The year is 1978. A young Miriam Linna has just moved to New York City to pursue a passionate dream.
“I’m working for Red Star now,” she writes in a letter to her sister back home in Ohio. “It’s Marty Thau’s record company and real cool. I work about four to five hours a day, get paid a hundred a week – I know that’s barely enough to live on… I can appreciate the fact that money becomes records when you trade long green for round vinyl.”
Thirty four years later, a shaky Linna reads the water-logged letter aloud to a group of teary-eyed volunteer workers. Hurricane Sandy has all but decimated that dream.
Norton Records is a Brooklyn-based record label and publishing company run by Linna and her husband, Billy Miller, for the past 30 years. Their oeuvre runs the gamut of everything rock and roll, from unreleased rockabilly to obscure garage. With over 400 titles, the small yet mighty independent label boasts an extensive back catalogue. The company stockroom, which was built in an industrial warehouse originally used to store dry goods on the Red Hook waterfront, was destroyed in the storm surge.
“The destruction is unreal,” Miller wrote in a Facebook update. “The warehouse was like a fort with giant iron doors…it was always dry as could be.”
“All I can say is that it feels like I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up and say, ‘Hey, I had a really bad dream last night,’” Linna said. “It’s a big giant shocking tragedy to the record company.”
Not only were nearly a quarter of a million record titles soaked and scattered throughout the expansive warehouse space, but countless archival materials of American rock and roll history. Photos, original fanzines, rare paperbacks and memorabilia, all destroyed, all irreplaceable. In addition, Kicks Books, the neophyte paperback publishing division of Norton, lost nearly their entire stock of brand new books.
“You open the doors and can’t even begin to think of what happened there,” Linna claimed. “It was like an earthquake or a hurricane! We opened the door and saw all the records, then we were like, oh my god, the brand new printed books! Oh my god the paperbacks!”
“The thing that got whacked the most was our 45s,” Miller explained. “Because we had tons and tons of picture sleeves for every release… we were able to keep them in print because we had extra sleeves for them.”
“Last November at this time we were having a big festivity about having a great label and 30 years of struggle and success and hard work and happiness and here it is, one year later, and we’re looking a total destruction of the mind,” Linna added.
But Norton has since begun picking up the pieces. Post-disaster, Linna, Miller and their familial staff have organized a massive volunteer-run
effort to salvage what merchandise they can. The hallways of their home have been packed with family, friends, neighbors and vinyl aficionados, stripping and cleaning wet LP records. Volunteers have been amazing; the outreach and support has been international.
“It’s very heartwarming to see people pay back what Norton’s been doing,” said volunteer, record producer and musician Matt Verta-Ray. Norton is not just music but an institution for helping artists. It’s a pleasure volunteering.”
“It was a tragedy averted by friends,” announced volunteer and radio DJ Dave the Spazz, whose volunteer-run New Jersey-based ad-free radio station, WFMU was hit hard by the hurricane as well. The storm claimed not only two of the station’s radio transmitters, but also caused cancellation of the annual record fair, a major source of income for the longest running freeform radio station in the country.
Among the personal items destroyed by the hurricane, Linna lost a box of her mother’s keepsakes – documentation of her family’s survival of WWII and immigration from Finland.
“I found my first records I ever bought, then I found the box of Hasil [Adkins] stuff. Then there was this letter about coming to NYC and working at this record label, Red Star. Marty Thau was my boss.”
As if by cosmic coincidence, moments after Linna’s heartbreaking reading of the 1978 letter, she received an email from Thau himself. His message was simple. “Keep the faith,” he wrote.
“I never thought it would happen but here it is happening and I’m positive and sure that we’re going to be alright and things are going to happen to make it come back in some kind of way.” Linna said.
Norton still needs volunteers at their home office in Prospect Heights. Please email Nortonrec@aol.com or visit www.nortonrecords.com to find out how you can help save their company.