Thursday, December 3, 2015

All the Nation's Record Stores

Before business school, kids and management positions, my dad worked at a record store. Kinda. The Record Bar was a chain store (probably similar to Tower) that went tits up sometime in the late 80s. He doesn't talk about it too much, except in reference to his co-worker who listened to Toto, and that he once bought Bad Brains' Rock for Light LP based on critical acclaim and (I'm assuming) Ric Ocasek's involvement, only to discover "a record he didn't really enjoy." We cannot all have punk dads.

No one told me Record Store Day was becoming a bi-annual thing, so I didn't make it to any in-stores, but my good friend flipped a Cake box-set for $450. Does that seem insane to you? It should. I'm also told that Guardians of the Galaxy LPs a) exist and b) went for gaga on the 'Bay. For finances and my own sanity, I've mostly stopped collecting records, but that's not to say I never dabbled. Here's a few of the shops that have managed to keep Nick Hornby stereotypes alive in my mind and gobble up my paychecks over the years.

1) The Greater Trader (Elizabethtown, KY). Not a "record store" by any definition, but a used video game store that also sold CDs at $2 a pop. I bet 75% of my initial CD collection came from this store alone, and all of it second-tier grunge and radio rock at that. I was 12 in 1999, still 2 years from discovering hardcore, and for a middle school hesher's musical paradigm that didn't extend far beyond White Zombie, this place hit every entry-level base—Abba to Zeppelin, Alice in Chains to Everything Zen. My aforementioned friend even accidentally bought Stone Temple Pilots Core there, since they had a song titled "Creep" and he'd recently become enamored with the Radiohead track of the same name. HIGH-larious. They closed their doors once middle schoolers discovered KaZaA, but with the cyclical popularity of "soft grunge" I'd say these types of proletariat ventures are due for a comeback. 

2) Avatar Records (Radcliff, KY): In its heyday, the Radcliff skatepark served as an open-air dirt-weed market, tucked behind some shoddy purple skate ramps, an army recruitment office and Avatar Records. The store itself was a local institution on its last legs in the mid 00s, operated by a charismatic long-distance runner and Iron Maiden enthusiast Raymond Dowdell Jr. Of note, it's the only place I knew to find Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles magazine and sported an amazing Harmony Corruption era Napalm Death promo poster in the back. I never found anything truly incredible here, and would mostly just pick around the dollar bin in between trying to learn tre-flips (never happened), but I felt good about having him special order the Gray Matter Thog album for me once. Dowdell passed away in 2009 (some reports say he was clutching a CD when it happened) which met an outpouring of community support, singing praises of a kind, music-obsessive metal head who kept the store afloat for 20 years. It pains me that my children may grow up in a world in which these kinds of 80s stereotypes are the stuff of fiction, but am grateful I got to meet the man in person.

3) Dark Realm (Downey, CA): Downey California was the childhood stomping grounds of one James Hetfield, but Dark Realm records is the L.A. suburbs premiere metal contribution to the world. Perhaps a "death metal for death metal" record store is a bit "niche" in 2014, but a straight-up pseudo-satanic coven with blacked-out windows and Seven Churches roaring through its PA is a place that begs for my music-buying dollar...and if you're not down with shelling $26 for a Bolt Thrower 180-gram reissue, "the wall of long sleeves" is worth your patronage alone. I have a picture of me hanging out here, dressed in full-on Mormon missionary regalia, with Bay Cortez of Sadistic Intent—but I don't wanna blow my full load on just one newsletter.

4) Raunch Pt. 2 [Salt Lake City, UT]: The city's pre-eminent "punk" record store was already famous the first go around for being one of the first/only places to distribute the Underdog 7" (back in the day). When it rebooted in 2009, I found the Right Brigade 7" there along with Brotherhood's Words Run...LP—a good haul for an impulse visit. Whether you're in it for the punk singles, a GD Subhumans skate deck, marijuana socks or for an 8-foot ceramic bong shaped like a Ninja Turtle, Raunch is your lifestyle store for things that Mom and Dad would never approve. Plus, its white-bread Mormon surroundings provide the perfect foil for the county's burgeoning population of spiky-haired seminary dropouts. Brad knows his deal too. If you're feelin' saucy, ask him for the secret box of coveted 7"s behind the counter and LMK if that Life's Halt 7" with the Black Sabbath cover is still there.

5) Main Street Music (Beacon, NY): Beacon is the perfect setting for a horror movie. It also houses the Dia: Beacon museum, a great museum for those interested in seeing a giant hole cut out of the ground for no reason. I found The Wrestling Album here for $3, along with racks upon racks of homemade bootleg tape mixes and unofficial splits. Hooray for DIY and for whoever took the time to produce a Buzzcocks/X-RAY SPEX "split."

Dylan Chadwick is a writer who occasionally pays his bills as an illustrator. He owns 'Diary of a Madman' on every available format, including (as of this summer) 8-track.

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