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Thursday, February 26, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Compulsive Chronicles is an ongoing column I write for SPOKE(a)N(e) magazine, with supplementary material provided here in obsessive list making form. Check out previous columns and supplements here.
1.Slackjaw, Curvature of the Earth
(4000 Holes, 2003; Spokane, Washington)
First order of business when we moved to Spokane, after the job-finding and phone number arranging, was finding the local music shop. I don’t remember how I first heard of 4000 Holes — may have just cracked open the phone book — but we soon found ourselves navigating our way around the then-unfamiliar Northside to find it. The place was just down the block from its current location, which is quite a bit larger. Though it was no Rockin’ Rudy’s, it had a decent assortment, some oddball stuff and more Beatles memorabilia than I’d ever seen in one place. We didn’t live anywhere near it, but it was nice to know the shop existed.
That December, I went back to purchase some Bruce Springsteen for Tyson’s birthday, knowing I’d seen the albums on vinyl for a good price. For five bucks each, I picked up Born to Run and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, then paid eight for Greetings from Ashbury Park.
Of course, I couldn’t resist looking for myself. Moving through the narrow rows with my five-month pregnant belly, I happened upon the ‘Local’ section. Curious, I flipped through to see if anything looked interesting.
I audibly gasped when I saw Curvature of the Earth. The much loved band from my high school years had long complained about the album going out of print, and some sort of contract/money trouble kept them from re-releasing it. To fans who’d not snatched up a copy before they ran out on tours, finding one was not to be taken lightly. I knew. I’d seen it when I lived in Missoula and didn’t have the money, and when I came back just days later, it was gone.
“I had no idea these guys were from here,” I said to the owner. “I thought they were from Portland.” Being new to town, I had yet to be acquainted with the itch that often grows within creative people living in Spokane, the itch that says, You could be doing so much more in Portland or Seattle. Go! Go forth!
The owner, Bob Gallagher, and I had a nice conversation about the guys, about how they used to come in a lot and he’d sold their stuff for years. It was strange running into someone who liked them, who wasn’t also a punk kid from school. I still prefer Buoyancy vs. Gravity, but I couldn’t pass up such a great find.
2. Buckingham Nicks CD bootleg, Self-titled
(Blue Moon, 2000; Great Falls, Montana)
If ever there were a head shop, Blue Moon was it. Located on an out-of-the-way block downtown, I didn’t even know this dusty little shop existed until I happened to notice them in the yellow pages. Great Falls is not exactly known for its wealth of independent music shopping, so one afternoon, I decided to check them out.
When I first stepped inside, no one was behind the counter. I paused, surveyed my incense-heavy surroundings, and then a large golden lab walked out from the back room. “Hello,” I said, puzzlement implied. A moment later, a woman followed him. She was friendly enough, but perhaps a little startled to have a customer interested in, well, the music.
They carried primarily used vinyl, an assortment of CDs new and old, and then had a selection of boxed sets and rarer finds behind the counter. I flipped through the racks, noting that the new CDs were wildly overpriced, but that everything else seemed reasonable. Though I noticed the Buckingham Nicks CD behind the counter, they wanted more money for it than I had that day, but I didn’t figure it was going anywhere soon.
Not long after, my dad received a few boxes from someone he worked with who needed to unload their vinyl, for whatever reason. My dad already had shelves of them in our basement, so I imagine they thought he’d find some things worth keeping and then do the job of getting rid of the rest. The records were all in good shape, but oh, were there some stinkers. Shaun Cassidy bad. Donna Summer, post-Studio 54. Some so horrible, I’ve purged them from my memory. Some were repeats of what he already had, like Rumours and Led Zeppelin III. After giving them a through sorting, my dad passed along the unloading of rejects to me.
Armed with these horrible records, I went back to Blue Moon. This time, a guy was actually sitting behind the counter when I walked in. “I’d like to sell these,” I said, plopping the cardboard box onto the glass counter, blocking the view of the ‘specialty’ pipes.
He eyed me, then gingerly examined my offering. “I don’t know if I can sell some of these,” he said, picking up an Ann Murray.
“I know,” I said, embarrassed. I rambled off my story of how I’d found them, and that all I was really looking for was store credit. I pointed to the Buckingham Nicks album sitting behind him. “I was hoping to get that. I’ll pay whatever the difference is.”
I don’t think they were doing a lot of legitimate business anyway, so a few more records that wouldn’t move in exchange for a (possibly dodgy) bootleg seemed acceptable. I may have paid a few dollars for it. He seemed amused by this 17-year-old girl, bothering him with these old albums, all in exchange for something no one really cared much about, if they’d heard of it at all.
Turns out, the recording was pretty good, and it had an alternate version of “Crystal” that I liked, a song that appears on the first Fleetwood Mac album after Stevie and Lindsey joined. A couple of months later, I happened to speak online with the drummer on Buckingham Nicks. Without thinking about it, I mentioned how I had the CD. He answered, “That’s funny, since it’s never been reissued.”
I felt like an idiot — Of course I knew that, but . . . Thankfully, he was good-natured about my hand in denying his royalty pennies. Really, how many people want to ask questions of the drummers to semi-obscure 70s albums?
I don’t know if that little record shop is still around, and I’m not even 100% sure that it was called Blue Moon, but I’m glad to have experienced it while I could.
3. Oasis, “Roll With It” single
(Rockin’ Rudy’s, 1996; Missoula, Montana)
Oasis is one of the few bands I know of who still are in the business of selling singles. They can. With a wealth of extra songs and no shortage of fans willing to put up the money, they’ve even got a single (“Falling Down”) coming out at the beginning of March that you can buy in several different formats. Including a twenty-two minute remix on vinyl! For obsessive completists like me, there’s always something to want.
“Roll With It” is the one that started this madness. When first discovering the band, my friends and I knew that they had special singles, singles not released in the US, and each one had songs that we had yet to mainline into our 13-year-old brains. We could special order from the local Hastings, or we could always be on the look out, hoping that some store would choose to bring them in. Any single would do, no matter the price.
On a day trip to Missoula with my family, I hit their section first thing upon entering Rockin’ Rudy’s. I already had the first two albums, of course. However, my teenage glee could not be contained as I snatched up “Roll With It” for the import price of $8.99. It had the B-sides “It’s Better People” and “Rockin’ Chair,” as well as the Glastonbury performance of “Live Forever.”
Here’s the embarrassing portion of the story: Somehow, in all my crazy preoccupation, the fact that Noel Gallagher sang lead on “Don’t Look Back in Anger” completely escaped me. I thought that maybe Liam was just singing nicely, like he used to do on occasion. Now, that’s like saying a lemon and an orange are the same because they’re both citrus fruits. I don’t know how I made the mistake, but to my ears at the time, “It’s Better People” introduced me to Noel’s voice. Never mind the fact that I’d already seen the MTV Unplugged performance where Liam didn’t sing at all— something about hearing Noel over headphones on the way home made all the difference.
Cue the stars, chirping birds and swoons. Oasis was already my musical heroin, but this was my equivalent of moving from smoking to needles. And Liam’s performance of “Rockin’ Chair?” It’s one of their best songs, album release or not.
One pretty much has to order all their singles online now or get the B-sides from other “sources.” The singles section in music stores died out years ago, and hardly anywhere wants to import music without a direct request. I miss being able to stumble upon the odd EP-length single from my favorites, like I used to with Bush, Tori Amos and The Smashing Pumpkins. I like having extras, and I don’t want to have to buy a special iTunes bundle to do it. There’s no magic in that.
4. Christine McVie, The Legendary Christine Perfect Album
(Rudy’s II, 2001; Missoula, Montana)
My reasons for purchasing vinyl do not come from some snobby ideal about how music “should” be — even though I take that attitude with only buying mp3s. I know, what’s the difference? (Music shouldn’t float alone in the Apple-owned ether. How about that?)
No, I buy vinyl under the following circumstances:
1. It’s cheaper than buying the CD. (Ex: David Bowie’s Live in Philadelphia)
2. It’s a special release from someone I love. (Ex: Bush,“Machinehead” vinyl single #1442)
3. The album has only ever existed on vinyl.
Christine McVie’s 1970 solo album falls under this last category. I have the reissue from 1976, which offers a bit of historical perspective in the liner notes. After decades of pop offerings, including (I’m sad to say) a dreadful 2004 third solo album, people forget about the work she did prior to joining Fleetwood Mac. Recorded after leaving the group Chicken Shack and before her marriage to John McVie, she put out a great bluesy debut, one that awarded her the Melody Maker ‘Number One British Female Singer’ two years in a row. Her cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” was worth my $9 purchase price alone.
When I bought the album, I didn’t have a turntable of my own. I still had to use my dad’s, having long heard the rules of proper record handling. As in, Scratching is punishable by death. I’d heard stories about how he made friends buy him new albums, when they’d returned borrowed ones scratched. And there I didn’t even have a good place to keep my one and only record, but I knew this would not be an album released in an easier format any time soon. I’ve done my best to take care of it and all purchases since, but I look forward to the day when I can have nice deep shelves to store them. And I’d also like a real turntable, not just one of those one-speaker novelty things made to look like it’s from the 50s. It works well enough, but the songs aren’t sounding as good as they could.
I liked digging around in the dusty bins of Rudy’s II, back when it was still on Brooks and half-poster shop. One could lose hours in there, scanning the names and crouching down to examine the rows of 45s kept on the floor. It smelled right, sounded right, just plain felt right. Now they’ve moved to a remodeled storefront on Higgins, and while it’s closer to the main store, it’s way too sterile. The selection is smaller, and while there’s still a few interesting titles, it’s not the same. My curiosity will still make me go in, when I get the chance, only with lowered expectations.
5. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
(Virgin Megastore, 2000; Denver, Colorado)
Not all great purchases come from mom ‘n pop hippie down the road. And while we’d all like to pretend that we always buy local and frown upon The Man, sometimes The Man has just what we need, right when we need it.
Over Thanksgiving during my last year of high school, my dad and I flew down to Denver to see some relatives. I don’t know why my mom and brother couldn’t come, but we somehow managed to get down there on stand-by tickets without trouble. As with any vacation, we had specific stores to hit up, ones we did not have back at home.
Say what you will about box stores — how loud, annoying and crushing they are to everything else — but they’re still big and quite thorough compared to what we had in Great Falls. At the time, our main options for music buying were Hastings and Target. And while Hastings did all right for most things, Target hardly stocked anything outside the Top 40 at that time. Traveling somewhere with a Best Buy or a Borders seemed to offer a wealth of options, and a Virgin Megastore was, well, mega. They may not have been the cheapest place, but they seemed to have everything, and no shortage of rock lit too, another habit I used to indulge. To be able to stand at one end of the store and not be able to see the other side had a certain amount of appeal. Sorry, mom n pop, but sometimes big and shiny is okay. Great, even.
I had to strike a careful balance on this trip, with only so much money to blow between the Virgin store and the Cherry Creek Bookstore across the street (a huge local bookstore, I’ll point out, so don’t get judgy with me). Shuffling through my mental list of artists I’d read about and what had recently sparked my interest on 120 Minutes, I decided on David Gray’s White Ladder and this PJ Harvey album. I’d already heard “Babylon” from Gray, and that seemed promising enough. Stories From the City . . . was on sale, and for months, Q Magazine had been going on about how it was the best album they’d heard in ages.
I’ve already said several times how it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made, songs unheard, and how it’s one of those albums that I can listen to straight through without wanting to skip a thing. Top 5 All-Time Favorite, easy. Though I probably would have been able to find it in Hastings at home, I didn’t wonder if I would see it at the megastore. I could consider all of my options, hold them in my hands and see what I felt.
I don’t buy everything local now, though I try. I have a Best Buy credit card and I know how to use it, especially when they’re two or three bucks cheaper than anywhere else. Yeah, it’s not ideal, but it’s better than not having anything. Each time I go in, I see their music section dwindling, giving way to video games, DVDs and televisions in every size. I understand that they have to stock what keeps them in business, but it’s still a little sad to see.
Though I know there’s an environmental argument to make against manufacturing CDs (and DVDs, for that matter, but tell that to everyone with a Netflix subscription), and I know that I’m probably in the minority now for my primary purchasing ways, but I can’t be the only one.
So many people talk about how much music means to them, how exciting it is for them to hear new things and to revisit the old. Year-end ‘Best Of’ lists aren’t going anywhere, and neither are the critics. For such a valuable commodity, why are we okay with keeping all these ‘important’ songs on a device that could crash and lose everything?
Yes, the iPod has to be one of the most convenient devices invented, especially when compared to the Discman, Walkman and zillion-disc changer stereo. I’m not opposed to downloading music, and I’m listening to a fair chunk of my music (ripped from CD) set to shuffle as I’m writing this. Advancing technology does benefit everyone in the long run, but I don’t think we have to throw everything out with each step forward.
Am I so wrong for wanting something physical, something to hold? What sort of excitement would my vacations or idling afternoons had, if I’d not been able to go browse? Call me a dino, hopelessly outdated in my not-old-age, but the act of shopping for music offers so much. It sparks conversation, discovery. We get the chance to slow down, to think about something so pleasurable and only that. I don’t pay my bills in a music shop, I don’t email my mother. I’m using the venue for one thing alone — to find something that makes me happy. Why lose that?