Nearer the Record Bin of History

I met my husband in a used record store where he worked on Hollywood Boulevard. That store isn’t there anymore.

In high school I used to go to a record store regularly with my first real crush. We would drive out to some other suburb and pour over the bins in this little red-walled hole. I could only afford maybe one record at each visit, so it had to be the right one. I picked out things like The Smiths, which disappointed my friend. He took pity on me and made me mixed tapes. But a record never really made me cool. It was such a luxury, an object I could bond with. I’m sure that little shop in the badlands of the Chicago suburbs is gone now, too.

I’ll admit I was spoiled by the grand Ameoba Music store in San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Where the guy at the electronic counter would actually set things aside for me like Hecate and Ove-Naxx with a secretive glee– no one in London would ever break out of their numb-cool pose to do that.)

Shopping for music in London is shit. The Virgin Megastore is this tourist hell of eviscerated top-down marketing. The Oxford Street HMV cavern broadcasts billboard-sized videos of the geriatric Stones flailing around silently, overlayed by the most recent Justin Timberlake or Gwen Stefani or what have you. All the employees have to wear shirts that say “HERE TO HELP” in giant pink letters and every one of them is soured by this lack of dignity, spending a lot of time sculpting their hair so they can at least look indie-vidual on top. Looking at the displays, where everything’s a “bargain”, you feel like all of London is listening to the same five records and you can’t even blame the radio now– people are actively subscribing to the monoculture.

And there’s Sister Ray in Soho– sad, sad, sad. I’ve gone in there asking for things and always get the same vague sneer. I mean, how dare they when really their store only offers things like the Pixies back catalogue and Baby Shambles tee shirts. Like a fucking bargain basement of indiesease. No Metric? No Frog Eyes? Not even any Sons and Daughters? What’s wrong with you, Sister Ray?

There was Fopp, which I loved (for Americans, it had a bit of the early 90’s Tower Records wacky stock about it), even if it was hunt and peck, outside of Rough Trade it was the best London had. As of a few weeks ago, it is gone, every store. (The one Cambridge Circus location will reopen in name only, owned now by HMV.)

Economic analysts are blaming music downloads for these closures, but I’m not buying it entirely. (From Fopp’s now-dead website: “Our store chain is profitable, well regarded and loved by our loyal customers and staff. However we have failed to gain the necessary support from major stakeholders, suppliers and their credit insurers to generate sufficient working capital to run our expanding business.”) Blame boredom and greed– a handful of corporate culture-makers saturating everything with their own perverse choices, categorizing cultural production into demographic consumables.

I looked at the squawking image of Mick Jagger dwarfing me in HMV and thought yeah– Jack-the-Lad 60’s boomers– you’ve done it, clinging to your now-linty cool-points, you own everything. My generation has had to invent itself in their shadow. I had my day, my secret joy of dusty-record-bin discovery. At least I know it’s over. In “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” Lester Bangs writes about buying a new record:

...The real story is rushing home to hear the apocalypse erupt, falling through the front door and slashing open the plastic sealing “for your protection,” taking the record out– ah, lookit them grooves, all jet black without a smudge yet, shiny and new and so fucking pristine, then the color of the label, does it glow with auras that’ll make subtle comment on the sounds coming out, or is it just flat utilitarian monochromatic surface, like a schoolhouse wall…And finally you get to put the record on the turntable, it spins in limbo a perfect second, followed by the moment of truth, needle into groove, and finally sound…

I won’t say I don’t miss it.

3 thoughts on “Nearer the Record Bin of History

  1. Oh, a thousand times YES.

    I worked in huge, airplane hangar-like used record stores in MPLS called Cheapo. My god, the education I got! It was a better education than the college courses I was enrolled in at the time. It was all Funkadelic vinyl, and the first Uncle Tupelo record, and Game Theory’s Lolita Nation, and check out that marbled pink vinyl for the Flaming Lips’ In A Priest Driven Ambulance, and oh that Country Funk record that Beck eventually “borrowed” from and did you know that the guys in Ween did music before they were Ween and made a record? I found it one day while filing Easy Listening and hid it somewhere in the Steve and Edie section, but when I went back to look for it later, it had disappeared.

    Used CDs were rather an oddity then.

    Plus you quote Lester Bangs! Yr kinda my hero.

  2. Thanks for this~I miss record stores too!
    My dad was an avid collector and we’d spend the weekends visiting all the used shops in Los Angeles: Aron’s, Rhino, the other one near Aron’s on Melrose, that huge shop in West LA (on Olympic?).
    I eventually ended up working at Rockaway Records in Silverlake for a few years. There was this weird quiet guy I’d always try and chat up, but he was so timid he barely conversed. That guy turned out to be famous in a few years, Beck.

    When I was 11, my friend and I were in Rhino looking at a Journey record when this young guy comes up to us and says kinda sweetly, “don’t listen to that stuff, try this!” and hands us a Minor Threat record. Sweet guy, wherever you are, thank you! 🙂

    I so enjoy your blog, Allison!

  3. “people are actively subscribing to the monoculture.”

    Y’know, I’ve never been there, so my opinion on the UK is nearly worthless, but the thing I’ve noticed is it’s a REALLY SMALL COUNTRY. In the past, it could easily support multiple indigenous languages, and still has a multiplicity of accents, but it’s always seemed quite susceptible to monoculture infection. Modern communications technology has not at all diminished this.

    Please excuse my blathering.

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