Wednesday, April 21, 2010


April 17 was Record Store Day. It's celebrated the third Saturday every April. This year marked its third anniversary. It was conceived by a record store employee to celebrate the unique culture of the nearly abolished and newly resurgent independently owned record store. It has grown into a minor cultural phenomena with several recording labels releasing major records in minimum quantity on Record Store Day. It was parodied on this past weekend's "Saturday Night Live". This year's crop is the biggest and best yet with unique one of a kind and reissued records from Leonard Cohen, Depeche Mode, Bob Dylan, The Flaming Lips, Green Day, Modest Mouse, New Order, Pavement, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Talking Heads, Tom Waits, Wilco, Neil Young, and nearly countless others.So I ventured out early driving to Jamestown, NY to hit my first record store, Townhouse Records on East 4th Street downtown. I've never been. It's small. So small that I kept tripping on crates of records that were scewed about and bumping my head into things that were hanging. It's a more records through the hippie bead archway sort of place. The three or four young men who worked there, (or maybe they were living there), didn't so much as greet me when I walked in to what looked like a private bedroom under construction with records, records, records! After a deadly silence I summoned a "Hello!", to which they responded. Mind you, it felt like I walked into somebody's home.So I got my bearings and navigated through the store and it's a pretty cool store, with record player collectibles in eye-catching spots, and when I say record player collectibles, I mean crafted replicas of record players, like Hummel, or bigger, or those spooky snow babies. And much cooler, unknown, nearly antique loving replicas of the phonograph. Still I couldn't grasp this store. Not understanding in a few moments the layout, and trying to land in a comfort zone, and truly stepping over mounds of stuff with every step in every direction I anchored on the punk section which was woefully small given this castle of records. My mission was to find the Record Store Day records under a code of silence. All the workers, so close to me I could have reached out and slapped them, were indulged in a constant superficial conversation. I would say personal conversation but it was too dull to be personal. They were annoying. They kept buzzing by me with stacks of records, yacking, yacking, yacking. Mind you, we are all in the same small room. And I left my glasses in the car and I can't read the fine print without them. So I have to leave this intimate situation and then return. Mind you, this is a second story 'townhouse' through a door at the end of a dilapidating hallway like you're gonna meet a guy named 'Mike'. And I think I'm the only customer but I'm not sure. There were four of them, walking in and out the door yacking, yacking, yacking, and after awhile I couldn't tell if they worked there or not. At least one of them seemed versatile enough to be record store worker, owner, customer, and friend from the neighborhood rolled into one. But I felt funny about leaving and coming back, like they'll think, he leaves he comes back he's gonna kill us all with a gun, so I announce, "I am leaving but I will be right back". They took no notice like one of them could have said, "is there someone in the room with us?".I found the Record Store section, and it was a humble and proud little group. I suppose it costs these small independent record stores to supply the new releases on Record Store Day and while a lot is offered in limited quantities from the record labels, each store has only a share dependent on the size and success of the store. Perfectly understandable, and the kid's face lit up when he told me I was looking at a Record Store Day exclusive. It was a reissue of TV ON THE RADIO's 2008 release on vinyl. I have it on CD. I really wanted to buy a Record Store exclusive off these guys, the most humble store I visited but I was anxious to leave. They kept standing around blocking the records while browsing them, yacking, yacking, yacking. And they kept greeting each other with an absolutely serious, "Happy Record Store Day", sounding like an exchange between committed Communists. I did buy some old records - The Alarm, "Electric Folklore Live", ( I played it and it is in pristine condition with poster, even as I am the last Alarm fan), Sly and The Family Stone, "Back on The Right Track", (it skipped), and David Bowie, "Tonight", often cited as his worst album ever. Great price and they gave me three protective record sleeves. But no cookie. There was a plate of them freshly baked at the register, certainly in honor of Record Store Day, and I was sort of munchie, and they looked good, but I was not going to reach over and just take a cookie from what may have been some-one's lunch. My eyes on the cookies must have expressed fascination, hunger, delight. Yes, I would like a cookie, thank you very much. Dude, your arm goes flinging uncontrollably at your side, you pick up the plate of cookies, you smile, and you say, would you like a cookie? To your only customer.

Several hours later I drove into Buffalo to visit Spiral Scratch Records on Delaware Avenue, another record store I've never been. Here is a familiar record store - small and dark, with characters out of a Crumb comic book hunched over prized gold. Like the hushed word is we're about to be raided but everything's cool. The RSD (Record Store Day) selections were greater than in Townhouse. But not quite what I wanted. The guy browsing next to me said it, - "this is so not a day to be spending 30 bucks on a record. " Yes, be selective. I still had a third store to visit. I bought a Canadian punk compilation, Canadian Relics, a seven inch vinyl record that I now love, for pittance. I was determined to buy at least one RSD album at my next stop.

But more trouble. I parked on the road right in front of the store and some jerk parked his car illegally just an inch in front of me, and I was wedged in. Oh, I know this. Somebody likes me and they made it so I couldn't leave my parking space, and I'd be forced to talk with them. This trouble follows me everywhere. God knows what trouble I've caused myself this time. Surely my sarcasm is evident.

So I go back into the record store and I yell, "Who's the asshole that blocked me in?". Well, only in my brutish fantasy. Actually I worked those wheels and tires like a surgeon removing a sliver. I went sideways out of my parking space. It took me several minutes what with traffic bombarding me every inch. The nerve of some people.

Record Theatre was like the plaza suite of RSD stores. Both locations had a live band playing every hour, and the place was mobbed. Pennsylvania & Gold, an alt-Americana outfit were playing when I was there. A nice version of Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee". I've been going to Record Theatre since I was a teenager. At the University Plaza location they had a slew of RSD merchandise. Still I somehow left Record Store Day 2010 without any designated merchandise. Now I'll probably do what I do every year after RSD - buy the records on ebay for much more than they cost on RSD. I had a list of all the offerings this year and my favorites just weren't in stock at these locations.

Pennyslvania & Gold at Record Theatre, Record Store Day 2010

I really ragged on the guys from Townhouse Records. I love the store and I will be back to buy more records as soon as my horse comes in. It was an amusing surreal experience and I enjoyed joking about it, and I relish my time there. After all, I can be an intimidating presence and it was the first hour of Record Store Day, nerves were frayed...

"You got to be young and never grow old, it's the golden age of rock 'n roll"
Mott the Hoople

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