Judging from the amount of emails I’ve received in the last two days about it from various stores, it looks like this Saturday is once again Record Store Day. Yawn.
Because I’m magically inclined (or maybe that’s magically delicious, I always get the two confused), I can hear you through both computer screen and blog-o-space: Yawn? Really, Will, shouldn’t this contrived celebration of the music-store culture of yesteryear fill your heart with bliss? Not hardly, dear readers, and I’ve got a few good reasons why. I’ve attended RSD the past two years, and both experiences were absolutely no fun at all. In the interest of full disclosure, I generally go to lower Manhattan’s venerable J&R Music World, to whom none of my critiques apply. They do the best they can with what the organizers of RSD give them to work with, and run their show in a manner that is as well-stocked and fair as possible.
Two years ago, Rhea and I decided to amble on down to J&R around mid-day, thinking that RSD might make for a lovely destination on a relaxed spring afternoon. We couldn’t have been more wrong: the store was nearly impossible to navigate, given the number of obese record collectors and soon-to-be-appearing-live artists of little repute milling around, and all of the good merchandise had been gone for hours. Live and learn, then: “next year, we’ll get there when they open and get the good stuff!”
Little did I know that by the time the next one rolled around, I’d have a good reason to be there when the doors opened: a 600-ish copy vinyl run of the Hold Steady’s Heaven is Whenever, about a month before official release and with completely different artwork to the full release. Holy nerd-gasm, Batman! The sight that confronted Rhea and I as we arrived at Park Row around 8:30 AM was almost a comedy of stereotypes: while I’ll agree that the common conception of any sort of true-believer collector types as overweight and unkempt is mostly a myth, you wouldn’t know it from this line. I swear the body odor cloud must have been powerful enough to make its way across the water to Brooklyn, where it then melded with that borough’s perennial eau de hipster and went unnoticed. An entire line of fat, screaming, socially maladjusted dork-bots all in a row, all screaming about THEIR TICKET FOR THE SPRINGSTEEN TEN INCH SINCE THEY WERE HERE BEFORE THE STORE OPENED, GOD DAMN IT. Fun fun fun until Daddy takes their turntables away, in other words.
Soon – but not nearly soon enough – the witching hour was upon us, and the doors opened. Chaos ensued: grown men attempting to trample one another in a race to procure NEW VINYL for pleasure or profit. Mostly the latter, actually: the sight of one particularly odious gentleman screaming at his son to get as many multiples between them for eBaying has since become etched into my brain, and is the first thing I think of when RSD is mentioned. As for me, I did emerge victorious with my Hold Steady vinyl, but the entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth. It also led me to seriously reevaluate the role collecting and physical media plays in my life: to be honest, I’ve been a lot less interested in both ever since that day. There’s a lesson in that for RSD’s organizers: honestly, I’m the kind of guy they’re targeting, and if their event has left me feeling the exact opposite of what they want to accomplish, then something’s seriously wrong.
I’m not one who really believes in bellyaching just for the sake of it, though, so here’s some practical, constructive criticism. Fixing RSD would actually be a very simple thing to do, and I can sum it up in one sentence fragment: SPARE US THE CONTRIVED RARITY THING. I understand that part of the pull of the event is to offer wares that won’t be around for long, but there’s no reason that you can’t press enough copies of popular titles to at least last out one full day’s worth of sales. If your goal is to remind people that browsing in a record store is a pleasurable activity in the hopes of luring them to do so with greater frequency, then you need to lose the race-for-the-prize nonsense and make it a pleasurable activity. The last time I checked, fighting with unkempt eBay barons at 9 AM wasn’t anybody’s idea of a good time.
Given all of that, I’ll probably sit this year out. I suppose if I’ve got nothing better to do on Saturday, I might amble on down to J&R sometime in the afternoon and just see what’s left – but I also suppose that it wouldn’t take much to qualify as a better offer, either. If you’re feeling braver than I, the list of this year’s releases is linked right here. The only one that I’m slightly more than mildly interested in is the Foo Fighters vinyl-only album of covers. I’d bite on it for a reasonable price, I think: looks like a cool thing, and the track list is intriguing. The not-quite-dead-and-buried collector nerd in me harbors vaguely covetous thoughts about the Bad Brains, Green Day/Hüsker Dü, New York Dolls, Queen and Rush seven inchers, but out of all of those only Green Day’s cover of “Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely” (the title of which the RSD organizers couldn’t even bother to get right on their list) would be new to my collection music-wise. In other words, I’ve got better things to not waste my money on. For those of you so inclined, I’d recommend the live Television 2xLP; I got it back in ’03 when Rhino Handmade did it as a limited-run CD, and both performance and sound are killer.