ADRIAN FERENC IS LEANING UP AGAINST the “Used Country” section at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. Dressed in red lace-up Vans and a cotton button-down shirt, the 22-year-old mathematics student protects his prime front-row spot for tonight’s in-store performance by rock critics’ second-favorite blues-rock duo, the Black Keys.
With his full lips, moppish hair and wide-eyed gaze, Adrian, who has been standing here for more than an hour, looks like a safer Jason Schwartzman.
He arrived early tonight in hopes of scoring a good view. He goes to Occidental College and says he lives close to Amoeba. His favorite musician is Bob Dylan, but he also likes the Black Keys and he comes to the used-music mecca sometimes once a week.
For the past half-hour, Adrian has been chatting with J.R., who is 10 years his senior and has a shaved head. The two music collectors had never met before, but they both came solo tonight and ended up standing beside each other. With teenage girls in hooded sweatshirts seated at their feet and a wall of vintage Grateful Dead posters before them, Adrian and J.R. have been talking about the Akron-based Black Keys and, as Adrian explains shyly, “the ridiculous things people will do to buy Beatles albums.”
“I heard about a guy who sold his car in order to buy a $6,500 piece of Beatles vinyl,” J.R. says.
This story has left the two new friends shaking their heads in awe.
Adrian, what was the last thing you bought here at Amoeba?
“It was last week. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly soundtrack on CD.”
J.R. nods his head with approval.
What kind of math do you study?
“Like, pure mathematics — linear algebra and complex analysis.”
“Wow!” says J.R., thoroughly impressed. “I got Einstein right next to me.”
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” Adrian says sarcastically, looking down at his shoes. “Math: the sexiest of all subjects.”
“What if you get rich?” J.R. ponders. “All the women will be totally after you.”
J.R., who was in the military a decade ago, has his hands wrapped around a leather journal and a paperback copy of The Society of the Spectacle by France’s revolutionary philosopher/filmmaker/poet Guy Debord. He says that he will probably have to read it three times before he can understand it.
“I don’t know much about him personally,” J.R. adds. “Honestly, it’s a hard read.”
TWO AISLES BACK, 18-YEAR-OLD ALEX rests her chin on her fist. Her black eyeliner is smudged. She and three other friends drove here from Valencia. They come to Amoeba about once a month. She also saw the Raconteurs and the Blood Brothers play here.
One row back, 23-year-old Carrie Wilson is cruising through the “Used Rock” section; she has on leopard-skin flats and carries an armload of vinyl: ChangesTwoBowie, a Glenn Miller album, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, VanMorrison’s Moondance and more, from Rod Stewart, the Police and Joe Cocker. She didn’t know about the Black Keys show tonight. Instead, she came here in hopes of finding some Morrissey vinyl. Carrie is a fashion student with thick, black hair pulled into a side ponytail. She is wearing a black 1950s thrift-shop dress and four necklaces. Two of the necklaces — a silver, heart-shaped locket and a St. Francis medal — are from former boyfriends. She also wears a dog-tag-style medical ID bracelet that belongs to one of her best friends back in Orange County, Chad Atkinson.
“Have you ever seen one of these before?” she asks with a smile that seems to make her purple-glitter eye shadow sparkle that much more. “All the kids in elementary school had these.” She flips over the bracelet to show the back side.
Down on the floor, in the back of the store, 39-year-old Doug English is digging through the John Zorn section. There are flecks of gray in his beard and in his thick head of hair. In his left hand, he holds a printed list of 150 CD titles he would some day like to add to his personal music collection. English lives in Santa Barbara; he drove to L.A. today to see a Silver Jews concert later tonight at the Henry Fonda. A pile of CDs rests beside him: a solid-black double album from the Japanese band Fushitsusha, a Flaming Lips bootleg for a friend, John Cage, the No-Neck Blues Band and Mudhoney — not too rare but sentimental.
“When I graduated from college, I went and saw [Mudhoney] play a concert before I went off and took a paralegal job. It was 1989. The Lame Fest in Seattle, Washington, for $7, and the opening band was Nirvana. It was my last moment of innocence.”
English has a Ph.D. in political theory and teaches continuation high school in Santa Barbara. He teaches a lot of subjects, including, yes, English. Most of his students address him either by his first name or with the honorific “Dr.,” so there isn’t too much teasing going on about his name.
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“My mother, Mrs. English, did teach English and she got that all the time.”
Back by the stage, as a roadie checks the microphones, Adrian and J.R. are still talking.
“I love coming here,” says J.R., eyeing the impressive crowd that has now formed around the two of them. “You always learn something. They only hire people who are real passionate about music. They know their stuff, like, if you ask them about a poster on the wall, they’ll know it was the Fillmore ’67 — yadda, yadda, yadda. Whereas if you go to Best Buy, the kids are nice, but they don’t know anything.
“I need to come here more often.”