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.