This Saturday will be Record Store Day once again. I have gone through the lists of releases for the USA and the U.K. and there are a lot of titles I hope to pick up. There seems to be less major-label in-for-the-kill cloggage this year, and the independent labels are large and in charge.
Record Store Day is, to me, the greatest “day” of recent invention. More than once, record labels almost killed off the record stores that struggled to vend their wares. I hate to wax nostalgic, but great record stores — such as the midsize and excellent Aron’s Records, which used to live at 1150 N. Highland Ave. — were all over the country, sometimes several to a city.
In the 1980s, I would save my meager wages and head into these stores as often as I could while on tour. That’s how I put together a pretty good blues collection. Those records were cheap and plentiful. The covers looked so cool, I knew I couldn’t lose. Whenever we would crash at someone’s house who had a record player, I would listen to as many of them as I could.
As the 1980s gave way to the incoming decade, it became a recurring drag to walk from the venue to what you thought was going to be another enchanted afternoon in a record store, only to find that it was gone. I didn’t understand how so many people could fall out of love with going to the record store, to the point that the place that supplied the jams would have to quit.
From then to now, it has been one of my favorite rituals — and I know I am not alone on this — to go into a record store in a town I don’t live in, to be greeted by the person behind the counter, who actually remembers me from the last time and the time before that.
Jan van Dorsten, who for almost 30 years has owned and operated one of the greatest record stores anywhere, Record Palace at 33 Weteringschans in Amsterdam, always remembers me, and I have never been able to leave his place without amazing records. Same thing at Juke Box at 165 Anspach in Brussels. You walk in, the owner says hello, asks if you want some tea, and all is well in the world. How could any city be without places like this?
When Second Coming Records at 235 Sullivan St. in NYC closed, I was gutted. One of the saddest days in my vinyl history was in 2002, when Yesterday & Today Records on Rockville Pike in Rockville, Maryland, closed its doors. I started going in there in 1978, a year after it opened. On the last day, Ian MacKaye and I went in to help load out records into a moving truck and bid farewell. Thankfully, owner Skip Groff runs a healthy mail-order business, but the store was legend.
These places are ours to lose.
By the mid-1990s, I had concluded that the major labels were not only toxic but a lethal, cancerous lesion on music. From the tonnage of mediocre product — often from labels forcing music out of bands too often — to the ridiculous prices, they were going to drive almost every band smaller than Metallica to extinction. All these years later, my scorn and contempt for these money-hungry phonies has not lessened but actually increased.
Now and then, I run into them. They’re older but the women they rent are still the same age. When the Classic Rock Awards were in town a couple of years ago, the building was full of these fuckin’ lizards.
Records force your devotion because there is nothing easy about having them.
Thankfully, music is stronger than any corny corporate gang, stronger than pitch correction and Photoshopped press shots. Music is the highest bar of human excellence and will not be kept down for long. After countless quantities of data were coded onto compact discs (which, by their definition, actually hold no music whatsoever) and fisted down the gullets of the global consumerate, the unerring human need for analog engagement with music came back with a vengeance.
While major labels seemed to have no interest in music, thankfully the bands did, since a lot of them came from years of going to record stores. One of the reasons that vinyl has made such a strong comeback is that the bands demanded their music be made into records, no matter how the execs howled about the inconvenience. Another reason is that independent bands never stopped going for the analog groove. Labels like Dischord have made vinyl from day one to now.
One of the best parts of playing records is they are a fantastic pain in the ass. They are heavy and easy to ruin. They make moving worse than getting audited, and rarely do you meet someone to live with who doesn’t see these crates as anything but junk, mere male juvenilia that takes up too much space — right up there with comic books.
Records force your devotion because there is nothing easy about having them. Nothing. If you have more than 50 records, you are unavoidably into it. If you have less than 50, “That’s just a temporary situation,” as George Clinton says on “Chocolate City.” So start making room. Feed this beast!
This should be a weekend of sonic epiphany, of high-volume revelation. Your turntable is no mere component! It is a magic machine that sends vinyl into orbit so the stylus can travel for miles and miles, delivering you nothing but the very best moments of human creation. Hopefully, parties will erupt all over the world as people take turns spinning records they scored only hours before. Hurrah for all of us.
There is one sanctioned worldwide Record Store Day. But as far as I’m concerned, every day is Record Store Day.