Saturday, April 19 is Record Store Day. What this means is the banding together of, literally, hundreds of independent record stores around the world to celebrate the irreplaceable and unique culture that the independent record store provides. The national event was created by Eric Levin, owner of Atlanta’s Criminal Records (and all of the graphics associated with the day were created by Mr. Henry Owings of Chunklet and Lauren Gregg of Kangaroo Alliance). Sure, we’ve all had the experience of the snarky, know-it-all record clerk and dealt with the frustration of wanting to support an independent business but needing something right then and the indie store didn’t have it in stock (which, often, is a whole ‘nother story in itself: a large majority of the blame for this lies in the hands of major label distribution, price fixing, exclusive saleability, etc. for the reason you couldn’t pick up some CD with the bonus disc on the day of its release.)
In the digital age there’s the mistaken assumption that a downloaded file delivers music in the same way that a hard copy of a recording does. Well, sure, to a slight degree in that the musical information is received is an auditory experience. But recorded music is also a very tactile experience which involves cracking the seal on a new LP (CD, etc), reading the liner notes while your nose fills with the aroma of freshly printed (or dusty and old) paper, sitting on the floor staring at the album cover art, reading the credits, etc. It’s a total package for many of us.
(If this sounds strange then just ask yourself what’s the difference between eBooks and books; or why seeing a film in a theatrical setting is not the same thing as watching a video.)
And even more than this is the experience of shopping at your local independent record store and poring over crate after crate of used LPs, out-of-print rarities, various old promotional curios, etc. I have spent, literally, thousands of hours in record stores (including time when I wasn’t actually working at one). When I was a little kid it wasn’t odd at all for me to spend three or four hours in a record store trying to decide which LP I would buy with the ten bucks I had in my pocket. I can still do this. And do. Conversely, I can’t spend more than 15 minutes inside a Best Buy or similar big-box store without wanting to puke.
So, in celebration of Record Store Day, I will thrill you by recounting the record stores that have played a major influence in my life:
–Open Books & Records (North Miami Beach, FL): I had caught the record bug relatively early in life and discovered BMX racing around the same time so a regular activity of mine between ages 10 and 13 was riding my bike around North Miami, FL and stopping in, nearly daily, to the Vibrations Records & Tapes store on 167th Street. One day I was headed up there circa Spring 1984 and was riding on a block I had rarely gone down because it was kinda out of the way. In a window I saw the spookiest thing I had seen in my young life and it drew me in. It was a bus-stop sized poster for Black Flag’s My War. I had no idea who Black Flag were and walking into the store I barely recognized any of the album titles but I knew this was a place I wanted to be. I never go across the street to Vibrations that day. I vowed to return regularly and before I left bought the cassettes of My War (which remains my favorite Black Flag record but it really scared me at the time) and The Go-Go’s Beauty & The Beat.
We moved from Miami in the summer of 1984 but returned for a visit in the summer of 1986. I was able to go back to Open Books & Records and see it one last time. I got to stay for a couple of hours while my parents did other, parent-y type things. My last purchases there were R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant and The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead.
The store is now closed but you can read a nice history of it HERE.
– Dr. No’s Comics (Marietta, GA): Always mostly a comic shop, they used to sell a fair amount of bootleg LPs, cassettes, import LPs and used records. I could ride my bike up there and nearly always get something for $4.00 or less. I used to dig through their dumpster for record catalogs and promo posters. Most memorable purchase was a 12″ single of Dead Kennedys’ “Bleed For Me”.
–Record Bar (Kennesaw, GA): OK, look. Yes, Record Bar was a chain store but it was a privately owned chain (which is very, very different from a conglomerate-owned chain) and I worked here all through high school. Record Bar had an incredible selection of imports and LPs alongside all the normal, mall-shopper dreck (Dirty Dancing Soundtrack , anyone?) that we had to carry to stay in business. Working here was such a wonderful experience and I count myself as very lucky to have been learning the record business at such an early age (only, of course, to renounce nearly every aspect of the ‘industry’ as an adult). Again, no photos but this guy wrote a pretty nice summary of the climate of Record Bar. It really was a great place.
–Eat More Records (Marietta, GA): This was, I believe, the first location of Eat More and they were the first record store to put my itty-bitty, self-made “magazine” (I didn’t even know the word ‘fanzine’ back then) on their racks. I still have tons of LPs in my collection that I bought from them and will never,ever forget how they would display my “publication” (titled boldly The Georgia Free Press [!]) on their front counter and even set up a little jar for people to drop in donations for it. Eat More, of course, moved several times in the last 20+ years and is now out of business.
–Be-Bop Records (Reseda, CA): Although out-of-business now the former owner has a nice little history written up if you click that link. I found this place when I was visiting my Grandparents in Reseda during the summer of 1986. It was the first place I ever bought anything solely because they were playing it in the store (the item in question being Bob Dylan’s Desire.) I was only able to go here a couple of times but, somehow, it made an impression on me because I remember the damn places name 22 years later. I also remember buying P.I.L’s Album here.
–Wax-n-Facts (Atlanta, GA): Before I could drive I had heard about Wax-n-Facts. All the ‘punks’ at my school talked about it and I begged my mom to take me there. Being newcomers to the Atlanta area we didn’t know that there was a difference between Five Points and Little Five Points and just assumed that “little” merely signified an area in the vicinity of the regular ol’ Five Points. HA! Anyway, after an adventurous ride through Atlanta via MARTA we get off at the then-desolate Reynoldstown exit and walk down an on-ramp, traipse through graffiti tagged homes and buildings, streets covered with broken glass and garbage and finally make it to this sacred spot. I stayed in there for, easily, two hours while my mom went to “that little bookstore across the street” (not knowing it was a gay one). She came back pretty quickly having not found anything she wanted to read, I guess. I knew she wasn’t very interested in Wax-N-Facts but she had worked all day to get me there and was going to let me enjoy it.
I think the only thing I bought that day was a P.I.L. button.
Once I could drive I was there nearly every weekend on record hunting trips. Thousands of dollars was spent there and I still pop in when I’m in the area (which is much cleaner and crowded now.) Wax-N-Facts, you have my mom to thank for making sure I became addicted to you.
–Wuxtry Records (Decatur, GA): Started shopping here once I got my drivers license. It was on the record-route I had established for most of my weekends. Ironically, I have purchased more at this location since I moved to Athens than I ever did when I lived much closer to it.
–Ruthless Records/Downtown Records/Big Shot Records (Athens, GA): I never knew why they changed names so much but one of my prized possessions when I was in high school was a “ruthless records” t-shirt I had bought on a trip to Athens one year. Then, in 1988, N.W.A. put out a record on a California label named “Ruthless” and this shirt become much less cool to me.
–Wuxtry Records (Athens, GA): Ah, yes. This is where I worked from 1994-2001. The local Athens scene was at one of its high points during much of this time and it was a great time to be selling records. I’m still in there almost daily and it’s where I’ll be celebrating the day. Most recent purchase was Nick Cave’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
I you share any similar memories then it will do you a world of good to visit your local independent record store on Saturday. Make it a habit. There’s nothing like it.
(Um, no. Of course there’s no MP3s today. That would kinda go against the spirit of things, wouldn’t it?)