Damaged Norton Records inventoryCourtesy Norton Records
After Sandy, word of Norton Records' catastrophe spread on social media. A day or two after the storm, Rob Santos, an executive with Sony Music who had known the couple since the 1980s, decided to play hooky and help them.
"They've indirectly shaped my life in a lot of ways," he said, and "turned me on to tons of great music."
When Santos arrived at Linna and Miller's apartment, he found the parking lot and the hallways full of "assembly lines" of people ripping records out of wet sleeves, then cleaning, drying and re-sleeving them.
Everyone was washing the records with sponges and soapy water. The next day Santos introduced everyone to a record-washing device called a "Spin Clean." The manufacturer promptly donated a few to speed up the recovery process.
"I'm a record collector but I’m not as fanatical as Billy and Miriam are," Santos said. "I don't know many people who are. And I know a lot of them."
Norton hosted a marathon record-stripping session and party at the local club Brooklyn Bowl. Volunteers at long tables cut records out of their soggy shells and cleaned the remaining vinyl, as they danced to a DJ. They threw out several hundred bags of ruined album covers, Miriam estimates. Later Norton issued new Sandy editions of the album art for some of the wax they could save. (The flooded CDs could not be salvaged.)
"Every week there was some benefit show or raffle, a lot of different people doing a lot of different things," Santos said. There were benefits in Los Angeles, Nashville — where Billy and Miriam’s band The A-Bones, played — Montreal, Detroit, Austin and other capitals of cool.
In Red Hook, Linna saw delicate-looking young women "doing really ferocious heavy labor, without ever saying, 'I broke a nail,' or 'Oh, this is heavy.' It was astonishing."
Linna said she never expected the response she and Miller received.
"There were so many people that we have never met who just turned up, who said, 'I'm a fan of so and so or this record changed my life…What can I do?'" Linna said.
While the inventory of Kicks Books paperbacks was unsellable, the couple hoped to save as much as they could of their personal archives.
Their apartment became a kind of field infirmary for pop culture esoterica. Leah Loscutoff, an archivist then working for the Brooklyn Historical Society, dove into the couple's personal books and papers. She set out fans and weighed papers down so they’d dry flat and stuck paper towels between book pages to absorb the water, replacing them periodically.
"They're actually in pretty good condition for what they went through," Loscutoff said.
Other approaches didn't work, such as drying papers and photographs on outdoor clotheslines.
In all, the couple estimates they've saved about 70,000 records; they now sell grab bags of 10 45s for $20. Norton has also attempted to recoup losses by selling Sandy-themed artwork and "Sandy baptized" T-shirts.
"That feeling of hopelessness, we had it often and every day," Linna said. "I think if we had set around twiddling our thumbs and doing nothing, and just being sad, it would have turned into a wake, with everybody saying, 'Oh, poor you.' Instead, it wasn't any of that. Everybody came here with an idea of what they could do. Crazy!"
The books are gone. So are many records and much else. But a year after the storm, the couple can once again look to the future. They have a new storage space in the higher ground of their neighborhood.
Kicks Books and Norton Records survived.
What could be more punk than that?