Bleecker Bob, the Village’s ornery record king

Bleecker Bob in the Village in his heyday.

BY STEVEN WISHNIA | There are a handful of records for which I remember where I was the first time I heard them as vividly as I recall where I was on 9/11, albeit with more pleasure. Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” watching the BBC’s “Top of the Pops” show as a seventh grader in Edinburgh. The Patti Smith Group’s “Horses,” in a dorm room at Stony Brook University. And the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.,” a British-import 45 I bought for $3 at Bleecker Bob’s on Macdougal St. on a cold leaden-skied day in 1976, and spun obsessively in my Brooklyn apartment.

The store’s last location, at 118 W. Third St., closed in 2013. Its owner Bleecker Bob, born Robert Plotnik, died Nov. 29 at the age of 75. He was the irascible potentate of the scene of record collectors and rock obsessives who perused its bins for obscure ’60s garage-band discs, bootleg LPs of unreleased Bob Dylan songs and live Patti Smith shows, and the latest imports from the British punk and post-punk scenes.

“For those who knew him, he was both lovable and extraordinarily obnoxious,” said Tommy Dog, who started hanging out there as a precocious preteen in the late ’70s. “He was a true force of nature.”

Bob used to throw him and rock scribe Lester Bangs out “almost every Friday afternoon,” he recalled. “We’d get into these debates and Lester could be a tad loud, and being as young as I was, I really was a fun challenge for him.” But there was “not a drop of real anger in it,” he added.

Record geek and tour manager Bryan Swirsky first went into Bleecker Bob’s as a punk-obsessed adolescent in 1978, spending more than $200 on discs by the Buzzcocks and the Adverts. When Bob found out it was his bar mitzvah money, he gave Swirsky a free import copy of the Heartbreakers’ “L.A.M.F.”

“Whatever Bob was, that one moment overrode the 99 percent of the time he was a prick,” he said.

Guitarist R.B. Korbet, singer in the early-’80s punk band Even Worse, said she learned a valuable lesson in business when she sold the store a slew of 7-inch records in the early ’90s. Bob paid her $5 for a copy of Heart Attack’s “God is Dead,” Jesse Malin’s first record. He put it on the wall for $100.

“I was gobsmacked,” she said. “He said the price wasn’t based on its actual value, but the fact that if he stuck it up on the wall like that, someone might eventually be tempted to buy it for that price.”

The store’s first incarnation as Village Oldies on Bleecker St. led to a seminal compilation: Future Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, who worked there, was inspired to compile his 1972 garage-band anthology, “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968,” by the 45s in stock by the likes of the Count Five and the Blues Magoos. Critics coined the term “punk rock” to describe bands whose drive and attitude exceeded their depth and talent — and made great records both despite and because of that. Music downloading and high rents have since devastated record stores, and with that, their role as have-you-heard-this social centers for music geeks.

My old band stopped selling our records at Bleecker Bob’s in 1982. When they quickly sold out of our second single, Bob called us up and barked at our guitarist, “Hey asshole, I need another 10 copies.”

I still have that Sex Pistols 45, though.

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