Weird At My School: Record Store Day


By DJ El Toro

Some folks might argue that the calendar needs another holiday like I need one more second-hand new wave 12-inch. But you know what? I still pick up a piece of vintage vinyl by some batch of skinny British dolts with silly haircuts almost every week. So as far as I’m concerned, Record Store Day — this Saturday, April 19 — is as important as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday rolled into one.

Record stores have been my refuge since I was an adolescent. Growing up in small town Herndon, VA, the local Penguin Feather (long gone) was a rare public place where I felt safe. Even when I couldn’t afford a new album or 45 — which was most of the time — I could just drop in and peruse sleeves, and listen to new releases, and worship at the pointy-toed boots and worn Converse high tops of my men and women who were lucky enough to work there. Oh, to listen to music, all day, and get paid for it! Could there be any career choice sweeter?

As the years progressed, record stores remained a central hub of my social life. Back in college, I hiked across Bloomington, IN, during a thunderstorm of biblical proportions, ostensibly to pick up my special-order copy of The Housemartins Now That’s What I Call Quite Good double-LP at Ozarka Recors (long gone), but, more importantly, so I could commiserate about my broken heart to a favorite colleague behind the cash register. Until recently, wherever I traveled in the Western world, from Barcelona to British Columbia, I could find an independent record store, and recharge my psychic batteries. Now? Not so much. And I miss that haven terribly. When I found out Safe As Milk in Roanoke, VA, had shuttered its doors for good, I suddenly felt a little more disinclined to go visit my family back east with the same frequency as before. Sad, but true.


As much as I thrill at being surrounded by new and used records, CDs, and related ephemera, what I miss most when a record store vanishes is the people. I owe so many discoveries in my library to savvy staffers at boutiques I’ve frequented throughout my music-buying life. No amount of computer aggregated statistics on a web site will ever match the intuition of a human being who has studied my mercurial shopping habits, or asked a couple left field questions. Stumbling across a rare find like Patty Duke Sings Songs From Valley of the Dolls is an unexpected delight, but I can always count on the camaraderie of catching up with my Emerald City peers, on both sides of the counter, at Jive Time, Easy Street, Wall of Sound, or Sonic Boom.

There are a lot of reasons to visit one of the hundreds of vendors across the country participating in Record Store Day: for the deep discounts on new and used merchandise; to pick up exclusive releases like the limited-edition Stephen Malkmus “Cold Son” 10-inch, featuring three unreleased cuts; to see the world premiere of Björk’s 3-D video for “Wanderlust”; for special in-store performances, like the sets by Jesse Sykes and Mark Pickerel at the Queen Anne Easy Street around 5 PM that afternoon. Besides, as Shelby Lynne sagely observed in one of dozens of artist testimonials, “You can’t roll a joint on an iPod — buy vinyl!”

Ensure that future generations of sheltered music geeks, such as myself, have someplace ITRW to meet and mingle and socialize. I don’t care if you buy a lone 99-cent used LP or all seven volumes of The Complete Motown Singles box sets. As a music lover, participating in Record Store Day 2008 is not a luxury; it is your civic duty.

DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.

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  1. Posted April 14, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful post.

    I grew up in Kennewick, Washington, and my first record store experiences were at Budget Tapes ‘N’ Records heading out on the main drag. I think the owner was a guy named Shep, and I bought something there what seems like every week — “London Calling” and “Get Happy” when they came out; and cut-outs of Grace Jones, Psychedelic Furs’ first album, and others. Actually, they may not have been remaindered — Shep had a policy of trying to break new wave artists on the Eastern Washington mooks by charging no more than five bucks a pop for them in a display near the front.

    My love and respect for him only deepened when I gave him a copy of my fanzine, and he let me start taking home new promos to listen to overnight, which I promptly taped. How many record stores supported zines that way back in the day I’ll never know. My zine sat near coverless copies of Rolling Stone, free to the customers (“Why destroy them completely? Won’t someone want to read this?”) Those C-60s and C-90s of The Slits’ “Cut,” Joy Division’s “Closer,” Bob Marley’s then contemporaneous outtakes record, Adam & The Ants’ first American record, Stiff Little Fingers’ “Go For It,” Rip Rig & Panic’s “God,” Jimmy Cliff’s “Give The People What They Want,” the “Let Them Eat Jellybeans” compilation and so many other records from that time were my soundtrack for years as I visited friends of my zine around the country.

  2. Trisha
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    ahhh … penguin feather … creaky floors, funny smells, scarey backroom, just that much too low ceilings … heaven!!! … i remember having to return my copy of Snap! by the Jam because it was a double album and there were two copies of the same LP instead of two different LPs … and having to wait weeks until the replacement copy arrived … good times …

  3. Posted April 15, 2008 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I’m headed to Grimey’s in Nashville to celebrate the day, where they will feature “Meet the Indie Stars” booths (I;m not kidding about the name) with David Berman, De Novo Dahl, Kurt Wagner, and others.

  4. Spike
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    “i remember having to return my copy of Snap! by the Jam because it was a double album and there were two copies of the same LP instead of two different LPs …”

    That happened to me with “Frampton Comes Alive”, but I was stoked. *Two* copies of “Do You Feel (Like We Do)”! I traded one to a friend for the followup, “I’m In You”, because I liked the song he wrote about Rocky his dog. Tugged the heartstrings.

    Now Frampton does GEICO commercials. Betcha Paul Weller will never do a GEICO commercial. The Modfather is craftier with his investments.

  5. Posted April 15, 2008 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    My “London Calling” didn’t have a lyric sheet. I’m still trying to make out what the hell Joe Strummer is singing half about the time. But whatever it is, it’s GREAT.

  6. Posted April 16, 2008 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I shopped at Penguin Feather in high school, Safe As Milk after college, and now I’m helping control the barely contained ball of energy that is Record Store Day. DJ El Toro–I feel like we would get along just fine.

  7. Posted April 19, 2008 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Did Shelby Lynne really say that?

    Anyway… here’s my review of Record Store Day 2008 in Portland.

    Having not realized how important this is, I stupidly did some limited record shopping two days ago. So, being a poor unemployed person I limited my celebrating to two eastside record emporia: Jackpot on Hawthorne and Music Millennium on Burnside.

    Jackpot was more or less the same as on any Saturday: a coupla disinterested girls working the reg, no free goodies that I could see. Checked for the vinyl of Devendra Banhart’s latest… no such luck, six months and counting. I didn’t bother the girls about it.

    Then I rode up to MM, which naturally was hopping with excitement. There was some dude singing and playing guitar. There were some teenage dudes, one with a Ramones shirt, and they were all excited about buying records. They should have been endearing but they instead were irritating.

    I chitchatted with the sales dude and got a copy of Sony’s compilation LP, which I am listening to right now. Lot’s of typical platinum artistes like Springsteen and Pearl Jam and Run-DMC, but kind of interesting. One of the conglomerates that tried it’s darndest to kill off vinyl is now doing a special edition record. It probably shows they’re “down” or something. (The old PJ sounds great –better than I remember –and the recent Springsteen track is pretty good too.)

    I didn’t (of course) buy a copy of any new Sony/Columbia/BMG/Epic release –supposedly required to get the awesome compilation record –though I did go next door to the Classical annex and buy a $1 copy of Schubert’s Bb Trio. That probably counts, right?

    So, to recap: Record Store Day 2008 translated into a buck down and 2 interesting records –the Schubert’s great, btw. Music Millennium also gave me a free energy drink.


  8. Lee Bradberry
    Posted February 15, 2014 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    I was a Safe As Milk customer a little later into their run. Shortly before Jill took over. R.I.P. Safe As Milk…Roanoke was never quite the same to me.

  9. Download Sheet Music
    Posted February 20, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I shopped at Penguin Feather in high school. Nice place!

  10. pantser anton
    Posted May 6, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I was familiar with the Penguin Feather in Bailey’s Crossroads, College Park & Annandale. I didn’t know there was one in Herndon!! I wonder where it was located? What stands there now?

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