Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Temple of Music

The current issue of Paste Magazine features a wonderful article on that musical dinosaur, the independent record store. Here's what editor Josh Jackson has to say:

People are no longer leaving their houses. They are content to wirelessly import digital music straight into nano-engineered storage devices implanted in their grey matter, and the digital revolution is killing brick-and-mortar retail. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the record store's death have been greatly exaggerated. Just as people of faith need houses of worship in which to commune, music zealots are no less dependent on shrines dedicated to their own decibel-cranked passion. For that reason, Paste hereby celebrates the record store, bestowing superlatives on a few of America's finest. May they live long and loud!

Bravo to that. And Paste profiles seventeen of the best record stores in America. Their list:
  • Amoeba Records, Los Angeles, CA
  • Criminal Records, Atlanta, GA
  • Other Music, New York City
  • Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, Clarksdale, MS
  • Waterloo Records, Austin, TX
  • Aquarius Records, San Francisco, CA
  • Dusty Groove America, Chicago, IL
  • Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Nashville, TN
  • Shangri-La Records, Memphis, TN
  • Music Millennium, Portland, OR
  • Ear X-Tacy, Louisville, KY
  • Louisiana Music Factory, New Orleans, LA
  • Newbury Comics, Boston, MA
  • Grimey's New + Pre-Loved Music, Nashville, TN
  • Turntable Lab, New York City
  • The Electric Fetus, Minneapolis, MN
  • Jerry's Records, Pittsburgh, PA

I've been to about half of those places, and I'll generally vouch for their quality. Some of them (Other Music in the Lower East Village) are celebrated more for their location than their actual musical selection. The selection is fine, and wildly eccentric, but it's small. It's a little hole-in-the-wall store. Of course, they left off the best record store, one that is, in fact, better than the seven or eight on the list that I've actually visited. That's because it's in Columbus, Ohio, a part of the nondescript flyover zone where no culturally clueful people actually live and where nothing happens except corn growth and the consumption of corndogs at the State Fair.

I refer, of course, to Used Kids Records on N. High St., across from the Ohio State campus. Used Kids used to be part of the Schoolkids Records/Used Kids Annex empire, the great new/used behemoth that, alas, fell ignomiously in the '90s when fire gutted the original Schoolkids Records location. Reopening as Used Kids a few months later, the store initially focused only on selling used vinyl and CDs, but later added new releases. And that's what it is today.

Take Other Music and blow it up to five or six times its size, with a corresponding increase in the available selection. Yeah, you'll probably find eight copies of the latest Bon Jovi album clogging up the racks. But you'll also find thousands of little known/underappreciated artists in every genre imaginable, and lots of music from local artists. And, of course, snarky employees who will quizzically raise their eyebrows if you bring one of those Bon Jovi CDs to the counter, or who will engage in debate with you, just like the Jack Black character in High Fidelity, over whether Elton John began to suck in the mid-'70s, or as early as '72. That's Used Kids.

This is what you cannot possibly get when you click the little iTunes button. You get to interact with real human beings, almost all of whom are passionate about music. I cannot tell you the number of great conversations I've had with people while scouring the music racks at Used Kids. Nerd A, a total stranger, will pluck out a CD, turn to me, and ask, "Know anything about this one?" Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. But it doesn't matter. It's a chance to connect with people who care deeply about the same stuff you care deeply about. There simply aren't that many opportunities in life, and the places that make them possible are worth celebrating.

So pick up the new issue of Paste. Read about some great record stores. And then head down to Used Kids if you're in central Ohio. You could tell them that Andy sent you, but they won't know who that is. But if you tell them he's the guy who bought all the Van Morrison bootlegs, they might.


J. Lincoln Hurst said...

I'm a bit surprised that they left out Manifest Discs in Charlotte-- not only is it my favorite record store, but it's the biggest one on the east coast. That statistic becomes totally believable when you walk into the store, which really does have a massive selection, particularly their huge stash of used discs, which are not only inexpensive (4-8 dollars, depending on what it is), but they've got an astonishing variety of genres and artists, and some real rarities hidden in the stacks.

patrick said...

That piece was the first thing I read in this issue, and I was pleased to see Criminal Records on the list. I've played songwriter events co-sponsored by CR at the coffee shop next door, and I was payed off with a Criminal Records gift card. In the current "nobody pays the artist" live music environment, it's not a bad compromise!

Brian Estabrook said...

Love the Used Kids Store.

Fantastic place, great selection and very knowledgeable staff.

Anonymous said...

the only one i've been to is Grimey's in Nashville, but they're spot on.

yes, though: Used Kids is my record store Mecca. Cannot count the number of times I've walked in, anticipatory, and walked out with something everyone else must not have seen because otherwise why would it still be on the shelf? i can recall specific trips to that store -- the one when they temporarily relocated up high street after a fire and i found the teenage fanclub album i'd been hunting for over 6 years, or when i popped in and snagged a pre-release of danielson's "ships."

Used Kids is the gold standard.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a similar piece last month celebrating one of our local indie record stores. Long live the independent record store!