Rub your eyes and scoff and snort and click on some other link with astounding cat facts. That’s fine. I get it. I don’t really want to be reading about Record Store Day either. After all, it’s sort of a cheap play right?
And it’s not like Coachella, where the number of similarly ironic knock-off Wayfarers are only outnumbered by the number of similarly ironic smells of outdoor human concert compost (to the untrained festival nose they are: unwashed dorm comforter, tent sex, dung beetle crash pad, empty road trip water bottle half filled with urine, sorority girl bathroom during full moon, found condom wrapper and soupçon of dehydrated lips, thigh rash and trying too hard).
It’s a day dedicated solely to the lo-fi/low-browness of music commerce. It is shrouded in pretense — as if putting your allowance down on a limited release licorice pizza pressed with false hope is going to save an industry and generate more interest than landfill.
Record Store Day itself has a bit of a scummy feel. It is, after all, sponsored by RedBull. And anyone who knows anything knows that RedBull ruins everything — starting with your esophagus and working its way down to the lining of your stomach, then eventually, through your colon.
So, there’s the tinny taurine aftertaste of selling out from the industry that wrote the rulebook of selling out.
But when you think about Record Store Day within these perimeters, it makes sense you should participate.
One of my best friends from home tells the following story to girls he’s just met. It’s one of those go-to tropes that at once feels like an important share of his past and serves as a barometer for the type of person she might be.
More recently, because the story shows its age, the tale is more a generation gap definer than straight parable. But that’s his problem not yours.
The story goes something like this: The Watts clan went to our high school. Someone in their family, or maybe it was aliens, opened Watts Music downtown. Nobody knows when it opened, one day it was just there. The storefronts that surrounded it in our youth, the TV repair shop, the cobbler, the $10 perm salon, have all disappeared. But Watts Music survives.
Watts Music smells like a record store. If you don’t know what a record store smells like and you can’t get down to Watts this weekend, buy a pack of Bubble Yum. Go to your closest library and check out a book on gardening, preferably one published before 1974. Get a six-pack of Miller High Life bottles. Check into a Motel 6 and pluck the soap from the shower.
Remove your shoes, unwrap the soap from its tiny paper prison and stick it right under your nose, pop in a piece of gum, crack open the High Life and turn the book to page 19. Now, take a giant whiff.
That’s a record store.
During the not-so-PC-High-School ’80s, Ken Watts, the 19-year-old second-year senior and heir to the Watts music fortune, had long layered hair that went halfway down the Iron Maiden Killers logo on the back of his denim vest. He rocked Minnetonka moccasins, the Wooderson Model, and used to leave government class midway through to take smoke breaks. He once hired my best friend’s sister in the school’s fall “slave auction” (yes, stuff like this happened in the ’80s) and she, along with about three of her Freshmen friends, had to carry him around on a stretcher, Cleopatra style, also toting his custom-tattooed with letter-perfect VHs and ACDCs Pee-Chee folder from class to class for a week.
Ken Watts also said he was on a first-name basis with both Rob Halford and the one kid who listened to Judas Priest and tried to blow his head off on a merry-go-round at a park near his house but didn’t finish the job so instead he had a half blown-off face because he listened to Stained Class (“Do it!”) and smoked a bunch of bad weed and lived in rural Nevada and decided in the aftermath to talk to high school kids about the dangers of heavy metal.
Ken Watts was a sort of cagey folk hero fulcrum between being mired in small town reality and floating up to the music gods — and his store the passage between the two.
Ken Watts only served one kind of flavor at his counter. To paraphrase the barkeep at Bob’s Country Bunker, Watts Music sold both kinds: Heavy and Metal. I once asked him if he had any Adam Ant and he said I’d have to “take the FERRY to the CITY if you want to buy QUEER music. Except for Queen. We sell Queen.”
So my buddy Mike walks into Watts with a fist full of lunch money one day, presumably to check out the broken poster rack in the back and debate whether he wanted to hang Steve Perry, Yes, David Lee Roth or Frankie Goes to Hollywood on his wall — none of us were aware what our choice in wall hangings said about our sexual orientation, that was for our parents to ponder — when he happened upon the stacks of wax and thought he might actually purchase actual music from Watts Music instead.
He’d heard good things about the White Album and since he was starting to pick up guitar, the Beatles, more notably, their double-LP which features the best work of George, seemed a natural place to start.
Mike brought the album to the counter and interrupted Ken Watts who was up there talking to some girl about the 27-minute “Feels Like the First Time” encore at a recent Foreigner show.
Ken Watts snatched the album from Mike’s hands.
“What’s this?” Ken Watts examined the album as if it had open herpes sores.
“Um, can I buy this?”
Ken Watts fell silent.
Mike continued: “It’s the Beatles. The White album. You know, best band ever.”
“Best band ever? Who gave you that information?”
Ken Watts untangled his mane from the Lita Ford-looking woman and reached under the counter into his magic bag of music.
He pulled out a fresh, shrink-wrapped, never-touched-by-human hands copy of Gold & Platinum, the appropriately titled double album of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest hits (or, if you’re a Skynyrd fan, the greatest hits besides everything off Second Helping, One More from the Road and Street Survivors.)
Ken Watts bequeathed the Southern Rock syllabus to Mike, and, before he turned back to re-fuse Aqua Net-coated tendrils with his girl like those Avatar braids, said:
“…Ever heard of a little band called Lynyrd Skynyrd?!”
Mike handed his bouquet of crumpled ones over, snatched his prize and mounted his bike. His music education t-minus 10 minutes from its inception with the opening chords of Down South Jukin’.
We have come to accept the demise of the record business in time to the funeral procession of all paid media. We expect to download every song and stream every movie and listen to every podcast for free. We cheer on the collapse of print, replaced by slideshows and hipster click-bait about hipsters.
Pay for content? To be entertained? Informed? Enlightened? Pfft.
“Ever heard of a little thing called the Internet?”
Surprisingly, in this new economy-free economy people refuse to stop making things. Blogs and songs get written, movies and shows get made, and, because the start-up costs to putting creative wares out there has shrunk down to the actual commercial value of them: nothing, well, there’s actually more ponderous, mildly impressive but mostly unconstrained bad ideas floating out there than ever.
Consider Record Store Day your gateway to what might actually be good. A 24-hour opportunity to enjoy the services of a personal Ken Watts-style concierge of cool who showcases the difference between shit and what’s Gold & Platinum.
Or just consider yourself lucky that a record store still exists in your town. Your children may not enjoy the same luxury. They certainly don’t get to have underclassmen slaves, carry Pee-Chees or take smoke breaks.