Independent music stores and rare and potentially fantastic little nooks full of wonder and discovery. They were a cultural hub of our youth, an escape, a place to meet with friends or make new ones through a shared common love of music and the legend surrounding it. Then, throughout the nineties, they were co-opted by the big box retailers – countless generic CD Warehouse and Sam Goody sorts of stores which cropped up in every town with a population over ten. The romance dissolved, the magic suffocated by bright florescence and life-size cardboard Britney Spears cutouts. Eventually, the time-honored ritual of going out to pick up new music became a venture into enemy territory, rather than an immersion into enrichment. It meant having to deal with the corporate interpretation of "cool," according to the market-tested demographic in which you fit.
It was cheap & compromising. To a music maniac who lived & breathed this sh*t, who remembered the value of the spirited, always enlightening and often lengthy conversations with both the customers and the guy behind the counter at those endangered shops, this new reality was heartbreaking.
Then the people regained leverage. The MP3 arrived and caught fire. iPods. Filesharing. iTunes. Access to sounds without having to make the trek out to one of the dreaded, monstrous Top 40-pushing Walmarts of music. Finally, a way to explore new music once again, and connect with others just as passionate about it!
But of course, there was a price. With the rise of the internet came the great (and largely welcome) die-off of all the Sam Goodys. Unfortunately, we also not only lost the one big-box store who did it right – Tower Records – but a crushing majority of the special little record shops we loved so much as well. (Speaking of Tower Records, check out info on a documentary actor/filmmaker Colin Hanks is putting together on the rise, demise and legacy of the landmark music store franchise.)
The economy's belly-up, unemployment's higher than it's been in our lifetimes, and the corruption of representation has gotten so bad that the people who are actually paying attention to the meteoric descent of our socioeconomic architecture have taken to camping in the streets as the only way to get any serious attention. Wallets & purse strings are tightening across the board, yet some of us are undeterred in our love for music, and our willingness to shell out for the best, most meaningful sounds we can find. Those are the people I spent the morning with today at Record Store Day's Black Friday event.
The Record Store Day initiative, aimed at supporting independent record stores, was founded in 2007 and has generated increased sales and attention toward participating retailers in the years since its inception. It’s getting harder and harder these days to find the local record stores we grew up with- the ones where show posters line the walls, beautifully alien sounds blare from the speakers and spiked & tatted employees with encyclopedic knowledge of the most abstract musical history imaginable mock your every anti-cool move. Record Store Day's nationwide goal of raising support for independent record stores in their local communities was a celebratory affair over the past three years, with over 1000 stores and countless of musicians taking part.
Now, Black Friday brings a bit of a halftime offering in the year for Record Store Day enthusiasts, mirroring the April deals of the original event. A barrage of releases are underway from independent music retailers, with special edition and first-time vinyl and CD offerings hitting shelves from an impressive lineup of musicians including The Black Keys, Soundgarden, The Beatles, Nirvana, Tom Petty, The Doors and many more.
I've no desire whatsoever to camp out overnight for the big-box madness deals on Black Friday, but when I hear that some of my favorite bands are dropping some limited edition wax on one of my only days off this year, you can consider my day planned. I slammed a few too many cups of coffee, charged up on some high-powered sativa (California legal, of course) and made my way over to the always-awesome CD Trader in Tarzana before bouncing over to Freakbeat Records in Sherman Oaks and then down to Amoeba in Hollywood. Lines at all three stores stretched surprisingly far out the door, with pre-opening Amoeba Records crowds reportedly two blocks long in downtown Los Angeles.
The excitement was palpable among those in line, all out for a common good that usually only finds us congregating in darkness as we try to find our seat at shows. One man was joking that they don't make a fast enough record speed for Yngwie Malmsteen, while others discussed their excitement for the new Nirvana singles collection, John Lennon's "Imagine" 40th Anniversary box set and a Miles Davis release.
People were passionately discussing music, releases, shows and various artists, sharing thoughts, ideas & laughter in the daylight. Where else does this happen anymore?
Once doors opened, I bee-lined it for the specials section and grabbed Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magic on red vinyl, as well as the new Black Keys 12" single and Soundgarden's Before The Doors release. The flow was strong, and spirits were high on both sides of the counter on a day usually considered the retail equivalent of a fiberglass enema. I returned to my first stop to sell a few used discs after making my rounds, and was pleasantly surprised to find business still going strong, the parking lot full and smiles still wide. Christmas shopping season is underway, sure, but the RSD Black Friday promotion was a truly wise and well-timed way to remind buyers that the survivors are still plugging away, bringing you the goods.
Getting out there this morning and seeing the excitement return was thrilling. Record Store Day and RSD Black Friday are great, but two token days just aren't enough for those special few spots that remain. We – the music fans who remember the rush of holding the record in your hands, of dropping the needle down oh-so-slowly and truly experiencing the music – need to kickstart this movement a little more. Quarterly events, with artist participations, can reestablish the few that are left as the gems of cultural accent that they are. They can still exist, even sandwiched between Starbucks and Walmart, if the understanding of value returns to those that can help them pay the rent.