Monday, April 20, 2009

To ingrates who should show gratitude...

Way back in the day when iTunes hadn't yet occurred to Steve Jobs and Amazon was a silly little online retailer that thought it could make a living selling books, WB had a choice of independent music shops to browse in Michigan.

In Battle Creek, the tattooed owners knew encyclopedias worth of information about the most obscure bands with the most awesome CD covers, and their enthusiasm for undiscovered music showed as they'd happily crack open a sealed disc and toss it into the house CD player so we, and they, could hear it together — loud. (Nope, those individual listening station things at corporate chain stores didn't exist yet, either.)

In East Lansing, aka Spartanville, the indie shop didn't just peddle new discs, it also bought, sold, and traded old ones. And once again, the staff weren't just cash register jockies; they were music historians and archivists — just like the crew in Ann Arbor, aka Wolverineville, where just walking through the entire mazelike store could take half an hour, but always took longer because a new band or forgotten album showed up at every turn.

The store in Battle Creek is long gone now and won't even come up in a Google search. The one in East Lansing still lingers but has shifted to comic books, posters, and tees for life support. The one in Ann Arbor downsized to one-twentieth its original size, moved to sub-street level, and sells only classical music.


But every one of those cities has an FYE store at the mall, along with multiple Borders and Barnes and Noble outposts.

Of course, the same thing has happened nationwide and worldwide, and this is why Record Store Day came along in 2007, as an official day to officially remember that several hundred completely independent record stores are still out there, fighting the good fight against the online Amazon MP3 Store and iTunes Music Store giants, and the brick and mortar megapowers that, like Virgin and Borders, aren't doing so well right now, either.


WB supports the "buy local" philosophy and always has, even when it means a couple of extra bucks spent for the experience. So when Record Store Day 2009 rolled around on Saturday, April 18, we happily headed over to Jazz Record Mart in downtown Chicago to prowl the Blues aisles and remember indie-store joys like handwritten 3x5 inventory cards taped to rare CDs and "cash registers" in the form of two ancient (c. 1999) and original-design iMac computers.

And the store was buzzing with customers. This made us happy as we happily scooped up a Chicago Blues disc and a JRM t-shirt and happily approached the twin iMacs — where the clerk disinterestedly muttered something beneath his breath, never looked up, muttered a couple of other things, still didn't look up, stuffed our purchases — our acknowledgements and celebrations of Record Store Day! — into a bag, held the bag out wordlessly, and then muttered to the customer behind us.


Dude, WTF, you know? You couldn't have sucked the joy out of the experience more effectively if you'd pulled out a gun and shot us. Instead of leaving with a resolution to come back often, not just on RSD but any time we're in the big city and in the neighborhood (i.e. many times a year), we resolved to "never again" you instead.

But listen: we've changed the tune slightly since then. Now, you get another chance, because you might have been overwhelmed by the steady stream of buying customers, and you might have been stood up by the other clerk who promised to be right back from lunch, and you might have missed your last three smoke breaks, and your boss might have stuck you with restroom detail, and ... well, as you can see, we're trying.

But really, you need to try a lot harder too. Next time — and that won't be a year from now. Deal?

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