Friday, April 17, 2009

Do we look like the kind of store that sells "I Just Called to Say I Love You?"

Hello, interpeople. I’ve been neglecting to greet you in my posts lately. I apologize to be so rude and thoughtless. I don’t want the five of you or so who read this and wait with baited breath for each day’s new recommendations to think that I take you for granted. (N.B..: I am including Miranda in that estimate of five people. Prove me wrong.)

Today, in conjunction with/in honor of Record Store Day, I am recommending supporting independent record stores.

When I first starting purchasing my own music (first two CDs I purchased: Out of Time and Automatic for the People by R.E.M., both purchased at the same time!), I never gave much though to where I was purchasing it. One place was as good as another, I thought. Of course, when I went to a local chain called Tunes, I did notice that he selection was much cooler and more varied, but at that point I did not think of choosing a location from which to purchase music in terms more complicated than convenience, proximity, and cost.

I think it was around the time that I discovered and started hanging out in my dearly departed Full Circle Records in 1998 or so that I began to think about what I got from independent record stores as opposed to the Best Buys, Circuit Cities, Sam Goodies, Tower Records, et cetera. The fact that the owners took the time to talk to me and get to know my tastes and recommend things that I might like, and that I could strike up a conversation with random customers, sparked something in a part of me that had never quite been touched in that way. Before I knew how to articulate it as such, Full Circle had become a source of community for me. That was what I loved about it – it was so much more than a record store. It was a place to hang out with friends, to make new friends… and, of course, to discover some really, really great music.

Like all great things in life, it had to come to an end eventually. I worked there for a while, and I loved getting my pay from Mike just to turn right around and hand almost ll of it right back to him. It was at Full Circle that I first started purchasing vinyl, that I ordered most of the Mountain Goats and Red House Painters and Elliott Smith and Elvis Costello catalogues, that I would have debates with Scott or George (well, a debate with George usually just involved vehement repetitions of contradictory positions with no reasoning involved). I shot some video of my friend Bob's band, The Young Professionals, at Full Circle. I played my very first “show” at Full circle, probably also setting the record for the longest show Full Circle has ever hosted. I played the last show that Full Circle would host before closing its doors. Anyone who was paying attention would have seen me shedding some tears during my truly horrendous butchering of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” at the end of the show. Somehow, I knew that Full Circle closing marked the end of a lot more than just Full Circle.

After Full Circle closed, I started going to Mars Red records in Haddonfield. The owner, Scott, was a great guy. Unfortunately, it was not more than a year and a half after I discovered Mars Red that it, too, closed its doors forever. I will spare my analysis of what has happened to create such a state of affairs; that is not the point of this entry, and would probably be better suited to my solo blog, if I ever get that one off the ground. But, all finger-pointing aside, I am now in the unenviable position of not having a good independent record store to call my own. I really don’t like Tunes very much; it is rather impersonal and geared increasingly toward the mainstream, and its chain status, regardless of the fact that it is strictly local, is a turn-off for me. AKA Music and Repo Records in Philadelphia are just inconvenient to get to, and have a bit of a slick, glossy feel to me. Princeton Record Exchange is kind of far and is sort of oppressively overwhelming, intimidating, and impersonal. Vintage Vinyl is even further and kind of has the same feel. Bloomington is fortunate to have a great independent store in Landlocked Music and a truly mind-blowingly awesome shop in T.D.’s CDs and LPs, but I won’t be moving to Bloomington until January.

These places are true sources of community for music lovers, and they have been and are drying up at an alarming rate. It is up to us music lovers to take a stand and save them. I’m not going to engage in hyperbolic and George W. Bush-esque rhetoric about the big box stores being the enemy and supporting them being tantamount to treason, but, well, I suppose I have already put the suggestion there, haven’t I? I know that the economy is in shambles and that expendable income is hard to come by these days, so I’m not taking the hard line here and demanding that everyone drop everything and immediately spend $200 at a local independent. However, I am imploring everyone, when they want to purchase a new record, please consider not going to Amazon or iTunes or Best Buy or wherever you would normally shop for such an item. Instead, visit an independent record store. Go to your usual haunt. If you don’t have a usual, just pick one. Talk to the employees. Start a conversation with a customer. Independent record stores are one of the few kinds of retail establishments in which you can strike up a conversation with a complete stranger at random and not be thought crazy. It’s a pretty magical thing.

And, with tomorrow being Record Store Day, seriously, what better time to start? I know that I had a pretty good time with Anthony on Record Store Day last year, traipsing to AKA and Repo in Philly, Princeton Record Exchange, and Princeton Record Exchange. I came out with all kinds of cool loot last year, including Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’s “Cold Son” 10” single, a 12” EP of Arthur Russell covers including Jens Lekman, and 7” singles from Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M., The Breeders, and the Black Keys. Tomorrow’s list of exclusive releases is a completely tl;dr clusterfuck of amazing releases, which promises some hard decisions on my part. Among the highlights:

  • A box set of Jesus Lizard 7” singles
  • An exclusive Flight of the Conchords single
  • An Iron & Wine live album
  • Two Sonic Youth split singles!  (one with Beck, one with Jay Reatard)
  • A Flaming Lips/Black Keys covers split 7” (FL do Madonna’s “Borderline,” BK do a Captain Beefheart song)
  • A live Pavement album recorded in 1997
  • A My Morning Jacket live EP
  • Reissues galore!: Jane’s Addiction, MC5, The Smiths, and more
  • New 7”s from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, the Decemberists

And there will be more that I will find interesting, I’m sure. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s likely recommendation, listening to 5 days worth of new music.

* * *

N.B. Miranda has directed me to an interesting interview with a gentleman who has made a film on the state of the independent record store. He shares some of my ideas about the record store being a community space beyond just a retail space. You can find it here.


Post a Comment

hi. please be nice, and please don't be a spamming bot or something. we really do read every comment!