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Amoeba Music's 10th Anniversary: When You're Broke and Need a Fix, This Legendary Hollywood Store Has Had Your Back

Amoeba Records: 10 years on Sunset Boulevard
Amoeba Records: 10 years on Sunset Boulevard
Ted Soqui

"I just needed to get well," explains

Frank Humphries, a 36-year-old punkabilly musician-turned-junkie who,

since kicking the habit, works as an archaeologist. "My story is sad,

but it's true. I used to have to take CDs and records to Amoeba because I

already sold my car for drugs."

This month marks the 10th

anniversary of the opening of Amoeba Records' Hollywood location. For a

decade, Angelenos have gone to Amoeba to sell their vinyl and used CDs.

It's where they've gotten the money to get well -- and to get sick.

"I

used to skateboard to Amoeba from Echo Park to sell my shit for money,

just to get well," Humphries brags. "One time I went in there and had my

Pussy Galore record. It was from 1987 and it had 'I Just Wanna Die' on

it. The guy who was working there was, like, 'No way!' He looked at it.

Took it out of its sleeve and blew it off. Then he said, 'I'll give you

20 bucks for this right now.' ... He took a $20 bill right out of his

wallet and gave it to me. That's how much he wanted that damn Pussy

Galore record."

And Humphries was able to buy his drugs. "I got five dollar bags, around eight of them," he recalls, quite proudly.

Some people just need a quick meal.

"I

was having my gas turned off at my house, and I remember thinking, 'I

better not have my electricity turned off, because then I won't be able

to use my microwave, and I won't be able to cook my macaroni and

cheese,' " explains a former record company executive, 45, who tells his

story on the condition his real name not be used. "So I made a mad dash

to get the CDs together, get to Amoeba and pay my electric bill so I

could eat my macaroni and cheese. That's all I needed to do that day,

eat my macaroni and cheese."

With the collapse of the economy in

2008, Anthony Forkush, 46, a special-needs teacher, found himself

literally searching for loose change between his couch pillows. He was

determined to keep his feline family -- Sasha, Pinky and Kitty -- eating

in the style they were accustomed to: Fancy Feast marinated morsels of

turkey in gravy.

"I stood in line for hours. It was a massive line

out the door," Forkush says. "Everyone was bringing their stuff. From

every sad sack to every homeless person to every broke-ass musician" --

even a film student talking about Terrence Malick.

"He went on and

on and on about Terrence Malick," Forkush says. "At first he loved

Terrence Malick, but now he hated Terrence Malick. Then he said he just

quit film school because of Terrence Malick. He had just two items in his hand. Two DVDs, that's it!"

But that wasn't it.

"There

was a homeless woman who just stood there, and she didn't have

anything! Nada. You know what it was like?" Forkush asks. "It was like

being in a line to die."

Unlike other successful

businesses, at Amoeba Records the customer is not always right. Many

times the customer is wrong. Many times they'll get upset. Many times

they act out.

Daniel Tures, 39, is a floor manager at Amoeba on

Sunset. In school in Berkeley, Tures took what he thought would be a

summer job. That was 15 years ago. "I helped to start the San Francisco

store in 1997," he recalls with pride.

The store's record buyers

have to stay cool under intense pressure. "Even if they want to fight

with the customers, they can't fight with them," Tures says. "It gets

violent sometimes. There's screaming, fighting. Mostly with customers

screaming at us."

In the past, customers have jumped over the

counter and gone after the buyers. "Often it's like a junkie or someone

on meth who's got shitty stuff and they want to argue about it. There's

people digging CDs out of Dumpsters and trying to sell to the buyers,"

Tures says.

In this huckle-buckle world of buying and selling used

records for badly needed cash, there is heartbreak in parting with

valued treasures. The emotional toll on sellers can be enormous.

And

as the economy has crumbled and downloads replaced albums, the price of

used CDs has fallen precipitously. Discs that once retailed for $10 at

Amoeba now sell for $5 -- meaning the original seller makes even less.

"I

had two giant old suitcases," Forkush recalls. "I had probably about 70

CDs and lots of DVDs. I had Frank Zappa and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin,

Lalo Schifrin and all my jazz-fusion stuff, which for me was really

important. It broke my heart."

In the end, despite being offered a

measly $70 instead of the $200 he was expecting, Forkush simply

accepted the buyer's financial verdict.

Many sellers maintain the

"someday-I'll-get-it-back" psychology of the perennial pawn-shop patron.

But trying to get your jewels back from Amoeba can be financially

untenable.

"I'd sell a record for $2, $4, $6 or $8, and when I

came back I'd see the record on sale for $80," Humphries moans. "Very

depressing. I used to make a list of everything I sold, vowing to buy it

all back. In the end I never bought one thing back."

The buyers

at Amoeba are part psychologist, part detective and part poker player.

Tures fully admits that they try to beat down the sellers they find

undesirable. In fact, he says, record-seller profiling is going on all

the time.

"You can tell," he insists. "If someone is selling us a

whole collection that doesn't fit their vibe at all, like, 'There's no

way this guy can be a country music fan.' Or they don't know what it is

they have. In those cases, we would lowball them."

The store has its reasons.

"We

don't want to encourage them to keep coming back. So if they want to

take a shitty deal from us, then they can. Usually they get the idea,"

Tures says defiantly.

Many folks live by their wits in this town

and have relied upon the Amoeba cash machine to keep them going. During

the past decade, Amoeba has served as a cultural ATM for the so-called

wide boys -- those who are perpetually wide-awake, sharp-witted and

living day to day.

For wide boy Rich Mullins, bass player of the

venerable desert rock/stoner metal band Karma to Burn, Amoeba Records

holds fond memories.

"Well, one day after my friend and I sold his

CDs to Amoeba, he handed me the $150 and dropped me off at Hollywood

and Sycamore to get crack," recalls Mullins, who is now clean. "I ended

up getting into a fight with these black dudes who sold the crack." The

details are gory, but it ended with Mullins being rescued by one of the

Amoeba clerks. "My nose was bleeding, and I had blood all over my shirt.

He then asked if I wanted to come into his apartment to get cleaned up

and I said yes. While I was in the bathroom, he yelled if I wanted a

beer. I said yes. When I came out of the bathroom he was beating off on

the couch."

Mullins was so pissed he threw the beer at the guy's

head and bolted. "I walked three miles back to my friend's dad's place

and climbed in his second-story window. I still had all the crack I took

off the black dude after I knocked him down and broke his windpipe.

"So we all got high, thanks to Amoeba," he adds, like it's a happy ending to a children's fable.

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Amoeba Music

6400 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

323-245-6400

www.amoeba.com


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