Saturday, April 21, 2012

ruminations: record store day 2012

For the first time in the four years since the advent of Record Store Day today is the first time I’ve had the day off and therefore been able to partake in the festivities. Since I have always had to work during the previous years my course of action was usually to travel vast distances around Chicago in the hopes that in the leftovers of a handful of local record shops I’d be able to get the releases I really wanted. I’m not an ebay flipper, just a hopeless vinyl addict. There are usually five or six releases I bother to shell out for on the day. This year I was very excited to wake up and head straight to the Wicker Park Reckless Records as they’ve never let me down in the last few years. Sadly, during the home stretch of my hour-and-a-half wait in line, when I was a mere 10 people from the front of the line they ran out of Beach House 7”es, which was really the only release I was hoping I’d walk away with as finding it after the fact for a reasonable price would be incredibly difficult. The scene was relatively amusing—people had multiple-page stapled lists that they handed to the clerks. A woman perusing the CD racks tried to get in line in front of the couple ahead of me and got yelled at by one of them and then stepped behind them in line in front of me. Kind of unnecessary as it was clear she wasn’t there for any of the special releases—she had just decided to go shop for CDs on the worst possible day of the year to do it. Kind of like going to Ben & Jerry’s to buy a pint of ice cream on free ice cream cone day. I walked away from that first shop with only two items from my list (which was made up of only five items)—the Lee Hazlewood singles collection from the folks at Light in the Attic and a 7” by the Chocolate Watch Band reissued by Sundazed. Leaving there I felt like a straggler who had just come from a massive feeding frenzy. The eBay flippers are always the first ones in line.

My plan had been to walk to the Empty Bottle from there for the Numero Group Pop-Up store, which has proven to be a bit of a controversial topic amongst the area record stores. While riding the train in the morning I read over the blurb in the Reader about it and apparently local record stores are upset at losing business on Record Store Day to a store that only exists for that day when they are open all year, every year. Seems a bit ridiculous considering the wait time that most people go through to shop at the local shops due to the fact that the Numero Group store doesn’t stock any of the special releases. If they did then there would REALLY be something to be upset about, but they don’t. Instead it almost seems to be more about what Record Store Day should be about—which is buying and enjoying music, particularly on vinyl. What happens is the Numero Group sets up a table with all of their releases on pretty much every format and they find a handful of independent vinyl collectors who sell their stacks and stacks of used vinyl. What it amounts to is a digger’s paradise—when I walked in I wasn’t even sure where to start. I spent two hours there flipping through the racks and didn’t even feel like I’d made a dent. I walked away with a handful of 45s and two LPs. The price? $12. I had money left over from the 20 that I broke to sit at the bar and drink a beer (which was awfully nice after having spent so much time on my feet). What's more the Bottle had changed all of their drafts to various Lagunitas brews.

By the time I was ready to leave I had spent much longer than I’d intended to there—my intention had been to stop by the Numero Group shop and then head back to Reckless in order to catch Radar Eyes at 2. While I was walking down the street I was trying to figure out whether I should bother dropping by Permanent Records (which was a 15-20 minute walk away) or if I should walk back to the train station and head for the downtown Reckless Records (which is often a good place to pick up the stragglers from your list). This is when I remembered the mild feeling of panic I associate with Record Store Day. As you’re traveling from shop to shop the passage of time becomes quite the source of stress—will they run out of what you’re after before you get there? Will it even matter? Did you choose the wrong place to go first? Since Permanent Records does their midnight Record Store Day sale every year they are often a good choice for a final stop as they rarely have anything left over after their midnight sale. I opted to go to the downtown Reckless instead and ended up leafing through the complete list and found two unexpected gems—The Cure- ‘Entreat Plus’ (which I’ve been on a wild goose chase seeking out over the past two years) and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- ‘Howl.’ I’d been pondering ordering ‘Howl’ on vinyl through BRMC’s official site as it comes on coloured vinyl with a high-quality vinyl rip and a few other bells and whistles, but found that paying $45 for a record by a band I was never that into didn’t really sit so well when the time came. I always wanted to hear ‘Howl’ as I recently rediscovered their self-titled debut (which I bought on vinyl on a trip to London in 2005 for £5) and found it incredibly enjoyable. I’d always heard good things about it, but didn’t want to buy it on CD and the vinyl version had long since gone out of print, so when I was able to snag it minus the costly shipping charges I jumped at the chance. $30 is a bit steep for a double LP, but it is 180gm and a double LP, so it just becomes a question of practicality at that point. Sitting here listening to it and converting it to mp3 as I write I’m very pleased with it—the cut is nice and deep and loud and the record is very impressive. I can see how it’s gotten such a great reputation over the years.

Exhausted, I boarded the blue line again and stopped off at New Wave Coffee for a sandwich and a latte and a crash on one of their beat-up lazy boys. It was the perfect place to let the crushing agony of being a hopeless vinyl addict overwhelm me. They were even listening to Julee Cruise. This, to me, is the Record Store Day experience. Every year as the vinyl craze grows and grows my addiction becomes more and more of a burden. When I was 18, I got into the habit of buying my favourite records on vinyl because it was usually a bit more practical—records were plentiful and cheap because no one wanted them. New releases only cost $10 and the pressings were good because they weren’t being cranked out as quickly or as haphazardly. At least I got past the phase where I would buy something that was special edition on the off chance that I might regret it later. Vinyl is supposed to be a vehicle for music. It’s not a fetish property. The allure is in its enduring quality and its tangibility. It’s encouraging that it’s endured so much as a format in an age where so much of what people consume is insubstantial and exists only between a computer screen and their brains. It would be nice if this could be nothing more than a good thing, but, like most things, it becomes a money-making, capitalistic, consumerist feeding frenzy for some. On my way home my dad sent me a text about how he went to a beer festival and, despite the fact that he’s a stalwart wine-drinker, had a great time. There was a part of me that wished I’d spent my day there rather than how I did. Of course now that I’m home and firing up some nice, fresh vinyl on the turntable it all seems worthwhile now. The music is all so great. You ebay flippers can go ahead and leave your stuff sealed. You’re missing out on the best part.

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