I. Oversized velvety concert posters, CDs in those big plastic casings, charming handwritten employee recommendations. A once-frequented teenage hotspot, today the record store serves more like a museum than a local hang out. It’s an emporium of musical memorabilia, an homage to a world that was.
When I was 11, my parents dropped me off at the McKinley Mall with a handful of dollar bills in my pocket. I bypassed the Gap and Burger King and bee-lined it straight for Record Theater, Buffalo’s oldest and largest independently owned record store, and I purchased my first CD single: SWV’s “Weak.” I’d been to Record Theater before and sauntered up and down the aisles but was too young of a human to actually have (or need) money. But that day I had it in my hand, I could touch it, those smooth Sisters With Voices and I bought it with my own lawn-mowing cash. I was the proud owner of a compact disc. And it wasn’t just “Weak” once. It was the Radio Edit, it was the Bam Jam Jeep remix, and the R-N-B remix.
As I grew up, going to the record store was a semi-event, something to do by yourself or with a friend on a day off from work. Grab a coffee and let’s go get lost for an hour or so. Flick through the endless vinyls, their covers bigger than the thumbnails we see now. Ask Jack, the ear-gauged manager about what song is playing. Jack points to the display that says “Playing Now.” Oops. Probably buy something and unwrap it in your car. Head home with it playing. Keep driving until it ends.
II. The latest trends in music and fashion are likely to be found right here in the blogosphere. Just one click and you know what to where to that Friday night romp. Just one click and you’re listening to that mysterious electro-pop Swedish dude on your iPhone as you head out for the evening dressed in nu-corduroy to that Friday night romp.
“Oh, I love them,” your friend says when you tell them what you’re listening to.
“Actually,” you say slyly. “It’s just one dude.”
You’re so plugged in! And you didn’t even have to leave your house.
Unlike the cozy and quaint bookstores, record stores are not something people are outspokenly looking to save. But that all changed in 2008 when Metallica played the first-ever Record Store Day at Rasputin Records in Mountain View, California. In the early 2000s, frontman Lars Ulrich led the case against file-sharing giant Napster suing for unlawful usage of their songs. A few years later, Metallica kicked of a campaign to reintroduce the record store to America. Whether the band was fighting for the greater cause or the greater cause was their big egos, who’s to say? But what came out of it is a holiday for everyone.
III. This upcoming Saturday, April 20, is internationally observed Record Store Day, a time to celebrate music and its listeners. Because we here at KQED POP view pop culture with an SF lens, here are a few Bay Area happenings you might want to check out:
Amoeba Records in San Francisco is live silk screening, which I had to look up and it sounds super rad. Apparently you can buy a tee shirt, pick a Record Store Day design and they’ll silk screen it right then and there for you with all proceeds to benefit the San Francisco Rock Project. Amoeba does it right.
Get there early and 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland will serve you free coffee and a vegan donut, which is delicious and rules. There will be food trucks all day and raffles and a free tee shirt if your orders reach over $100. Not to mention RSD releases galore!
If you’re a thrash metal fan and looking to get your Testament record signed, the band will be in-person at Rasputin Music in Berkeley, pen in hand awaiting your arrival. There might not be donuts but there’s sure to be a mohawk or two.
IV. Go support your local record store. Even if you don’t have a record player, I suggest you buy a record because then maybe it will convince you to buy a record player. And if it doesn’t, no big whoop. In a week you’ll flip the record over, read the track list and recording date and wonder why you bought something you can’t even use. But then you’ll see it, on a tiny sticker at the bottom: a promo code for one digital download.