“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.
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
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.
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.
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,”
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.
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.
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
“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.”
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
“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.
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
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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