Electric Sarods, Comic Books and Lucky Strikes

08/05/2009 12:28 AM |

On a recent rainy spring afternoon, Music Inn owner Jeff Slatnick sat on a red folding chair outside the storefront on W 4th street, telling stories, answering customers’ questions and hiking a football in the slick street. Slatnick, in his mid-sixties, has worked at the small Greenwich Village music store and repair shop since the 1960s. Back then it was a record store, but now the records are in the basement, and the dark wooden cabinets that used to hold them overflow with instruments.

From the upstairs ceiling, hundreds of harps, sitars, washboards and horns hang from thick twisted wire. Tall hand-drums and rain sticks pack the middle of the room, allowing space for only a few customers. Yet despite the cramped space and obscurity of some of the instruments, Slatnick and the young employees at the Music Inn welcome anyone who enters with broad knowledge about world music and a wooden stool to sit and play. Here, creativity comes before business.

Slatnick said that he has been interested in the spiritual side of Eastern music for many years. In California in the 1970s, he studied the sarod, a fretless string instrument used in Indian classical music. Now he’s building an electric one that slides and plays loops. He said that the recession has called for invention. “There’s less money around, but it’s inspired us to do more interesting things,” he said.

Another creative project is the Music Inn comic series. Slatnick invents story ideas, and the young creative types who work at the store put them on paper. Inside the “art room,” a basement closet covered in superhero comics and photographs of naked women, Issac Boyce and Joe Siena split cigarettes and draw and write the comics. Boyce, 21, of East New York, worked at Sock Man on St. Marks Place before he showed Slatnick his portfolio and started drawing full time at the store. Siena, 20, of the Lower East Side, was unemployed but a friend of Coulee’s when Slatnick paid him to organize and shelve the records downstairs. He writes dialogue on the steep basement stairs when he’s not helping around the store.

Work and art and hanging out harmonize amid the dusty phonographs and totem poles; throughout the afternoon, several of the employees’ friends crouch down the steep basement stairs to chat. With Slatnick among them, the place becomes a lively retreat. Still, there’s a strange absence of music. Despite being in the music business and having lived in this music-crazed city for decades, Slatnick said that he has no desire to play old favorites. “Listening to records is like watching other people have sex,” he said. So for now, Slatnick and the gang are concentrating on their own creations. “Hopefully the projects that we set out will get their just rewards,” he said. “It’s nice to have fantasies, but it’s good to keep your eye on the wheel.”

Go to the next page for photos of the store.