Friday, April 19, 2013

After All This, Our Reward Is Record Store Day? Yes. Exactly.

I don’t know if any of you guys have been watching the news, but America has spent the week being swallowed by the fires of hell. Bombings and explosions and senate payoffs and sinkholes and manhunts. Death and mayhem and even our illusory authorities asleep at the switch instead of telling us everything’s going to be okay. A press no longer motivated to disseminate actual true facts. And now, for dessert, here’s Record Store Day.

Here. Chomp this Bon Jovi live picture disc down your sorrow-choked esophagus. That’ll be the cure for what ails you, you stupid fuck. Everything in your world has turned sour, but at least you’ve got good old Richie Sambora to keep you company, brought to you despite a total lack of demand by the fine people of, oddly enough, Def Jam. Jay-Z is responsible for this.

Remember that song “Sheep Go To Heaven” by that band Cake? Sheep go to heaven. Goats go to hell. I bet you haven’t thought of that song in years, if ever. Well guess what: now you can own a previously unreleased live recording of that band Cake playing that song. Color sleeve, color vinyl. Be the envy of your complete absence of friends.

Are there also good records as a part of this year’s special release slate? Sure. There’s a Ty Segall Ty Rex 7”, and the Trouble In Mind covers EP, and a new Chilean psyche band named Watchout! That’s really great, and some LP reissues of some out of print Orange Juice titles. There’s a 4xLP vinyl box set of the first Half Japanese album, which though excessive, will probably draw interest as one of Kurt Cobain’s top 50. There’s Jandek and there’s Fela Kuti and there’s Biggie Smalls.

There are just enough releases which are just fascinating enough to lure me out of my hovel to check it out, which will force me to wait in line for over an hour next to gaggles of excited Mumford and Sons fans in order to get into a record store that I visit at least once a week anyway, which will force me to buy way more than I need or want in order to justify the expenditure of time and energy. For my trouble I will have a handful of “exclusive” releases, including two or three that I really wanted but didn’t get, and the remainder of which will immediately go on sale on eBay for $100, followed by months and months and years of sitting on shelves in record stores across the country, continuing to be exclusive for nobody’s benefit.

I know the routine. I do this every year.

And as fun as it is to LOL the event for loading America’s forlorn 7” sections with Jimmy Eat World “exclusives,” the events of this week are making me more reflective than usual about the value of things. Record Store Day has enormous value to individual record stores, where in many cases the day’s sales are the difference between bankruptcy and another year of continued business. While it’s sad that not every record store in the land can stay afloat by sitting around trading Throbbing Gristle bootlegs, the fact that there are record stores in places other than where I live is often a tremendous comfort to me.

How often do you find yourself in the midst of some awkward family gathering on the outskirts some slovenly backwater like Jacksonville, Florida? In such times, how much is your life ameliorated by even the very worst possible record store’s existence? If you’re me, fairly often and immeasurably. Even if the record store in question is a nothing place consisting of scratched up $7 Herb Alpert records in a diminutive LP section still inexplicably outdone by what appears from the floor plan to be a thriving CD section, all under the watchful eye of Evanescence and A Perfect Circle posters. Even then, some record store is better than no record store.

Even if you’re in a horrible record store that is a totally apparent waste of time, money, and square footage, there is at the very least entertainment value in looking at a 200 gram 4xLP box set of Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album So for $90.  That’s an awful steep price to pay for “Red Rain.” Imagine A. the kind of person who would be interested in such a thing, B. the kind of business which would stake its profitability on catering to such a person. Imagine the haircuts involved in such a culture. Imagine how often the participants blink. Imagine their collection of piano neckties. Imagine yourself being their best friend, loving them, feeling yourself surging along with them in great forgotten unison, them toward ever more esoteric stereophile explorations of soothing pap, you mimicking their exact trajectory and burrowing into whatever odd thing you’ve decided to get into recently. Perhaps this month it’s Japanese experimental jazz.

The cat is out of the bag about records. Gone are the days when you could stumble upon some rare punk masterpiece moldering in an antique mall for 50 cents. Everything’s eBayed and Popsiked out to within an inch of its life. Record with cracks and splits, torn to shreds as if used for sandpaper, pop up all across the country with $20 price tags as if they’re worth more than $5 in perfect condition. There are no scores left, except in new records, where flippers converge on anything limited, colored, or mail-order only and then turn around and make an instant 100%+ profit, and woe unto the odd human who wants to actually just listen to one of the benighted flipperbait records, this Record Store Day and also every other day. Record price inflation frenzy is one of the few remaining effective publicity strategies. It’s here to stay.

Weirdly, there are some very rare scores which fall through the cracks at places like our fictional Buttfuck Records in Jacksonville. Every once in a great while in these places you’ll find an out of print LP that was priced as new and ignored immediately by the piano tie-wearing denizens of that place, only to sit in the stacks being quietly remarkable until a discerning eye sifts through. How did they get there? On some weird fluke because that’s back when Tony worked here while his mother was sick before she died and he moved back to L.A., and he’s into a lot of that really great stuff that we have no hope of selling, and we had to give him a talking to about it but you gotta love him because he’s Tony, and now by accident there’s a King Tuff Was Dead for $17 and a Cosmic Jokers reissue for $5 tucked inexplicably behind an $8 copy of Tarkus. This is the eternal hope and salvation of a momentary escape from your cousin’s wedding weekend to the worst record store in America.

And the dark scourge of Record Store Day is in many cases the only thing allowing this level of hope to occur, because it is keeping the Buttfuck Records of the world open. Sure, it's unlikely that you'll score anything worth listening to at one of these places, but those infinitesimal odds are still bigger than nothing. Plus any fan of anything is a kindred spirit, as embarrassing as their tastes may be. Being on the tail end of a Rush fan's insane blatherings is, for all its tremendous difficulty, at least not a dude talking to you about his golf handicap. Rush fans are weird and wonderful in their own way, and thus are a part of the network of the Weird and the Wonderful. Dudes talking about their golf handicap are all the exact same dude, and if their Mumford and Sons money one day a year is what keeps the rest of us alive, so be it.

Maybe there’s a metaphor in there about the sudden revelation of the inherent goodness of the people of Boston, Massachusetts. If you can find it, let me know. I’m not forcing it. Happy Record store Day, everybody.