A hundred years ago, or thereabouts, I was a young boy of only 15. I had my bicycle and a piece of a job earning $3.15 an hour. And that was good money for a boy in the mid eighties in the midwest.
I recall the days that I spent rolling my 34 pound Raleigh Capri ten speed, which I still own, all over the city of my youth. The streets were mine to see. I was fully aware that because I rode while others drove, I saw things most missed. In a very real sense, I did stop to smell the roses.
I also knew the joy of pop music and good tunes in my ears. Granted the headphones of the time were foam and huge or the size of a Susan B Anthony and delicate, but the sounds of the season I wanted were easily heard. My 7-Up clear plastic, portable, cassette tape player had the latest Phil Collins or Roachford song singing about cuddly toys or how I should take a look at him now. I used to sit anxiously by my radio, fingers hovering above the play/record toggles waiting for Rick Deez to shut up so I could make my latest mix tape of the hot summer jam. And when I couldn’t wait any longer, or just had to own it, I’d hop my bike and race to the local Peaches Records for a cassette single or Lp to slap on my turntable. It was that way I learned how to ride a bike with one hand. Not a good idea, but it’s what I did.
The record stores were palaces of sound. Rock. Pop. Rhythm and Blues. Soul. Hip hop. Jazz. Classics. Southern rock. A newcomer; acid jazz. Spoken word albums. All available on cassette, Lp, 45, and sometimes in the clearance section an 8-track or two. I still have a Pink Floyd 8-track today. Nothing to okay it on, but I have it!
The smell of those record stores was something you don’t have today. The smell of new vinyl mixed with magnetic tape all wrapped in the flimsy plastic and packaged with care by some far away press where a studio producer was sweating his job and some singer was praying for a miracle. The sounds of piped in music echoed in every corner. There were music performer posters and promotional discs everywhere. Kids and adults stalking the aisles one are the other hoping for a misprinted price label so the recording could be had for less than full retail.
It is this hunt that I lived for. Finding hidden gems I’d never seen or heard of before. When did Prince make this? Who is Patti Smith? What’s a Mandrill? Didn’t that bay have a few other records in it last week? I saw some cover with a guy or men surrounded by flowers but I can’t recall who the group was. Hmmm. It is a first world problem to try and tap into my primal hunter gatherer instinct. My weapon was my fuzzy memory and my wallet. My quarry a new music release. My senses were heightened as I prowled the aisles and dark corners of the store seeking a deal. A rare pressing. A limited issue picture Lp. An out of print cassingle. Yes that’s what the audio cassette singles were called then; cassingles.
Soon the quarry got wise to me and my fellow hunters. We sought the new earwig. The compact disc. But is wasn’t as hard to find at first. The industry knew they were a hot item. So they put them in HUGE boxes both for visibility and as a theft deterrent. Almost taller than a 33 1/3 Lp and half as wide, these odd creatures peeked up and out over repurposed cassette and Lp cases hoping to be seen by a would be hunter. It never ceased to amaze me that the case was so big while the actual case and cd were so small. As if it was trying to be something it wasn’t. To pretend to be more than it really was. The sights. The smells. The sounds. Nothing like it.
Todya the hunt continues, but it’s not as much fun.
Today, the record store is a niche market and not as ubiquitous. Tower Record Stores are gone from my hometown. I once had Peaches. Then it became Coconuts. Now, I have no idea what it’s called. The hunt for records by and large has become victim to the instant gratification culture. The only real surprise now is finding a new song by an old artist on iTunes only because I was perusing websites their discography link.
The precious tactile sensation of holding a physical album that you physically put in some time and effort in seeking and ultimate satisfaction is not so common now. Today, you just look for an Amazon or iTunes link, click buy and its quickly downloaded to your computer or portable device that has few, if any, internal moving parts. The HD art image of the content is a pale and ultimately unsatisfying approximation of the huge double sided inner fold out of the old Lp’s. Who can forget the inside pictures of any Ohio Players album?
Records are still being made. Both consumer and professionals use them. DJ’s for mixing and parties. Consumers for collectors items. Something to keep the masses interested. I recently saw a Sleigh Bells Lp that had a full sized school notebook in it with a dozen pages filled with “handwritten” lyrics. So very necessary because the songs are virtually impossible to decipher without it. Or a lyric search on Google.
Maybe something has been lost. Maybe more has been gained. I’m now able to get a recording of a favorite Hikaru Utada or Hideaki Tokunaga or Claudia Acuña or even a Los Budos Band recording without having to travel to Japan, South America or California to get it. But then again, isn’t that part of the joy? The point isn’t just the getting there, but the work put in to getting there in the first place?