"Music is my mistress…and she plays second fiddle to no one." - Duke Ellington
The first record I ever bought with my own hard earned allowance was DESTROYER by Kiss. I could make some shit up and try to tell you it was The Stooges FUNHOUSE or Patti Smith's HORSES but I was 11 for Chrissakes! No, it was Kiss.
First of all, there's that cover. Four alien, super-powered freaks apparently dancing on the scattered remains of some city (Detroit?) decimated by the havoc that Kiss hath most surely wrought. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wish they had thought of this. Then there are the songs. "Detroit Rock City", "Flaming Youth", and the raging hormone fantasy of "Do You Love Me?" When you're eleven years old, and you've liked girls since you could draw breath, but you also collect comic books, so girls just think you're a dork…well, you need Kiss!
I bought that record at Licorice Pizza in Hawthorne, California. I think it's a Subway sandwich shop now. But then, holding that record, staring at that cover, riding home on my bike, album tucked under my arms, putting it on, blasting the speaker, well, I've just never been the same since.
That day I contracted my first addiction, records. An obsessive search for musical ecstasy and redemption began. How that search ruled my life, and led me to the Ramones, The Clash, Bessie Smith,Minor Threat, Nina Simone, Fats Domino, PJ Harvey and a cast of thousands is better suited for a book rather than a blog.
The point of all this is, in case you haven't noticed, the record store, as a concept, as a dream, as a haven, as an endless sea of possibility, hell, as a fucking business, has died. All of it. Gone! Music just doesn't seem to matter to people anymore. They don't care much about art at all. They don't care how it sounds. They don't want liner notes. They don't care who engineered Led Zeppelin II or who did that god-awful mix of Raw Power. Just compress as much memory into some little chunk’o’plastic as you can and be on your way. Which won't be far because…why would you leave the house?
My favorite record store ever was Soundsations, in Culver City. It still exists, in a lesser form, in a different location, but in the late seventies, on Sepulveda, it was run by this really great guy who had very obvious…um, challenges in his life. The gossip was that he had done too much acid in the sixties and it attacked portions of his brain, rendering certain physical functions problematic. That's believable. Here's the thing though, that guy knew everything there was to know about rock music. He knew it all. Blind Willie McTell? He'd tell you what kind of shoes he wore. It was sometimes hard to understand him and when you didn't, he would get royally pissed. I have a vague memory of him throwing something at me once. I loved that guy. He refused to sell me Boston’s “Don’t Look Back”. He protected me. It was because of him, I first heard John Cale's paranoia epic "FEAR". I bought "Trout Mask Replica" from that guy.
I don't know where he, is now but I bet he's unhappy. He didn't belong anywhere, except a record store. It was the only place he was at home. In his room, surrounded by great art, that's where he was okay. He was just like me.
You couldn't get me out of a record store. I spent a good portion of my adult years working in vinyl dins of inequity. I started at Tower Records (dead). I worked at Music Plus (dead), The Wherehouse (gasping for air), Vinyl Fetish (the Cahuenga store isn't worthy to spit-shine the Doc Martin boot of the former Melrose location), I even worked for that pathetic Mall canker sore Sam Goody (mercifully reduced from 1300 stores to 191). If you couldn't find me selling records, you could find me shopping for records, at Go-Boy (gone), or Moby Disc (being given life support by Django’s), or Aron’s (one of the best, buried alive by Napster).
In recent years, with my horizons fading to black, you could find me at Amoeba (very dangerous place that Amoeba)…or Benway Records. Benway was not the gargantuan monolith that Amoeba is, but Benway was everything a record store needs to be. You didn't go into Benway looking for one specific thing. On any given day, you could scour the bins and dig up some long forgotten jewel or some obscure critic fave you wanted to debunk, a Misfits t-shirt, and an Operation Ivy button. Whether it was Ron or Kelly at the front of the house, you had a fellow opinionated rock geek to commiserate with, rant with, inform and learn with. If I told Kelly that Ozzy's "Black Rain" album didn't entirely suck if you skipped the power ballad, she'd put it on and play it LOUD!! I got all four of Camille Rose Garcia's dolls there. Sure, I could've gotten them at Wacko
but I wouldn't have also come away with the Violent Femmes cover of the Tom Waits song "Step Right Up", like I did at Benway.
When Aron’s had their going out of business sale, I took advantage of it like any vinyl junky would, but when Benway was closing, I couldn't do it. I couldn't pick over the bones of a friend like that. It was just too sad. It hurt too much.
So dear readers, the record store as dream factory has died. My safe-haven is gone. There are a lot of reasons why this has happened. It goes deeper than technology. More than anything else, I think we're just spoiled, fat, and lazy. Give me convenience or give me death! It's just too much trouble to pull the vinyl, clean the record, drop the needle, flip the record, and then there's all that listening you have to do. We have developed a ring tone attention span, and are hurtling ourselves into an artless coma. So, generation (why), as Sleater Kinney said, "you're no rock-n-roll fun."
I defined myself in record stores and mosh pits. They were my church. Amoeba will probably survive awhile what with all the neon and sheer girth but Benway's closing symbolizes for me the last clenched fist on the vinyl precipice opening up and letting go. I'm going to
miss talking to Kelly in our natural habitat. I miss Benway already.
As I write this Joy Division is reaching the crescendo of “Day of the Lords" on my turntable. "This is the room, the start of it all. Through childhood, through youth, I remember it all, Oh, I’ve seen the nights filled with blood sport and pain. And the bodies obtained, the bodies obtained, the bodies obtained.
Where will it end? Where will it end?
Where will it end? Where will it end?"
That means "Isolation" is next, so I should go get a “lighter head for my heavy heart”. Soon it'll be time to flip the record.