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 kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.