For this post I will utilize two muses that fraternized in my headspace and produced what you are about to read. First, I recently watched a film, The Wackness, that’s subject matter and accompanying music teleported me back to my suburban upbringing as a mild teenage miscreant with an affinity for urban compositions. The soundtrack was filled with A Tribe Called Quest, Notorious B.I.G., and Raekwon, doing many of the tracks that carried me through an awkward 1994. Now while I’ll still occasionally toss old school hip hop in my stereo or spin some vintage sounds on my turntable when I need to get in a groove, I don’t embrace nearly enough the music that kept me up Friday nights listening to the hip hop block on WMSE or watching EPMD & Slick Rick videos on YO! MTV Raps. This music was my escape and my agitator. Even though I didn’t experience or understand half of the shit in a TOO $HORT rap, listening to it gave a swaggerless kid a swagger and made me feel a way that nothing else could. And plus, as an adolescent with a Grand Canyon sized conscience, it was a half-assed way to piss people off without consequences (well there was that Public Enemy shirt that got me suspended in the fifth grade but, meh, that was nothing).
Second, I read an article in GQ titled, “The Last Record Store” that reinforced the overwhelming sadness and loss that I feel for small independent record stores (including my lifelong favorite, Atomic Records) that are slowly vaporizing in our communities due to the convenience of a mouse click or tap on the old track pad. There will always be a sense of being and comfort that one gets from the stale smell of used record jackets or long haired clerks that are sometimes treasures chest of knowledge and other times arrogant pricks that silently think you’re a sentimental douche bag for bringing the latest Shins record to the counter. But nonetheless that exchange will be completely lost when we are all forced to purchase or download our music online. So, after these different mediums acquainted themselves and commingled for a while, I remembered some exchanges that I had with record store clerks that I will never forget.
I might post more of these exchanges randomly but the first and most relevant incident occurred in or around 1994 when I was shopping at an area mall with my aunt and uncle. Not trying to handcuff the “angry” youth that my sneer projected, they let me go off by myself and gave me a set time to meet them at the food court. Happier than hell to be able to go off on my own, I ran to the “tape” store to spend the Andrew Jackson that was earned mowing my grandmother’s lawn the day before and burning an enormous hole in my pocket. I recall that this particular day that I must’ve looked through every tape in the store. I remember seriously pondering the Michael and Janet Jackson duet “Scream” for minutes. But I suppose my vast amount of time spent pulling out plastic cassette tape protectors wasn’t all that strange. For those that have shopped for music with me, know that its like shopping for beer with me, I have to see everything on the shelf before I spend a dime. Glancing down at my watch I noticed that I had nearly spent the entire hour and a half already and I had a handful of tapes that needed to be dwindled down to two. While I don’t remember every tape, I do remember the final three. An album that pumped testosterone into the football locker room before games and practices my freshman year, Candlebox’s self-titled debut. An album containing a song that I mistakenly thought was titled “Hearts and Thoughts that Fade”, one of the catchiest songs of the year and still one of my favorites, Pearl Jam’s Vs. And an invigorating hip hop album with a hot single that breaks down that acronym that is its title, Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
I don’t know why I remember the Candlebox album because I didn’t end up buying it. However, I do remember the others mainly because I recall the dude behind the counter laughing at me after I asked if “Hearts and Thoughts that Fade” was on the Pearl Jam album followed by his refusal to sell me the Wu- Tang album that I had tactfully placed “Parental Advisory” side down. “Yeah it’s on there man. It’s called ‘Elderly Woman…though. And dude. I can’t sell you this. What are you 12? Sorry man.” As a baby blemish faced kid of 14, I didn’t have the nerve or wit to give’m hell, or tell him what a dick that I thought he was. So I walked away, head down and teary eyed, back over to the Michael & Janet single display rack. I stood there for what must’ve been an eternity. I picked up and put down that shitty recording (M&J) about thirty times, while my foot, like a pendulum, glided back and forth over the carpet. After an approximate 15 minutes, the asshole clerk that was taking advantage of the only power he had in this world, called me back over the counter.
“Hey, you’ve obviously got decent taste in music because you’re buying Vs. I’d rather you buy a Pavement tape instead of that other shit but I suppose I won’t stop you. I mean, if you don’t spend your money here you could just have someone buy it for you elsewhere or worse, DUB it. That’ll be $8.”
I don’t think I spoke a word to him. I was scared that I would say something that would make him take his gift back. I was also too in shock and too thrilled that I would be listening to nothing but C.R.E.A.M. for the next two weeks straight (I did and remember going to baseball practice singing the chorus the next day).
Thanks record store guy! Thanks for a memory that iTunes or a torrent couldn’t provide.
I’d like to say another HUGE thank you to Atomic Records for providing me with rare music, awesome memories and the ideal record store experience for so many years. You’ve made music shopping a pure joy and are probably a big reason why I love music so much. Thanks Rich and the numerous members of Team Atomic over the years. You will be so incredibly missed. Only good thing for me is, at least now when I buy records elsewhere I’ll no longer feel the painful guilt of unfaithfulness.