Record Store Road Show #1: Record Store Day 2017 – SRC Vinyl Niagara Falls, Ontario

IMG_20170423_193537989With my son’s friends and their families having planned a birthday party four months ahead, and my lack of memory for dates, I found myself in unfamiliar territory on RSD 2017. Instead of the usual 3- 4 stores I would hit in Toronto; I was down to one shop in Niagara Falls, Ontario and possibly another in Buffalo, New York if too many of my wish list titles were missed.

Having unpacked, and having absolutely no desire to fly down a mixture of plastic and H2O to scream “weeeeeeeeeeeeee,” as my aging back begs stop, I take note vote of a need for a different activity.  Just because I’m a geek in need of a walk, I use Google Maps to get me over to SRC Vinyl the night before Record Store Day so I can make sure I don’t get lost the following morning. Sunrises and I don’t have a good track record with established coherent thought, so having prior knowledge of where I’m going is helpful. Besides that, it gets me away from the water park and into a record store. The phone app takes me through an alley and a couple of residential streets before I arrive at a place that should have been a straight line with a single left. Any more directions and the damn phone would have taken me over the falls in a barrel.

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Every independent record store has a vibe of its own. A feel that can’t really be reproduced. There was a Milwaukee store that had a lot of open brick and a large shelving system suspended by chains from the ceiling. At the time, I saw it in the late 90’s, it was the best damn store I had ever seen. Just last year in St. Augustine, there is a place I visited that isn’t much bigger than postage stamp, but a cooler selection of new records than every store I had been to in Orlando.

The curious thing, every store seems to be measured by how closely the staff resembles the misfits of High Fidelity.  The Nick Hornby classic book, turned John Cusack/Jack Black movie, has become a music geek touch stone by which record stores seem to be judged. Honestly, people in RSD lines over the years keep bringing it up. Regardless of gender, race etc…, it seems that staff need the correct balance of knowledge and attitude to be taken seriously. In this case, it’s exactly what you expect. The staff are awesome. You ask questions and you’ll get real answers. Which is good, because half the fun of the record store is talking with like minded music geeks about any subject that crosses your mind… just because you speak the same language.

It’s probably about a thousand square feet, but the selection is much better than any similar sized store I’ve been at in mid size city. So, my expectations are pretty high for the following morning. Then again, as a teen I tried to convince my doctor I had an allergy to the rise of the sun as it puts me in a foul mood. Didn’t work, but I’m sure you see the point.

The thing is, standing in line for 75 minutes’, half asleep and cold with a cell phone in my hands playing a Settlers of Catan app in place of company, it can lead to odd observations that match that wee hours’ crabby attitude.

SRC is directly across the street from a funeral home that claims to be Canada’s first. (I’m picturing an advertisement along the lines of “Serving The Dead Since 1826,” but, ya know, I’m no ad exec.) In front of the entrance of that home is a large ornamental clock with their business name. Metaphors begin to swirl in my mind. Just what the hell does a funeral home with a clock in front of it say about life and death.

Time is limited?

Your time is coming?

Your time is due?

There is just so many useless thoughts that pop up as you stare at a clock in front of a funeral home. I mention this to the guy beside me, and he points out the ‘Gentleman’s Club’ beside the hotel for the newly deceased. “What do you make of that?” he says. All I can tell him is, “a comedian could make a thousand jokes. However, I’m just not that funny.” At that he laughs.

As with every RSD, there is always the passer by that approaches the random strangers with the second-hand smoke dancing around them and asks just why people are waiting outside a record store. The one non-smoker answers.

“Oh, is it a sale?”

“Not exactly. There selling new and limited release records.”

“Records. I have a bunch from when I was younger. I wonder what they’re worth? People still listen to records?”

“Yes.”

“I saw a news story about people buying records again, but I also heard people get music for free off the internet, so I couldn’t figure out why people still buy records.”

“Some people care about the quality of music and musicians getting payed I suppose.”

“Maybe. But why would I pay when I can get it for free. I’m off to get my Starbucks. Nice chatting.”

“Have a good day.”

The line moves forward just after that. SRC is extremely organized and ready. Going in we receive ballots for a Third Man Records package, and bang you are off to the races.

Now, lining up and being within the first dozen people is great, but it is an advantage that only lasts seconds. Right behind the few are the many, and they all have their lists too. Glimpsing at my own, I start to quickly scan the displays.

David Bowie – Cracked Actor… “THANK YOU!”

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Ramones – Singles Box… “That’s mine!”

The Cure – Acoustic Hits (picture disc)…  “Yep”

Big Star – Complete Third Box… “Oh yeah!”

Bruce Springsteen … “holy shit. That’s over a …. No thank you!”

The Smiths… Damn! Someone snags it as my hand is reaching out. By now the store is crowded and people are flipping through everything. With that I start to go into shelves.

S for Spoon…. “All right!”

N for Nilsson… “Oooooh, only one copy… and I got it… Awesome!”

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F for Flaming Lips… “Oh come on! It was a guaranteed Merry Christmas gift! A sure ‘you’re the best brother ever!’ DAMN!”

In line, ahead of me some ‘dillhole’ is trying to buy multiple copies of an RSD title, which of course, is strictly against the rules.

“Look, I could go through the line again, and then it wouldn’t be the same purchase!”

“I can’t sell you multiples!”

“Look, it’s just one extra.”

“I’m not allowed to do that.”

Let’s stop for one second here folks. She can’t sell him multiples. Really! RSD enforces this policy with banishment. Meaning they wouldn’t get to sell RSD titles again. You are asking a small business to give up thousands in sales so you can buy something for your buddy or flip it on e-bay. It isn’t going to happen, so don’t ask.

“It’s just…”

“Can’t do it. But I will put it back on the shelf for you.”

With that, the battle with the ‘me, myself and I customer’ ends and I get to make my purchase.

“You handled that well.” I remark.

Without a hint of cynicism, she replies “It’s my favourite day of the year… and that wasn’t bad at all.” As I pay in cash she apologizes for having to break open a roll of loonies. I remark, “Oh my god, how dare you cost me a couple seconds opening a roll of change. This is the worst day of my life and I blame you.” She chuckles politely at my horrible attempt at humour.

I get out of the store, and look at the clock. I feel the passport in my jacket pocket. There are several items I really want that, like with every RSD, the local store didn’t receive. It is just part of the experience. So, the question that hangs in the air. Do I cross a border? The stupid clock across the street taunts me.

Do you really have the time?

“Stupid f@#king clock and stupid f@#king metaphors” I say to the stupid f@#king pigeon at the side of the stupid f@#king road. The pigeon keeps pecking at the Tim Horton’s cup discarded ten feet from the garbage can. As I pick up the trash the pigeon takes flight landing on the timepiece to take a crap.

Back at the hotel, I call Record Theatre in Buffalo.

The additional titles I was looking for arrived but due to very busy nature of RSD they can’t say how many they have left, and certainly have no guarantees the titles will not be sold before my arrival. I’ve seen the pictures of RSD at Record Theatre. The lines are looooooooooong. If I could be near the front, it would be great, but arriving an hour after, or worse if the Peace Bridge has a big line, is not a positive prospect. Regardless, I text my former roommate to tell him I’ll be heading to Buffalo to look for some of the titles we missed out on. My wife looks at me with that “you’re seriously crossing the border!” look. The phone rings a few seconds later.

“I’m looking at Evan Dando’s Baby I’m Bored. It’s pricey but they have it.”

“What about Vic Chesnutt?”

He must have known it was my next question.

West of Rome?”

“Yeah.”

“In my hands if you need it.”

I take off the coat and place it on the bed. No border crossing this time. Then I realize, I have new records that have to sit 24 hours to be heard. Sitting in my ‘completely made for records backpack’ given to me for Christmas are records that have to wait.

In my mind, I scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” because, you know, one is not supposed to leave Robert Smith’s face contained in shrink wrap waiting for a turntable to spin on.

Despite my distance from home, it’s been another successful RSD.

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A Parenting Lesson & the Vic Chesnutt reissues…

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It can be difficult to explain pain to people. Words wrapped in metaphors trying to communicate the signals of nerve endings setting your brain alight. Both physical and mental anguish causing a torment that it often seems no one can relate with. I’ve visited these worlds from time to time; laid in a hospital bed and stared at the ceiling with a morphine high; taken pain killers to merely dull the excruciating; ingested medications to keep you from being overwhelmed by the thoughts manufactured by the prescriptions given for the original injury. I was a fan of Vic Chesnutt before I really understood these things, but I found a whole new appreciation once a calcified disc had pierced my sciatic nerve.

Recovering, I spent a great deal of time with Chesnutt’s early catalogue. Hearing it as if for the first time. It had become a part of the soundtrack of that time in my life. Songs that could be depended upon to show up right when I needed a good cry or laugh. His songs had given my own screwed up existence a voice I could recognize.

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Driving through the east coast of Canada over a three-week trip, Drunk, West of Rome, and Is The Actor Happy were in constant rotation. At one point, I had to stop the car in Fundy National Park as a porcupine had decided to point its quilled ass in my direction. Just as Chesnutt sang those ever so visual lyrics from “Dodge” … “I showed my behind so frequently, my dear old mother wouldn’t recognise me” the damn beast pulled its ‘pedestrian right of way’ bullshit, giving me its own version of the middle finger salute. A few seconds up the road a moose gives us a completely ambivalent look as if telling us that this particular occurrence happens everyday. A kind of “get over it” gaze of communication. Fuckin’ nature! Get over yourself!

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Fast forward seventeen years and my first born says “you’ve had this band on a lot, who is it?”

“Artist. Vic Chesnutt.”

“You going to see him in concert?”

“No. That really isn’t possible anymore. He died around the same time as Grandma and Grumpa.”

“From cancer like them…”

Now, I’ll be honest with ya… I kinda suck at this whole parenting thing. My thirteen-year-old son is the most empathetic child I have ever met. Having worked with and around kids since I was one myself, I can say this without the interference of parental pride. He is a soul that feels things deeply, and this conversation can’t end well. So basically, I’m stuck. He’s thirteen. Old enough to find out about things on his own. Dilemma, do I use this as a teachable moment, or just let it pass. As I said, I do suck at this.

“No.”

“A disease?”

“Are you sure you want to keep asking?”

“Why?”

Sigh. “This conversation could go to places you don’t like.”

“Was it a disease.”

How exactly do you answer this? I’m not a therapist. My own father wasn’t exactly the model of ‘after school special/ Dad of the year/ or ‘Dawson’s Creek’ perfectly scripted answers.

“Yes, but not in the way you are thinking.”

“Then what?”

Not sure how long I stared at my toes before I replied. It felt like enough time to have studied and gotten a psychology degree, but as I looked up my son was still standing in front of me with polar bear pajamas and a determined look.

“He overdosed on prescribed medications. Most people believe he committed suicide.”

“But…”

He teared up. I teared up. My nine-year-old walked down the stairs, looked at us, scoffed, went back up the stairs and started building his next Lego battle.

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I began speaking. Or maybe it was stammering. Perhaps pleading. Somewhere in the mix of trying to find words I talked about depression, physical pain, Canadian vs US health care, debt and back to depression. You know what… not a bit of it sufficed.

“Isn’t it wrong to do that, you know, kill yourself?”

My head began to hurt. “I don’t have a good answer for that. Some people will hold up a Bible and tell you it is a sin. Others will talk about how selfish it is to hurt the people you love by ending your own life. Personally, I don’t buy into that. I believe that mental illness… depression; it takes away the hope you have for a good future. It only leaves you with the impression that your pain needs to end, and that you are a burden on those who suffer through it beside you.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”

“What?”

“The burden thing. Mommy pays for you to be home with us. You’re not a burden. So what if he owes money.”

“Part of being an adult is the desire to be self sustaining. That our own life should not impede or lower the people we care about.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! When Grandma and Grumpa got sick you moved and took care of them didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Were they a burden?”

“No. I was exactly where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be. However, they didn’t see it that way. Grandma saw me leave my family to take care of her and it really bugged her.”

“That’s what I mean, if you were sick I would want to be with you.”

“I understand that. But it would suck to need or ask for help. That is how depression works. You forget that people really want to be there for you. You don’t want to ask for help. You don’t want to hold people back from their own lives. You just want to end the pain.”

He thought on it for a while.

“Doesn’t his music make you sad now?”

“Some of it always did. Some of it makes me laugh, some of it makes me cringe, sometimes he can make me laugh and cry in the same song. But I’m not really answering your question, right.”

“Yep.”

“Since grade one, you’ve had friends that have moved away.”

“Yeah.”

“When you think of them do you only think of the fact that they’re gone, or do you think of the fun you had when they were here?”

“The fun.”

“A person shouldn’t be defined by how they died, but by how they lived. Vic Chesnutt was an artist who I really appreciated. His music means a lot to me. Look, I’m not great at talking about this. It sucks that he died, especially how he died. But I still love the music he gave us to enjoy. I don’t hear his death, I hear his voice.”

That thought gets left hanging, and it just doesn’t feel like it should end on this note.

“You know, when I play my battered up old 12 string.”

“The one you bought from a weird old guy, and is difficult to tune because the neck was broken.”

“Yeah. I think of Chesnutt every time I play it.”

He catches me on this and calls me out. “You said the same thing about that guy in The Lemons and Wilco, and that lady Victoria.”

“Yeah. And it’s all true. I think about all those people. It’s just that they all have a unique voice. Not singing style. It is an overall, way of phrasing ideas that connects with me. I love that old piece of crap guitar because it doesn’t sound like any other guitar I’ve heard from anyone. Sometimes when I play it, I feel a whole range of emotions. All of them, coming from different places and all moments I wish I could bottle and stay in a little longer than is actually possible. The music ends, and even when I try to play it again, it just isn’t the same. The music that I keep playing, and paying for, it does that too. Those artists… Vic Chesnutt… they help me find moments that connect to … I don’t know… connect to living. To not being alone. Sometimes you can find moments like that on your own, but other times, it’s great artists that pull out those moments and share them.”

“You’re sounding all weird Dad.”

“I suppose I am.”

Anyway. The Vic Chesnutt reissues have caused a bit of a stir in the house. So far, the three that have arrived sound absolutely perfect. My complaint, has nothing to do with the quality, but rather the shipping costs. Despite much lower priced options available, most companies still choose methods that can nearly double the transaction price. For some of my favorite records I went and purchased the coloured vinyl. However, others will have to wait until they become available at my local record store before I can purchase them. Essentially, shipping is pricing me out of the market. Seeing the chat rooms, I’m not the only one.

P.S. West Of Rome will be out on Record Store Day 2017… next week folks.