Sunday, January 13, 2013

An Appreciation: RECORD STORES

An Appreciation:


Sit right back and you'll read my tale... which I predict will be very close to yours. As music fans, we all make the same journey yet we take different paths to find the spiritual enrichment that music brings to our lives...

Ever since I was a child, record stores have fascinated me.  Being raised on many types of music (The Beatles, The Monkees, Neil Diamond and Glen Campbell to name a few), I was always excited about songs that really struck a chord with me... long before I even knew what a chord was!

In the beginning, mom and dad satisfied my musical appetite by handing down copies of Beatles albums or buying me albums on my birthday and Christmas.  Every note was magical, every melody was an audio dream that unfolded in my tiny little mind...

I was so excited when I finally started getting an allowance.  OK, maybe the first year or so, I spent all the money on candy and comic books, but when I was old enough to walk to any local record store (Licorice Pizza), my allowance was spent on seven inch singles and LPs in the cut-out bins.  At that time, I couldn't afford a full priced album and if I wanted a new album, I had to add it to my want list for future gift-recieving holidays.

But then, when my allowance went up a little or when I'd get money from grandma and grandpa (or other relatives), it was straight to Licorice Pizza I'd go.  While my tastes may have been limited at that exact moment, there was still so much to choose from.

But in 1977, when I was 14, I saw The Jam and The Clash on TV and my limited view was shaken to it's core and broken wide open.  "There IS a musical world outside of my transistor radio!", I thought to myself.  Little did I know that, 33 years later I'd still be excited and inspired by music, both new and old.  In fact, I think I've only gotten worse!

Anyway, as I came to my awkward teens, music became a way to communicate with people.  If I had friends that were going through hard times, a mixtape could surely cheer up their day.  If I had a girlfriend and couldn't find the right words to say, a Paul McCartney album would always do the trick.  If I couldn't think of the perfect gift for a family member's birthday, why not buy 'em The Eagles' Greatest Hits or Hotel California?

People who know me know that I am never short on words, so if I was handing out mixtapes or albums to people, that meant that those particular albums or songs meant something to ME and I wanted them to mean just as much to THEM.  I would head up to Licorice Pizza and spend my own money just to try to add a little bit of sunshine into their day.  To be honest, sometimes it worked sometimes it didn't... but at least I tried.

I spent so much time at Licorice Pizza during the late '70s that I could have actually worked there.  Then, as I got older and had friends that could drive, it was on to Tower Records, Beggar's Banquet, Music Plus, The Wherehouse and any other record store within a 5 mile radius.  Almost every day.  Definitely every weekend.  We just wanted to experience the sights, sounds, smells and vibes of any record store that stocked a good amount of LPs and singles.  Sometimes we had money, sometimes we didn't... but we ALWAYS heard good tunes and had a great time.

While I did OK at school and had a great family, music spoke to me louder and clearer than any book or teacher.  In fact, some of the most influential people in my young life were those record store employees who would introduce me to new music, either suggesting something or just by playing it in the store.  I didn't read the music rags of the day because I wanted to spend every penny on something new and exciting.  After all these years, it's still the same.

Many of my long-lasting friendships have been made in a record store.  Apart from my school buddies, I'd meet new folks with similar musical tastes and we'd make suggestions back and forth.  I still talk to many of these folks today and I'm still sharing my latest musical passions with them. 

My life would not have been the same were it not for the record stores (and CD stores) that I would frequent during this very important time in my life.  It pains me to no end when I think that the youth of today don't bother with experiencing the joys of seeking out new music in their local record stores.

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).

In a perfect world, I'd be shopping in one of them now.  But, I really don't mind taking a long drive to L.A. to hit Amoeba every now and then.

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. 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.

For many of us, music is more than just 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 49, 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 visit one of them as often as possible, then THANK YOU. Visit them again tomorrow... and 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.

Post-script 2017: "Vinyl is making a comeback!"

Now that vinyl is selling well again, people are heading back into the record stores.  I continue to shop as much as possible but I still shop for CDs and have no interest in playing vinyl.  However, I fully encourage anyone that chooses to purchase physical product over streaming and downloads.  As stated previously, I am not against purchasing legal downloads for the most part.  Streaming is another issue.  People are NOT entitled to listen to music for free and artists should be paid for the art that they create.  It is sad to see so many friends turn their backs on buying CDs and vinyl because they can stream it anytime they want.  But that is another rant for a different day.

Please support musicians and record stores by purchasing physical product. Its the only way to be able to immerse yourself in the full musical experience.

Peace, love and records galore,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee
The views and opinions expressed in this posting are strictly those of the author. And possibly of other people as well.  But I can't name names.  You know who you are.


Unknown said...

I worked at Chapman and Brookhurst also, both stores ~ Deb was the manager at the old store, and Chuck was the manager when we moved to the new store. Fun times and my favorite job of all time! I am still in contact with Chuck and Sabrena from my Licorice Pizza days.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this awesome post about LP in Garden Grove.

Stephen SPAZ Schnee said...

Thank you Robin and Matthew for posting a comment. This post is a few years old but seems to have had a renewed interest this past week. Hope I can find out why! But I'm always up for sharing my music memories. I love that so many fine folks can relate to it!

M said...

I remember buying bootlegs at Beggars Banquet. I still have 3 David Bowies.