Mike Cooper’s place is bursting at the seems. Any day now, this rowhome’s going to swell up and discharge its dusty contents onto Allegheny Avenue. He’s got a lot of records. Piles and piles of albums everywhere.
He uses Master of Reality as a cutting board, Physical Graffiti as a pillow. The catbox is contructed from about a dozen copies of Ziggy Stardust. The litter, shredded British Invasion. Tres Hombres is a serving tray, London Calling a doormat, and Frampton Comes Alive is his mirror. Krautrock is spilling out the back door and some Grand Funk albums are bulging out the chimney. Need a place to crash for the night? Too bad, there’s about four dozen teetering towers of Hard Rock, Pub Rock, and Punk Rock in each of the guestrooms. The couch is in the living room somewhere, under a mountain of Leslie West albums. No room in the linen closet; that’s reserved for Roky Erikson, the Stooges, and about a dozen copies of On The Beach. Steppenwolf guards the medicine cabinet.
The whole situation is overwhelming and getting out of control. A man could drown in all that music. Cooper’s solution? Start selling.
He’s thinning out a collection 30 years in the making, shuttling it by the vanload to a storefront near the corner of Sixth and Girard—an address occupied by another record store, Tequila Sunrise, from 2006 until just a few weeks ago. (You can still buy records from Tequila Sunrise online at tequilasunriserecords.com). Cooper took over the space Aug. 1 and he’s calling it Borderline Records & Tapes. Think MC5, not Madonna.
The store, flanked by a now-vacant scratch and dent appliance store and an apartment building with a metal cage for each window, sits in the middle of a mildly historic block. Cooper remembers seeing Corrosion of Conformity and D.O.A. perform above a check cashing store at the end of the block. This was in the mid-’80s. C.O.C. vocalist Simon Bob Sinister ended the set balancing on the fire escape. The crowd was cheering for him to jump, and a young Mike Cooper was pacing on the sidewalk, arms extended and ready to catch him. Sinister did not jump.
Known in certain circles as The Rock ’n’ Roll Roofer, Cooper spends most mornings unrolling sheets of rubber on some roof or another. Afternoons, you might find him in any far-flung corner of the city, pedalling a tired 10-speed, in need of a shave and wearing an easy smile under a Flyers cap. Often, there’s a case of Milwaukee’s Best in his ragged backpack. It’s been this way for years and years.
A day off from work, each and every weekend during Flea Market season, finds him rifling through boxes and taking home as much music as he can carry. If somewhere a basement is being cleaned out, he’ll be there. A thrift store in an unsavory part of town? He’s there a few times a month. Yet another musician-type is selling all possessions to feed a drug-addiction? Cooper will show up, cash in hand. He gets his kicks from amassing a collection at below market value. His personal collection is unrivalled, and the excess stocks his store.
Borderline Records & Tapes (& Serving Trays & Doormats & Cutting Boards) is now open.
We’re going to say it: This moment RIGHT NOW is the most exciting in Philadelphia’s storied music history. Truthfully. No exaggeration. Gamble and Huff be damned.
PW's Music Issue 2014