The Crawling Ear column: International Record Store Day

James gate-crashes the funeral of real-world record stores and starts taking names...

The 1982 Dischord hardcore compilation 'Flex Your Head'

Before I get started with this week’s Crawling Ear, I have to address last week’s. You may have noticed it came down almost as soon as it went up. I could blame the booze or the pills or the women or the Devil or my neighbor’s dog or the alien symbiote that attached itself to my body and forced me to act upon my latent hostility towards Norman Fell (which was incredibly difficult, seeing as the man’s been dead for ten years), but none of that would be true.

The fact of the matter is I just wasn’t very happy with my “I Almost Met Johnny Ramone” piece no matter how many edits or changes I made, so I asked for its removal. I apologize if this upset or angered any of youse, my regular reader-types. I plan on rewriting the whole thing and submitting it again at a later date, possibly combining it with the several other Ramones-related stories I have yet to tell to form one giant, Voltron-esque Ramones remembrance piece. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for your understanding. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

This past Saturday was the first ever International Record Store Day. In an attempt to remind the human race that music was once only available offline, vinyl and CD slingers all over the globe banded together for this auspicious holiday and held special events to draw audiophiles back into their dusty little enclaves of sound and limited sunlight. I don’t know what the organizers of this event were thinking when they chose April 19th. That’s the same date as Dutch-American Friendship Day! How can I possibly celebrate and observe both of these immensely important holidays in the same twenty-four hour period? I can’t, and I won’t.

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This year, I said sayonara to my Dutch pals and went whole hog on this Record Store Day business. I decided to visit my favorite shop in the Big Apple, Generation Records, which is on Thompson Street in the Village, a block or so south of Washington Square Park. It’s a fairly punk-centric establishment where you can find plenty of obscure, tasty shit in both the new and used CD racks (keeps me coming back time and time again). Generation also carries a respectable amount of vinyl and a fine selection of rock n’ roll t-shirts. Of course, no shop in the Village would be complete without a handful of cats on the premises. This place is no exception; on any given day, a few balls of fur can be seen darting through startled customer’s legs or lounging about in high traffic areas with absolutely no intention of moving.

I wasn’t sure if Gen (ooh, see how I shortened it – I must be a local) would be doing anything funky for their brand new holiday. Being a slight agoraphobe, I was uneasy at the notion of being packed in with a bevy of hipsters while some white rapper or digital grindcore band fucked shit up in what small area is open to perform there. My nerves were put at ease when I rolled up and saw it was just another normal day at Generation. Things were downright quiet as I entered. I contemplated screaming out, “Happy Record Store Day!” a la Richard Simmons upon my arrival, but I didn’t want to be pegged as a complete annoyance before I had been in the store for a full minute.

There’s been a lot of debate lately in hipster and non-hipster circles alike about the death of physical music retailers. Most champions of mom and pop rekkid shops like Generation say yeah, getting music online is great, but you’re missing the experience when you download. You aren’t interacting with other music lovers, you aren’t hearing whatever stupid or transcendent tunes the clerks are blasting over the store’s speakers, you’re not being confronted with a vast sea of options and opportunities as you would in Jerky Joe’s LP Repository or Spin It Again, Larry. That’s why we gotta, like, support these places, so Apple doesn’t become like fuckin’ Wal-Mart, man.

As much as corny, romantic statements like this make me roll my bloodshot eyes, I cannot deny the truth behind them. As I was about to exit Generation Records on this fine afternoon with nothing in hand, I spotted Flex Your Head, the 1982 Dischord harcore compilation that rounds up a handful of Teen Idles, SOA, and Government Issue songs I’ve never been in possession of. I could have spent all day in front of the computer on a downloading spree and not once thought of attempting to procure this seminal release. I had completely forgotten Flex Your Head even existed, despite the fact I regularly listen to Minor Threat and they make a point to scream out this album’s title at the end of their cover of Wire’s “12XU.” I think that just goes to show how dangerous routine can be to the young adult mind. That or I’m just a forgetful idiot. Either explanation is acceptable.

So I picked that Flex Your Head bastard up for the reasonable price Mr. Ian MacKaye and his label mates set for it (ten bucks, bro-ham!). It’s a pleasing collection of early eighties D.C. teen punk screaming. The cover’s pretty nice, too, although I’m not sure what significance a few stalks of wheat have with suburban white kids yelping about Communists and war games. At any rate, it’s a good CD. So there you have it: a literal real live three dimensional record store served the music needs I didn’t even remember I had. This is proof positive that places like this do need our support, even if sometimes they are a bit crowded and the owners let their pets loose without asking any of the customers if they’re allergic.

Next year, I’m going to try to make an all-day event out of this Record Store Day business. Go to as many tiny shops and spend as much money as I can. Get crazy with the cheese whiz, as Beck might say. If I’m still writing for DoG then, you know I’ll post an epic recount.

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Next week: something!