Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paul's Friday Reflections on Record Store Day

I grew up in record stores.

The first retail experience of any type I remember was my grandfather standing with my brother and I in front of the record rack at the Macy’s department store in the Cross County shopping center in the suburbs of New York City. He told us in his Russian accent that we could each pick a record (that was a vinyl LP-this was 1964 after all). I remember distinctly agonizing over my choices. I believe my brother went immediately for Meet The Beatles but I went for The Chipmunks Meet Dr. Doolittle. It was hard to believe; I held in my hand something that brought it all together: TV, Movies, Music, and I got to take it home and have it for mine. It was the beginning of the beginning for me. My life really started right there and then. I wanted more. There followed many more trips to the record counter at various department stores in the New York City area. I remember my first 45 being Stop Stop Stop by the Hollies. For the next few years my brother Alan and I shared our collection…sort of. We were given albums by The Beatles, Stones, Herman’s Hermits etc, as a pair of kids. It was –“here’s a record for the boys.” So it was hard to really have a sense of ownership, but the fuse was lit.

In 1969 my father accepted a job at D.U. and we moved to Denver. I was 10. Within the first week of moving here, my brother took me to Underground Records on 724 So. Pearl St. Little did I know, but twenty years later, I would buy Underground at a tax auction and Twist and Shout would be born. If I’m not mistaken, we walked out of there with Bayou Country, still my favorite album by Creedence (listening to it as I write this). Over the next months and years I would return to Underground many times. I would also begin a quest for what Don Mclean called “the sacred store” in his song "American Pie". I would spend every, and I mean EVERY spare moment and dime I had from then until right now seeking out treasures rare and beautiful at the record stores in Denver and beyond.

At these record stores I received an education in many things. I learned much about music. It was the stores where they allowed you to listen to the used records that I learned the most. I was always drawn to used. First off it was cheaper and I could get more. Second, I could listen to it on the record player in the corner of the store, learning things and prolonging my trip. You see, I didn’t want to leave-ever. I wanted to spend all my time at the record store. I liked the smell of all the records and the incense and the old magazines. I liked the older hipsters in their leather jackets buying weird albums by people like The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Nick Drake. I loved finding the hits that I had heard on the radio, but the real excitement was trying to get initiated into the cult of music intelligentsia. I wanted to know about music. Who played what, who produced what, what were the really cool albums by the guys who the musicians liked??? For a kid with a large imagination and limited social skills it was the answer to everything.

During the 70’s Denver was a great music town. There were lots of young people, several universities, and tons of record stores. Let me tell you about a few of them. On Colorado Blvd. and on Broadway, and in Cherry Creek and a few other locations was Budget Tapes and Records. Budget was a regional chain that became a retail and distribution empire before shrinking and fading. The last franchised Budget I know of sold to Angelo’s a couple of years ago. In its early days, Budget was a really great store. I frequented the Colorado Blvd. and Broadway stores because they were beautifully stocked with all the new releases, on sale and displayed right in your face. They also always had great promotions. I got a 6 foot Grateful Dead At The Mars Hotel poster with the purchase of the album for $2.99 which I still have. I also remember walking in and seeing a gigantic waterfall display of something called Frampton Comes Alive. I knew very little about him, but walked out of there with it because they made it so appealing. In spite of everything, I still love that album and have my original copy. The other great store for new releases was Peaches. On the corner of Downing and Evans, where there now sits a Walgreens, was the first great music superstore in Colorado-it was called Peaches. Peaches had everything. They had every new release-on sale, thousands of 45’s, the first real Jazz section I ever saw, opportunities to meet bands- I got to see Robert Fripp, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Jefferson Starship and Flo and Eddie at that store. They also had an enormous cutout section. It was there, I discovered Ornette Coleman, John Lee Hooker and Doo Wop music. For .99 cents you could roll the dice and usually come up a winner. Peaches was also open until midnight. I have fond memories of leaving my job at the movie theatre on a Friday night at 11:15, rushing over to Safeway to cash my check, and then racing to peaches before they closed to buy the latest. I’ll never forget the night I bought Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life at midnight, and not going to bed until I heard the last notes of the “something’s extra bonus record” some two hours later.

Most of the time, however, I frequented the independent stores-by myself-with hours to kill. I remained true to Underground buying so many of my favorite albums there. The store was run by two Dutch women, Else and Mary who were always in some sexy, druggy fog and knew about all kinds of weird music and…other stuff. They had all kinds of imports that you didn’t see at other stores. Bands like Hawkwind, Gong, Can, and albums by bands that I knew, that were different, with shiny covers and different songs. They also sold other stuff. Shirts, magazines, posters, head shop stuff. It was a magical world. In spite of the poor lighting, the colors were so much more vivid inside the store than those of the outside world. There was also Kingbee records on Evans near D.U. It started in a really small location, and then moved into the space that is now Spanky’s Roadhouse. What a great place. It was small at first, and didn’t have everything-just everything important. I learned a lot about music and being cool from a guy named Chip Sullivan who worked there. I remember the time they put Baseball player Mark Fidrych (who I see as I write this just died-how fucking weird is that?) on the cover of Rolling Stone (which really meant something then). I said “Why would they put a baseball player on Rolling Stone?” Chip snorted at me “This guy has more to do with rock and roll than whatever it is you’re buying" (Van Morrison It’s Too Late To Stop Now). I didn’t agree with him then or now, but I was so impressed that somebody had such strong feelings about, well, rock and roll. Chip impressed me another time too. I was standing there holding a Roger McGuinn album saying “I don’t know, I’m skeptical of solo albums.” Chip jumped over the counter and walked up to me and looked me straight in the eye “look man, buy it, if you don’t think it’s great I’ll buy it from you." He meant, he would personally buy it. He didn’t own the store, he just loved the album so much, and wanted me to love it so much that he was willing to put his money where his mouth was. I also remember watching a PBS special on New Orleans Indian music, and rushing over to Kingbee hoping they might have some of it. I went in and did a poor job explaining what I had just seen. The guy- who was named Lyle and later owned Jazz Record Revival-went over to the racks and pulled out the EXACT album I was looking for-The Wild Tchoupitoulas. I couldn’t believe it. I cherish that album and that memory to this day.

There were so many more… The Malt Shop (for musical muchies), Julie J’s (where I bought tickets to my first concert-Jethro Tull at the Denver Coliseum 1971), Jerry’s which at one time was a mecca for books and comics as well as music (which it still is today), The Record Revival (which later became Jazz Record Revival)-man did I spend a lot of time in there learning about Jazz.

I went to college in Boulder in the mid 70’s and frequented Albums (later Albums On The Hill), Doors of Perception and another great Budget (which I ended up buying out years later). Those college years were perhaps the most important for my collecting. That was where I really had time to study music-instead of hitting the books- and develop taste that was mine and not my brother’s or the radio’s. The record store also filled so many gaps in my emotional life as well. It was a safe, accepting and totally compelling place.

After college I almost immediately began a career in teaching. I moved to Aurora, cut my hair and tried to fit in. Uh..yeah, that didn’t quite work out. On many nights, I was racing out after school, and every weekend was spent at Wax Trax, JB and H, Double Play, and the by-then dying Underground, replacing my record collection with CD and getting into punk, hardcore, new wave, reggae, and everything else on this new format. These were also exciting years, there was the fun of collecting both formats for different reasons-punk just seemed right on 45, classical was made for CD, and there was still a vibrant community of people collecting their favorite bands on all formats possible.

In 1984 I became a partner in Trade-a-Tape in Boulder and my career on the other side
of the counter began. In 1988 my Wife Jill and I bought what had been Underground Records, and I finally had a venue that was mine to mold into the record store of my dreams. That will be 21 years ago this week.

So, what does Record Store Day mean to me? Well, it means a day to stop for a minute and think about everybody’s individual experience that, like mine, illustrates the very personal roadmap of their life. Each of us has our own rainy Saturday afternoon, in the corner of some independent record store, listening to records, and creating the soundtrack of our dreams.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's all so true. Paul you were smart enough to buy a store. I was in all these places too. Grew up in Lyle's Record Revival on Broadway. I remember those spaced out chicks at Underground, and the cats. Still have bootlegs from their store. The 'community'of the record store is the greatest loss of the internet generation. Thanks Paul for all you have done for the bands of Denver! Luv Ya !