Go to Rhino Records
On Westwood Boulevard
They have nice people there
They’ll show you where the records are
Where are the records?
They’re over there!
They’re all over the place!
Go to Rhino Records
On Westwood Boulevard
— Larry “Wild Man” Fischer
To Rhino Records” (1975)
Throughout the 1980s, Rhino Records provided most of my pre-recorded music. It was an intimate space, this Rhino. Reminded me of the student lounge at my brother’s experimental high school, only stocked with a vast selection of new and used records and tapes at reasonable prices, a dedicated and outspoken legion of patrons of all ages (though mostly college-age), and an enthusiastic team of sonic cultural anthropologists working behind the counter. Most interesting, to me, was watching the expressions on the faces of serious vinyl collectors as they stood trying to ignore the brainy high school outcasts between them, slowly flipping through used albums for hours on end.
But maybe that’s just who was there when I was there.
Every purchase would yield an unrequested response from whoever was at the register. Certain artists would draw complimentary grunts or nods: Tom Verlaine? Meat Puppets? Minutemen? Charlie Parker? Wes Montgomery? Yes. You are a good and worthy person, and I will allow you to make this purchase.
Other artists, not so much. Brian Eno, for example. I remember placing a copy of Eno’s Before and After Science on the front counter and receiving a painful groan and matching grimace.
“Wow,” said I. “That bad?”
“I’d rather listen to my refrigerator,” came the reply.
And there were the in-store performances. Two favorites: In Rhino’s second incarnation (after it took over the space next door, providing, among other things, performance space at the back), there was the Nels Cline Trio (with Alex Cline on drums and Mark London Simms on bass). Loud. Good. And in the original store, there was this great solo performance from Peter Case. His first solo album had just come out, and was getting decent airplay, even on KXLU. The aisles were packed. Case lay a slab of plywood atop one of the record racks, hopped up with his six-string and played loud and strong with no amplification to an enthusiastic full house.
That’s the Rhino that I’m saying goodbye to today.
I approach Rhino’s third incarnation from the south, on foot. Northbound on the east side of the southern 2000 block of Westwood Boulevard, I see a sign: The Writer’s Store. I duck inside and find a victim. “Excuse me,” I say. “Did this company used to be the Writer’s Computer Store?” (The semi-seminal Writer’s Computer Store sprung from the gravesite of the considerably more seminal Papa Bach’s bookstore, which died in ’84 on Santa Monica Boulevard, a few blocks west of the 405.)
“Thanks. Good. Congratulations. Thanks.”
Between The Writer’s Store and the third incarnation of Rhino Records, just a half-mile downhill from its original location a few blocks down from the Smith’s Food King that became Westward Ho Market that became Bristol Farms, is the Rhino Records parking lot. And I’m here for what was widely publicized as Rhino’s Last Parking-Lot Sale.
Parking-lot sales are a Rhino tradition since the early ’70s, but this parking lot’s inexplicably filled not with bargains but with cars. To which I say, What the fuck?
The fuck is that Rhino’s last parking-lot sale takes place indoors. The doors close behind me and I join 300-plus consumers tooling around in sweaty enclosed quarters, recycling coal-mine-fresh wads of air.
The fuck necessitates that I stake out a clearing around an old Evel Knievel pinball machine ($2,995), a place to breathe if only through my mouth. These aisles were never meant to hold this many armpits.
Indoors, bad; selection, good. Tons — actual tons — of mostly no-longer-categorized new and used CDs, VHS tapes, DVDs, music novelties, T-shirts, posters and vinyl, vinyl, vinyl and even some 8-tracks (Judy Collins, Joe Walsh, Neil Young, Helen Reddy, a few others) in a 24-tape, hardshell carrying case.
It’s the final hour of the first day of the two-day sale. The checkout line isn’t too bad — about 30 long. Then Bob behind the counter shouts encouragement to get in line: Doors will close in 30 minutes.
The line quickly doubles, and soon doubles again. Patrons young, hip and somber with armloads, boxes, cases or just clutching a few things to their chests. A couple of senior citizens exchange rueful anecdotes. A funereal intensity prevents me from interrupting them with dorky, journalist-boy questions.
I’d like to stay and talk with them, but I just don’t have the temperament for air this thick, lines this long. It’s like a parking lot in here.