After arriving in Kingston, finding Brian’s Record Option was like a beacon in the night.
If you’re a vinyl collector or enjoy decking out your room with retro posters, you definitely know Brian Lipsin, owner of Brian’s Record Option. In 1980, over 40 years ago, Brian opened up his doors to the cratediggers of K-Town.
Since coming to Queens, I’ve spent hours on end in his store, piling through the endless bins of LPs of all genres. I recall once telling Brian I was looking for a classical record to accompany my study sessions. To my astoundment, next thing you know, he was on his hands and knees reaching for a dusty record in the back of a seemingly neverending shelf.
Through his years of operation, Brian has been through hell and back. After surviving a flood that wiped out over a third of his stock, and a pandemic that temporarily closed his doors, he has proven to be an unstoppable force.
This fall, an opportunity presented itself for MUSE to sit down and interview the man, the myth, and the legend himself:
I’ve noticed that every morning, you put up new posters to display on your storefront. Is there a method behind the madness?
Today, I got a few hundred posters in, and those are the ones I show first. So tomorrow, I’ll be showing the ones I got in today.
Usually, it depends on what people buy the day before, or the things that people ask me for. If there hasn’t been much action in the store, I do it randomly. Today, you’ll see a lot of Monet posters!
What are your bestsellers?
Lately, believe it or not, it’s been, Taylor Swift. I didn’t think I’d be the store for that, but I see I’m selling out continuously. If something is selling, I’ll get it.
A lot of hip-hop has been selling too; MF DOOM, Mac Miller, to name a couple.
I didn’t think you’d be a Swiftie, Brian! I must say, I’m part of the MF DOOM fan base and I’m currently eyeing your new copy of “Operation Doomsday”. Anyways, if you had to choose one, what record defines your childhood years?
There’s a picture of me before I learned how to walk and talk in a carriage, and I have a little 45 (aka a single or 7’ record) in my hands. I should put that photograph in the back of my store!
A record that defines my childhood would have to be Pete Seeger’s “Abiyoyo”. Pete Seeger was part of The Weavers, a leftist quartet that sang folk songs. During the ’50s, in the “McCarthy Era”, he was banned everywhere because of the communist agenda, so he used to play in basements. He had many children’s stories and one of them was about a giant named Abiyoyo.
It used to be Burl Ives’ “The Little White Duck”, but then I found out later that Ives’ during the McCarthy Era tattled on all the leftist musicians to save his career.
Good to know that Burl Ives was a snitch, I’ll keep that in mind. In the past, you’ve told me stories about your experiences living abroad. Have your international travels influenced your music taste?
I lived in Greece for a year, so I only really heard Greek music during that time. The exception is when I was on an island called Naxos, where there were almost no tourists. I was in my villa when all of a sudden I started hearing Carole King’s “Tapestry” playing. So, I followed the music to some street and stumbled upon a 20-year-old woman from Kansas. She was playing the tape from an 8-track machine.
Although she had a boyfriend back in Kansas, she fell madly in love with a Greek fisherman. Little did she know, it wasn’t true love because the Greek men used to wait for North American women to arrive at the ferry terminal and pull straws for them.
All of a sudden, while talking to her, the boyfriend came at me with a knife. He was jealous and thought I was stealing her away.
Anyways, in Greece, Carole King was the only music I heard.
Moral of the story: If you hear Carole King, do not follow the music unless you want to get stabbed. On a brighter note, when customer’s walk into your store, do you ever predict what they will purchase?
I never even try. I’m so busy doing my thing so I don’t have time! If people want recommendations, I would ask them a lot of questions.
I feel like if I owned a record store, I couldn’t help but pre-judge people’s music taste…Speaking of which, opening my own record store has always been a fantasy of mine. How did you start off?
I started off with $2000 in my pocket. I had a plan and said to myself, this is for rent, this is for telephone, this is for expenses, and this is for my record store.
There were 7 places in Ontario I was looking to start the store. I had a survey written, and Kingston won out even though Kingston was a shitty place socially at the time.
Are you happy you ended up in The Limestone City?
Oh, of course. I mean, it’s been 41 years now, so quite a success story.
I have to ask, have you ever streamed music?
Never, I wouldn’t know-how. I like physical copies.
Makes sense. Do you have any wild concert experiences you’d like to share?
Quite a few. My first festival was the Festival Express in Toronto. It was a train going across Canada taken by Janis Joplin, The Band, and the Grateful Dead in 1970. They basically stopped in every city from Calgary to Montreal.
At the time, I was working my first job in Leonard Cohen’s father’s factory, called Friedman & Co. It was a suit place and I was making $1.35 an hour. On a weekend in August when I was supposed to work, the festival was happening so I took off.
It was quite the festival, someone brought a thing of punch with acid, or whatever, in there. Everyone took a sip. I remember Janis Joplin playing at midnight, singing “Ball and Chain”.
I was near the fence and a guy wanted to buy my bracelet off me. I’d seen quite a bit of music already, so I decided to sell him the bracelet and watch the concert from outside the fence. The Gods must have been with me because the fence got broken down by the time I got there. At the end of the day, I ended up with money and a free concert!
That’s a badass story. I would do anything to see Janis Joplin in the flesh. Being in the music scene for decades, have you ever made your own music?
In short, no. There was a guy in the store the other day and we were talking about saxophones and jazz. He asked me, “Are you a saxophone player?”. I looked at him and said, “No, I’m a record player.”
Jokes on jokes. Thank you, Brian, for taking the time to answer my pressing questions.
Before leaving the store, I made sure to grab a Cannonball Adderley record with one of my favourite jazz tracks, “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars.” After shutting the door behind me, I left with a smile on my face and a ton of stories to share with MUSE readers.
If you haven’t already been to Brian’s Record Option, make sure to stop by at 381 Princess Street. He is open from Monday to Saturday, from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. I may just see you there!
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: TIANA LAM
ILLUSTRATION: EILEEN RAISBECK