down with the occult mysteries, and they’re prepared to inject a little ancient ritualistic oomph into their business. You might think you’re just handing over some cash for a sweet David Bowie album, but they view it as more than that.
Amanda Lindsey is part of the team of creative business people who launched Mesmerizer Records, which sells both new and used vinyl, on the corner of E. 4th St. and Patterson Avenue in Winston-Salem, on the spot of where Camel City Tattoo Shop was before moving up the street, around the block from Krankies Coffee, and a few doors down from the where Reanimator Records had been operating until late last year. Mesmerizer is also linked — spiritually — to The Black Lodge, an excellent small bar next door, with a pronounced occult vibe, part ritual lair, part shrine to the dead of the music/art/culture pantheon, part gypsy wagon, part hipster bar that seems to always play only the best music.
Lindsey, 35, originally from New Hampshire, is a musician and songwriter and sometime grad-student in the field of archeology. She’s a relative newcomer to Winston-Salem, having moved here in late summer of 2015, after falling in love with the city following some shows that her Chapel Hill band did here.
“I did not want to leave Winston-Salem,” says Lindsey. “It was my favorite show I’ve ever played in my life.”
Now she lives in Kernersville, working by day at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Studios, and coming into town to run the record shop, which is an afternoon and evening affair at the moment. The idea for Mesmerizer Records took shape in April of last year, when Lindsey and her friend Blake Tesh, a musician and bartender at the Black Lodge, took a trip to New Orleans to see The Cure.
Tesh says the spirit of healthy hedonistic anarchy, what you might call the safe and sanctioned release of unstable energies, was something that struck them about New Orleans and the culture of Bacchic festivities there.
“You don’t need to be controlled,” he says.
There’s a do-as-thou-wilt vibe to the enterprise. And Tesh sees The Black Lodge and Mesmerizer Records as businesses that are as much about atmosphere as they are about objects or drinks.
“Both places are in the business of creating an experience for someone,” he says.
Lindsey says that she sees a connection between archeology and record buying.
“The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is incredibly archeological,” says Lindsey. “I have that feeling when I look for records, for books – it’s like treasure-hunting. The field of archeology that I’m really interested in is objects, and how people keep them and discard them.”
Of course, over the last 20 years people have tossed out old ways of playing music and embraced streaming and digital technology, which leave little or no physical trail to rummage through. So the pendulum swing back to vinyl records and cassettes is something that makes sense to Lindsey, from a psychological perspective. The music industry might be dying, but people still love music and they often long for something that represents that.
“It seems like if they do want something, they want this beautiful thing, like a record,” says Lindsey. “They want something that’s tied into sensorial experiences. You can smell it and touch it.”
The 750-square-foot space at Mesmerizer could make you think of a sort of midden mound from the late 20th century, with compact layers of history there to be explored, only it’s alphabetized and aggressively curated so customers don’t have to do all of the digging and sifting. Votive candles and fragrant smudge stick give the place a rich olfactory signal, a kind of bottom-end smell — not the standard musty waterlogged funkiness of many record shops.
The location — as one focal point of Winston-Salem’s renegade arts and culture scene, with a history of creative performance, living, exhibit and shopping spaces — is meaningful to Tesh and Lindsey.
“We’re trying to hold on to an innovative spirit that was started on this block two decades ago,” says Tesh. “Music and performance and art is something that needs to stay on this block.”
In that spirit, the venue has already hosted a number of noteworthy and energetic events — a grand opening to coincide with the winter solstice, a yoga event to mark the new year, a potluck, dance and microtonal electronic music, and a sweaty and packed rock show. As students of ancient history know, many of our signature holidays were appropriated from or grafted on to key festivities in the pagan world; spring fertility imagery morphed into the Easter bunny; winter solstice rituals became the Christmas tree, pagan temples became the sites of early Christian churches. In the spirit of tipping the hat to the ancients, Mesmerizer will take part in a multi-venue love-a-thon event that will blend pagan, Christian and candy-and-card-selling capitalist/secular festival traditions.
The Valentine’s festivities will start at 9 p.m., on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Delurk Gallery (a few blocks away at 207 W. 6th St.) with a performance by Dark Prophet Tongueless Monk and Darsombra. At around 10:30 p.m. there will be a Lupercalia Love Parade. Lupercalia, in case you’ve never been much of classicist, is the ancient Roman festival, which was marked by public nudity and revelry as part of a purification ritual. The Winston-Salem Lupercalia parade will likely be a little more low-key, with revelers following a trail of heart-shaped balloons leading to Mesmerizer, where Judy Barnes will perform at 11 p.m.
Shows are free at Mesmerizer, in part because the expense of having someone tend the door and monitor comings and goings is too much for the space and the crowds, but also because Tesh and Lindsey want people to be able to come to the events, even if they don’t have a ton of cash to spend. Donations are collected, and those can be significant for performers. And if people don’t have to pay $10 to get in at the door, maybe they’ll be more likely to buy that Cure record or book of Borges short stories. The pair sees any money coming into their business as something that infuses the network of businesses and enterprises that all feed off of each other’s success. It’s a micro-economy situation.
“I think money is a form of energy,” says Lindsey, “and you should spend it on things you believe in.”
As much as commerce has been distilled down to a this-for-that logic for many of us, there are businesses that have a philosophy and a community-building ethos, a spirit of pooling people’s buying power to drive something that goes beyond simple profit. The people at Mesmerizer take their mystic principles seriously, and it doesn’t appear to be some sort of superficial occult dabbling. They mean it.
“We’re all volunteers here, essentially,” says Tesh. “We’re trying to raise a consciousness level. It’s bigger than money.”