Sunday, April 19, 2009

RECORD STORE DAY 2009: An Editorial

If you happened to visit a record store on Saturday, April 18th, 2009 in honor of the 2nd annual RECORD STORE DAY, then THANK YOU! If you are a record store who participated, then THANK YOU! If you are a label that supported RECORD STORE DAY, then THANK YOU!

Though I almost missed the opportunity to support RECORD STORE DAY since I was attending the equally cool Fangoria Convention in Los Angeles, my buddy and I stopped at Amoeba Music in Hollywood on Sunset in order to partake in the festivities. I was overwhelmed by the amount of folks in the store. If you've been to any of the Amoeba Music stores (Berkeley, San Francisco and Hollywood), you know that there are many folks trolling through the bins, searching for that special gem or just checking out the latest releases. But yesterday, the aisles at the Hollywood store were filled with music fans and the line for those who were waiting to buy their treasures extended all the way to the back of this big and beautiful store. It didn't hurt that I managed to catch Wendy & Lisa spinning a sexy, funky DJ set either! Ah, it made me feel so damn good.

I certainly wish that I'd saved some dinero, since there were so many items that I would have loved to purchase. I did manage to buy one title (although it cut into my week's lunch budget): the import digitally remastered and expanded two CD edition of BUZZCOCKS' third album, A Different Kind Of Tension (my fave album by them). I almost cried because there were so many other things I truly NEED to add to my collection including the other two BUZZCOCKS reissues, almost everything CHERRY RED has released in the last year, great new releases I've heard in the office, some choice CAPTAIN OI titles missing from my collection and so many others.

But the build up to this day (and the day itself) really got me thinking: why only celebrate RECORD STORE DAY once per year? I mean, I do understand the idea behind it, the co-ordination, the organization, etc., but I want to celebrate RECORD STORE DAY every single day of the week/month/year. I'd settle for celebrating it every weekend if someone wants to set up a committee to organize it: you'll definitely have my support!! :)

I've been thinking an awful lot about record stores in general over the last few years. I remember getting together with friends 25 years ago and visitng every record store we were able to hit in a given amount of time, whether it was a Friday night trip to LA or a weekend trek to different parts of OC. Two and a half decades ago, there was so much on offer here in OC in regards to record stores: Music Market, Camel Records, Music Plus, Licorice Pizza, Record Trading Center, Pepperland, The Wherehouse, Beggars Banquet, Up Another Octave, Tower Records and many others that are swimming around in my memory banks. Of all those great spots, only Pepperland remains. The others disappeared over the years (and many of them long before downloading began replacing the shopping experience).

Now, I'm not one who is against the idea of legal downloading (I've done the odd track here and there myself), but at the end of the day, after you've paid your money, what do you have? NOTHING! There are files in your computer that seemingly play the music for you, but is that really enough? Can you hold it? Can you feel it? Can you smell it? Can you see it? You didn't buy anything tangible: there are nothing but files on your hard drive made up of numbers, letters and codes. Where is the fun in that? What kind of memories will that leave behind?

An imperfect (and slightly offensive) analogy would be: does internet porn REPLACE an intimate physical relationship with someone? I think not. It may enhance it, but it will never replace it. Same with music: how can someone possibly be satisfied with a download of an entire album when they can actually own a physical piece of product? As I stated before, I am NOT anti-downloading; I am pro-record store! I must admit that the internet IS a great place to LISTEN to new stuff and make your purchasing decisions, though.

In terms of buying your item, the ideal situation is to go to your local indie record store and buy it. If it's not in stock, then have them special order it. It may not be instant gratification, but within a few days, you'll have what you need and you will enjoy the heck out of it. You'll be able to hold it, look at it, listen to it, read the liner notes, etc. You can then load it into your computer and enjoy listening to it that way as well, but the important thing is that you own it. It is yours. It is something you can show to your friends. It is something physical... something REAL.

When I was younger, I spent as much time in local record stores as possible. After school... after work... and, when I got my first record store job, I spent quality record store time AT work! It was more than a hobby... it was an emotional experience that is hard to describe. There are those of us who LIVE for music. It's not just something that is played in the background: it is the soundtrack to our lives!

(About a decade ago, I came up with a motto that fits me to a T: "Some of my best friends are three minutes long"! And that still rings true.)

Even today at the age of 45, I listen to music in the morning, afternoon and evening. I write about music all day long. I still get together with friends on a regular basis and discuss music, play music and hear new music that they share with me. I'm not the only one like this: there are others! Perhaps even YOU! But are there places for all of us to meet anymore? The record store was (and is) more than just a place to spend money: it was a place to spend time, meet like-minded people and learn about new music (or even older releases you may have missed first time around).

There are still plenty of sports bars around for all the sports fans to gather and enjoy a game together and that is awesome. There are upscale coffee shops everywhere where folks can get together and be arty and pretentious, and that, too, is awesome.
But all the record stores I remember from my youth have closed down. It is up to US to support the ones that are still left standing. And if you visited one of them on RECORD STORE DAY, than THANK YOU again. Visit them again tomorrow... or next weekend, too! Perhaps the kids of today and tomorrow will one day realize that the record store experience is amazing indeed. It is up to US to show them the way.

P.S. After all these years, the same friends I used to go record shopping with 25 years ago are STILL my friends and I'd like to give a shout-out to them: Chuck, Jeff G, Jeff K, Jannette, Matthew, Kristin and many others.
Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

The views and opinions expressed in this posting are strictly those of the author.

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