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Friday, January 20, 2006

Wherefore Art Thou, Indie Record Store?

Here I am at the Tampa branch of Vinyl Fever last October, during the Punk Turns 30 tour of the South. Except for the Horizontal Action Blackout in Chicago, where we started, and the CBGB Benefit at CB's Gallery in New York City, Punk Turns 30 has exclusively shown its wares in indie record stores like Vinyl Fever in Tampa and Tallahassee, Goner in Memphis, NYCD in NYC, and Grimey's in Nashville.

Rogan & Cheetah
Here's Cheetah Chrome and his son, Rogan dropping by the exhibit at Grimeys.

TK & J9
Here I am with Jeanine at the Goner store on the evening of my opening party. Jeanine designed the cool paint job on the walls inside the store.

Matt Williams and Eric Friedl
Here are the handsome Matt Williams, booker of the Blackout and drummer for the Baseball Furies with Goner store and label proprietor, Eric Oblivian at the Punk Turns 30 opening, and here are Billy and Timmy from the Human Eye at Goner:

Human Eyes

Over the years, perhaps one of the most satisfying relationships I have had is that with the Independent Record Store. I worked in one as a teenager (well, I bet most of you reading this have, too!) and took great pride in turning on my friends and regular customers to records, bands and stuff I think they should like as well as the stuff I thought they would like if they only gave it a spin. Of course, I also loved to terrorize the philistines by blasting some choice Sparks tunes such as "Everybody's Stupid" and "This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us." It was in the indie record store that I KNEW my goal was to get a job at Island, a label that I could count on to consistently release superb material regardless of the genre. From the wacky Eno solo material that is perpetually on my Permanent Top Ten ("Here Come the Warm Jets") to the best in reggae (Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru) and my closet, guilty pleasure, folk music (Richard Thompson/Fairport Convention/Sandy Denny), Island put it out. At the time I worked there, I too, firmly believed that U2 were the best band in the world. At that time. We even had our own next Bob Dylan/Van Morrison in Mike Scott of the Waterboys, who I am proud to have worked with.

When I was a student at UCLA, in Westwood, I was no stranger to the brilliant Rhino Records store on Westwood Blvd. It was there that I met and became friends with Gary Stewart, who turned me on to so many records and bands I still love today. Like The Jam.

Paul Weller

I bought all my Sex Pistols singles at the Rhino Store, and they certainly indulged my love of Eno by tracking down weird imports and keeping me abreast of foreign releases, domestic releases and all kinds of collector ephemera. Would I have known about Ultravox had I shopped elsewhere? Maybe not.

It really saddens me to report that the Rhino Record store is closing this weekend. They close hot on the heels of another indie LA record store closing, Aron's.

When I sent out a mass email to all my friends about the Rhino store, pasting in an article written by the Hollywood Reporter's Chris Morris, I heard back from one of my life-long friends, and fellow indie record store aficionado and now casting director supreme, Barbara Barna. She wrote me a wonderful missive that I want to share with you:

And Aron's is gone too? I actually welled up with tears. I hope someone who's a good writer can articulate in an article or well-read blog, without being elitist or nauseatingly "back in the day," what it meant to actually have to go out and find stuff, how it helped define who you are and the magical transporting self-discovery of the Capitol Records parking lot, or PooBahs or Aron's or wherever in the US -- how you read about American Blues or Rockabilly or Soul or Country + Western in interviews with British bands in Rolling Stones and the rare NME or MM or even Creem or Rock Scene and how you hunted to find out about this music and how in the process you found yourself. How it felt to handle the vinyl (oh, the Japanese!) and to appreciate album cover art. How do people clean their pot now anyway? Does it come seedless like grapes and bananas?

I guess we all are that guy in "High Fidelity." Other than Aron's and Rhino, I also am sad to report that my favorite indie store in New York City, NYCD has closed its retail doors. They have an office and are continuing to do business of the "special order" variety. Give them a call: (212)-244-3460. Or email them at

Still going strong, and perhaps their massive size, parking and central location put a dent into the market for the detriment of other stores, and that is the mini chain Amoeba which has stores in Hollywood, San Francisco and Berkeley. They have taken a page from Rhino. Amoeba is going to start releasing records on their own imprint. In the punk rock days, we frequented Vinyl Fetish which has moved a few times but is still in business and is now on Cahuenga Blvd. In the Valley, we had Moby Disk and Bomp, both gone. In Pasadena, there is still PoohBah which when I was living in LA boasted not only knowledgeable sales staff, but a former member of one version of Capt. Beefheart's band. I miss them - there's not really a store like them on the East Coast.

In NYC, there was always Bleecker Bob, and scores of other stores and many of them still stand. I lament the loss in Hoboken of Pier Platters. I always hate to see these stores go. Even though Isla Vista's branch of Morning Glory Music is gone, some links on its chain remain throughout Santa Barbara County. One of my favorite stores and hang-outs in Detroit, Young Soul Rebels, closed right before the Christmas holidays.

These stores closing says a lot more to me than nostalgia. Its the harsh reality that the way we listen to and buy music is changing... the way we find out about music is changing. I've got nothing against the WWW... after all, I'm here and you're reading this, but when did myspace get to be the sine qua non of spreading the word? I guess that's how the kids do it these days. There are few radio stations that we can rally around...its all micro- and niche-marketing. Progress. Well, give me analog and old school, please.

1 comment:

lonesome-cowgirl said...

billiams! i used to do reviews occasionally for horizontal action. im in oakland now,having just moved from chicago. i miss those guys from horizontal action tho and their blackouts.