Both Record Store Day and Black Friday have come and gone. Recently, I was passing by what was once a Border’s books. It was the very same border’s Book I had a date at once upon a time. My mind went back to that day. In particular, to a conversation my date and I had. We shared our fond memories of record stores and how book stores are going the way of the dinosaur as well.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s I was an extremely precocious young lad. My brother was 14 years my senior, my sister 17 years older. Both of them were basically my babysitters. My parents had made a deal with me for one record or tape a month, as did my brother and sister. Napa was a different town in the ’70s and ’80s than it is today. Today you have Mega-stores and closed down buildings where mom and pop businesses once flourished; However, back in the day, we had record stores and local businesses carrying discount music.
Every Saturday my family would shop at TG&Y for my mom’s sewing and knitting goods. I would spend hours in the tape section or the discount bins looking for great albums by ’70s metal and rock luminaries. One Saturday in Particular my Sister bought me both Black Sabbath’s “Sabotage” and Edgar Winter’s “They only come out at night”. I was amazed by these tapes in both sound and in the cover art. I was hooked.
Hidden treasures galore I would find as I ventured towards the seedier end of town. Where the big boys bought music. We had a Rainbow Records almost across the street from Eucalyptus Records, A “Wherehouse” a block to the north and a block to the south was Absolutely Sane John’s. These were a block north and across the street from Loony Toons Records. This was where I got my musical appreciation from.
Rainbow was the home of Swag and concert tickets, also a great place for New Vinyl at the time. Eucalyptus was a good place for used deals. Loony Toons was awesome for knowledge as it had it’s share of music geeks jockeying both the registers and the stereo. Absolutely Sane John’s was run by an aging hippie who was the most patient guy to talk to about music. I spent the bulk of my time at both Loony Toons and Absolutely Sane John’s. “The Wherehouse” was a necessary evil back then. Sure it was corporate but if no one else had it, they might just have it and they had lower prices on new product the day of release so it was always the first place I would hit on my record excursions.
I would run into all sorts of music geeks in each and every one of these stores. We would debate about: “who should be on the billboard charts and who should be taken off forever”, “Who were the first artists to use Distortion” and “who was more goth, Bauhaus or The Birthday party”. Going to a record store was less about finding that hidden treasure to blow your mind and ear drums, it was about community. The exchanging of ideas and the making of friends.
Slowly though,like a disease of big corporate egos and tainted greed, the stores were eaten away at the stores one by one. Eucalyptus closed down in the late 80’s followed by Rainbow. Next was Sane John’s and last was Loony Toons. “The Wherehouse” survived another 10 years but it too fell to the same folly. It became FYE. Then, just as soon as it took over the old Wherehouse building, it too vanished. Then there were none.No record stores in my town. Sure you could shop for censored CD’s at Wal-Mart or pay discount prices at target for stuff on the Top 200, but it is not the same.
Gone were the dim lights, carpeted floors, the smell of incense and weed. Gone too, were the knowledgeable staff and geeky weirdos who were our fellow shoppers. Now everything is not word of mouth. It is how many hits on “youtube” and in MP3 format. I still rummage through the bins at Rasputin and Amoeba Records for used gold, finding new artists I never heard of. I still chat up busy clerks and fellow customers to find out what they like and tell them who I love.
I spent too much time and money in the record stores but I wouldn’t have it any other way. No MP3 can replace the sound of Quadrophonic vinyl. Downloading music or chatting online in forums and peer groups is not the same as interactions with other humans. Today’s youth probably do not even know what a record store is other than memories we tell them, and the evidence of a few Black licorice pizzas and silver discs we have lying around. They might ask us what these once were and where they came from. After a long story filled with bitter sweet memories and funny anecdotes, we may even play some songs on the old turn table before sending them to bed, playing there lullabies on an iPod!