If you’ve ever walked into a record store and had the staff give you “attitude” or just simply ignore you you may appreciate my tale.
It all began at the dark wood paneled, poster covered back room space at Woodmar Records in Hammond Indiana... in the mall. This was a hallowed hall to me. As I quickly hustled down the maze of hallways past jewelry shops and a variety of little boutiques that sold the fashion of the day I could smell the cigarette smoke and incense, it was my guide to the sanctuary of all things cool and music, cave of secrets and a world I wanted to be part of…the music world.
In Northwest Indiana I felt the edgy rock and roll life was pretty non-existant but here was a special lair of bad ass and I felt part of something just walking through the archway. British music magazines and expensive hard cover coffee table books of Annie Leibovitz photographs, Rolling Stone Magazines (which use to be the must read music mag of its day) CREEM, Hit Parade and Crawdaddy littered the front racks of the store by the counter. I never left without a copy of The Reader, a free weekly newspaper from Chicago, where there were personal columns to meet weird and wild city folk, it gave us lusty teen's something to get excited about in our bedrooms hovering around our Sound Design Stereo’s with duel cassette making mix tapes.
The only problem with this club of cool is…they wouldn’t let me join. The guys who work there thought I was too square. It took me a long time and many album and cassette purchases to prove that i knew something about music.
One afternoon I begged my mom to drop me off at Woodmar Records using the fine art of compromise, “ mom, while I’m at the record store you can check out a dress in Carson's for your big date at The Brass Mug next weekend,” I was ever the little manipulator!
“Ok, you’ve got thirty minutes she said, “ she was dust in the wind, as I took off, following the usual scent.
Terry, Mr. Know It All, was working behind the counter chain smoking cigarettes, he nodded, like an emperor granting the plebeian admittance to his hallowed chamber. I entered, his nod was actually somewhat of a compliment for a 14 year old like me.
I went directly to their imports and rifled though…I was bestowed by the crate digging gods with a really cool British New Wave compilation with horrible pastel graphics and a great mix of groups put out by some distributor I’d never heard of…it’s corner was damaged so it was on sale! Score! I actually really wanted the Prince's- "Purple Rain" soundtrack and Car’s-"Heartbeat City" but I knew Todd would look down on me for these commercial purchases, so I grabbed a 1/2 price Brian Eno to throw into the mix and decide I’d buy "Purple Rain" elsewhere…as I made my way up to the front. Another Senior manager of Woodmar Records, some tough looking AC/DC t-shirt wearing, Camel smoking, Greek dude started reading Todd the riot act. Todd suddenly looked small and magically he now was obviously just another pimply faced 16 year old trying to play cool.
AC/DC man sniffed like he had just over used a bottle of Affrin, rubbing his nose violently, “Dump that ash tray, price this stack of albums, quit strutting around here like some useless gash,” he spat at Todd. Wow, that dude was a dick. AC/DC man took off in a storm of sniffs and grunts, with his bad case of post nasal drip and disappeared through the rickety backroom door, with a slam. Todd looked at me sheepishly embarrassed.
It occurred to me, I’d been trying to impress this smug little jerk, not buying the music I wanted because I was afraid of his judgment. Wellll…I turned on my heels and grabbed that Prince cassette, but kept Brian Eno too…”I’ll take it all,” I said shoving the stack at him.
“Lotta good stuff here,” he said, almost like he was attempting for once to be sort of nice. “Ewe, what are you doing with this, he said, wagging the Purple Rain cassette at me.”
A switch went off, no doofus like Todd was gonna tell me what to buy. “Yea, well I like him.” I stood firmly with my purchase.
“Suit yourself,” Todd said jamming my haul into a black and gold plastic bag and sliding it towards me.
After that day I vowed no one would ever music shame me again!
As the music years have gone by I have visited every music store I can, collecting all kinds of amazing stock! Very little of it did I sell, I just continued dragging dusty plastic crates of albums and “Case Logic” double sided storage cases and shoe boxes full of cassettes from apartment to apartment. When one of my cassette carriers zipper rusted shut I knew it was time to start burning some of these one of a kind tapes to CD and then into my iTunes library.
Rhino had a great bunch of New Wave compilations and unique collections of songs that had not made it to iTunes or CD yet…so slowly, track by track, I burned the flimsy, sun melted cassettes onto a CD via my Crosley Desktop Stereo…not very impressive to look at considering the stereo rigs of yesteryear but it was easy to use and did the trick. Re-listening to all this great music was so soul enriching. Like a warm hug from a giant down comforter when the heat goes out.
Years later my computer almost crashed during COVID, I raced to buy a new Apple laptop and unfortunately my music collection, all 46,989 items was mostly wiped out from my iTunes. But as luck would have it I learned how to put it back together the long way by reloading all those CD’s yet again…hundred and hundred of CD’s that were Jenga’ed into all over my house. You’d think maybe this would suck…because it was time consuming but actually…who gets a chance to listen to their whole music collection.
Most of the time, if people even have a music collection it’s on the shuffle on their devices. The music goes in one ear and out the other like background noise. But purposefully loading this mountain of music into my computer made me slow down and take stock.
The hours and hours I spent at my kitchen table loading in CD after CD and sometimes renaming, finding art work and relabeling stuff gave me a hemorrhoid but it was worth the incredible time warp of good feels I got being reintroduced to all of these great moments in music!
My first stop after the quarantine was lifted and shops could be open was Laurie’s Planet of Sounds. I walked in after being a devoted client for at least a good 15 years and a man greeted me by name. He was tall and kind of hippieish with his long graying hair, he had a rock and roll t-shirt on, I, in turn, had on my Laurie’s Planet of Sounds T-shirt with Alf grooving to a tiny record player…I guess Laurie the owner of the shop was a fan of the 80’s TV character. “HI,” I said shocked this guy knew me.
“H! You said on FB last night Laurie's was going to be your first stop since the stores had been closed.”
“Yes, I did...here I am...great to be back!!” I smiled.
“I’m John,” he said introducing himself.
I was still confused. Who was this guy? Was he trying to pick me up? “I’m Cally,” I said with hesitation.
He could see I was befuddled, “I’m the owner.”
“OHHHHH,” I laughed. All these years and I had no idea this was THE John Laurie who owned the record store. Then we proceeded to talk music, small business ownership and general stuff. What a sales man too…just as I was checking out with a fat stack of goodness he shows me a 30$ album by my favorite label Numero Group and bam…I’m buying the gold standard of lounge music with the coolest cover and package of my album collection. It gave me a lot of peace of mind and soul every morning with my coffee, to combat the worry about my business and the future of our country in 2020.
It was the best feeling I’d ever had at a record store…so I proceeded to do my own National Record Store Day once a month, first to my favorite haunts and then later to places I’d never been to.
There’s a certain record store that I will continually revisit from time to time because of it's great stock unfortunately it comes with a bunch of pukey personally ordained elite hipsters behind the counter... who like to look down on you from their perch. To them I say, “ring me up, choad,” and you can keep that smug look on face for the next insecure sap that gives a shit. I will be lavishing in my 20 soundtracks I just got for a few bucks each in your dusty CD bin…you guys were the same jokers who told me vinyl was dead 30 years ago. Now who's the schmo.
KEEP YOUR COUNSEL, fellow crate diggers and never let anyone diss your disk selection. Music is sacred no matter what you buy.