Apr. 19th, 2008

badatapologies: (rodney on the roq III)
So today--Saturday--is Record Store Day. A bunch of independent record stores across the good ole US of A (and beyond) are celebrating their continued existence with giveaways, in-store performances, parties, special limited edition 45s from your favorite bands, and so on and so forth. It's a fun event (and clearly stolen from Free Comic Book Day, but who's counting?)

It seems weird to talk about record stores as a disappearing economic species, like they sell spats or vacuum tubes or trepanning equipment or something. There's a whole generation of people who think of music as files on a hard drive. Maybe they're better off, hearing more music firsthand than I ever did back then, but the culture of record stores--the exhilaration of hearing a new record for the first time, of hanging out with other music lovers, building bands and friendships and relationships over the shared love of some weird new record on the turntable--that's hard to match with limewire. Er, iTunes. iTunes!

I remember that first moment in my life when the record store mattered. I was probably 13, 14 years old, and I'd always loved music, but my whole life was going nuts, I was changing from the inside out and none of the music I had, none of the music I'd ever even heard could put words to what I was feeling. Nothing spoke to me, it was all just noise, especially on the radio in Phoenix, Arizona in the 80s. (Su-su-sudio. Enough said.) The last straw was the year my mom took me to Bill's Records and Audio in the mall for my birthday, and promptly bought me...Pat Benatar and REO Speedwagon. Because it was mandatory. That's all they had.

My new wave friend Christine told me that for the $10 I wasted on the Speedwagon, I could have bought three used albums at the Zia record exchange down the road. I liked the math, but I was nervous. Zia wasn't the shiny neon mallstink of Bill's. Zia was a ratty hole in the wall populated by characters out of a Penelope Spheeris movie. They didn't suffer fools gladly and they did not play REO Speedwagon. But the economics of the thing was too much to ignore, and I finally worked up the nerve. The first clerk I ever met there was a man-mountain named Gene Volkman, who wore flannel and smoked menthol cigarettes and was a walking encyclopedia of everything Frank Zappa, that guy who did the background music for that "Valley Girl" song I was constantly, constantly acting out. Gene looked exactly like Zoogs Rift, which is a reference I wouldn't know if I hadn't met...Gene Volkman, yeah. Every record in that place was the best record I ever heard. I started going every week, then every day. Within a few weeks I had traded in all those dud ZZ Top and Zep records my uncle gave me for Christmas to butch me up for dozens of new records from weird bands I'd never heard of like Sparks and The Smiths and the Residents and Echo and the Bunnymen and Tav Falco and the Virgin Prunes and Phranc and the Velvet Underground and Kate Bush and Big Star and the Replacements and the Minutemen and so on. A few years later I was working there, playing records eight hours a day and going home with all the new vinyl the label reps could foist on me. I was in bands, my friends and co-workers were in bands, some formed right there in the store. Some made it big, some didn't, but the store fostered and supported maximum creativity, both in music and in accounting. I was never really much of a hipster--despite the aforementioned laundry list, my love of indie rock was equal to but never greater than my irony-free love of, say, the Xanadu soundtrack, or Al Green or Bert Jansch or Merle Haggard or Andrea True or Melanie or Donovan--but I always took great pride in that moment when, like the catcher in the rye, I could save some desperate kid from a misspent life listening to Whitesnake.

I strongly encourage you to find your local participating record store (Amoeba's one of the many) and show them some support today. If only so you can tell your grandkids what life was like back in the olden days before you listened to music through the wifi implant in your head.

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August 2009

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