A case for record stores

A recent post of mine included several references to a TV series which aired before many of you were born.  Now I’m going to write about record stores?  What the hell am I doing?  Is this a sad attempt to corner the “old fart” market in the world of blogs?

Not exactly.

It’s not what you’re thinking.  I’ve accepted the idea of buying my music in the form of downloads or entire CD’s from Amazon.  Do I miss the hours spent flipping through bins of vinyl, and later through bins of impossible to open CD’s?  Of course!  Who wouldn’t?  Do I pine for the days when you could kill an afternoon trying to find some old blues record while listening to whatever hideous crap the people who worked there wanted to hear?  I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about it.  Does the loss of the visual splendor known as “album art” make me sad?  It does, but times have changed and I am OK with it (or at least I’m trying to be).

What people don’t realize is that the long lost record store was more than just a place to buy records and hear the latest Sex Pistols bootleg.  The record store was where “those people” worked.  Even back in the day, there were those with fluorescent Mohawks, odd piercings, and conspicuous tattoos of questionable content.  You’d see them as you walked to class in college as they were probably heading over to the buildings which housed the art department.  You would turn to your friends and smirk, and agree in unspoken understanding that whatever that person’s deal was, one thing was certain: they probably worked at the record shop.  The record shop was the one place, aside possibly from the ceramics studio, where these people could fit in.  The freaky non-conformist was custom made to work in a record shop, restocking the new “Toto” album and keeping the volume loud.  In fact, if you went to the record shop and the clerk was some freshly scrubbed, Izod-wearing frat boy, you’d immediately know that the store could not possibly be worth a damn.

Today, record stores have pretty much gone the way of home dairy delivery and the ice man.  There might be a few left out there, but you’d have to work hard to find them.  Even if you did locate one, my suspicions are that the ambiance would more closely resemble a specialty antique shop, with employees who looked more like bookstore intellectuals than true fringe-type record store employees.

Contrary to the obvious, the most telling sign of the demise of record stores is not the glaring lack of record stores.  It’s the increasing sightings of record store employees everywhere else in our culture.

I’ll give you a perfect example.  I go to the upscale grocery store weekly.  I’m something of a foodie and certainly no stranger to the dinner table.  I like to walk through the aisles like I’m a contestant on Top Chef, trying to find the perfect ingredients.  There’s one of those record store type people working there.  Apparently he was not satisfied with merely piercing his ears, and instead inserted increasingly larger spacers into his ear lobes.  The store may have dictated that he not wear his spacers or it may have been his own choice.  Regardless, he’s there in the gourmet cheese section, with these giant loops of loose flesh swaying beneath his ears.  I know I already sound like a crotchety old geezer, but those fleshy ear handles don’t do much for my appetite for brie.

I really feel bad for these folks.  A couple of decades ago, they could have been happily employed in record stores, but now they are working at my doctor’s office, their sleeves of tattoo work sneaking out from beneath their scrub jackets and their body piercings leaving strange shapes beneath their clothes.  They are selling us our shoes, with the tell-tale lisp of the tongue piercing.

“We don’t shtock thosh loafersh in a chize chwelve, chir.”

Lately, I’ve been bombarded with tattooed, pierced, mutilated weird looking folks in virtually every aspect of my life.  While I have yet to see a corporate lawyer or bank vice president with a neck tatt of a serpent wrapped around the collar of his  Brooks Brothers pin-point oxford shirt, I have to admit that it may be due to how few bank executives and lawyers I see on a daily basis.

I’m starting to wonder whether or not there could possibly be enough record stores for all of these people to work in, even if there were record stores.  It’s hard not to wonder if I’m sinking into the minority.  Maybe I’m turning into the oddity.

I can’t help but wonder what these people say when they get home to their tattooed, pierced significant others at night.

“Hi honey! How was your day at the gourmet cheese counter?”

“Aw you know honey, same chevre, different day” he’d reply. (cheese humor – only gets riper with age – read this again next month and see if it’s funnier)

“Did you see any interesting people today”

“Well, there was this one weird looking dude” he’d say, “You should’ve seen this freak!  He was older, had his hair cut at about 3/32 of an inch, and I swear, he didn’t have a single extra hole in him or a drop of ink on him!”

“Really?!” she’d cry, amazed that her husband could have seen such a freakish oddity out in public.  “Where do you suppose people who look like that work?!”