Vinyl Freaks take their records and the music stores they love very seriously. Life, death and the long-player. This week, the Rock File collaborates with contributing editor Steve Sandler on a memoir of sorts about great record hunting in South Florida in the decades before the digital-download craze.
Under two thousand. That’s it.
That’s the number of independent record stores left in the United States of America.
The recent documentary I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store focuses on the significance and eventual decline of independent record stores across the United States. We see Vinyl Freaks sharing fond memories of their favorite music shops and the negative effects that digital music sales have had on independent outlets.
So if you’re a fellow Vinyl Freak who understands the importance of the indie record store to the community of music lovers, musicians and the larger culture, then welcome.
Step inside, leave the door open and read on.
However, if you think record stores are antiquated, charge too much, are a waste of time or don’t serve the citizenry any longer, then move along. You can hide in your iPod, shop alone online and digitally download yourself into the latest version of Guitar Hero.
Is that a real guitar you’re holding? I didn’t think so.
For true Vinyl Freaks, the local independent record store was your spiritual home. As musty and dusty as your prized copy of Bill Withers’ 1972 Still Bill, these stores were warm and welcoming to those who were seeking music that was seemingly lost, cast aside, forgotten. The esoteric, challenging, powerful or just plain classic.
Our place was Sid’s Records & Tapes, housed in a Pompano Beach strip mall. Sid’s was inconspicuously located among the mundane shops: Spencer Gifts, Taco Viva, and Puttin’ On The Dog.
My friends and I bonded over music, like thousands of suburban teens before us. Hunting vinyl was it. We spent countless hours at Sid’s, who sold quality LPs for those with varied tastes. Sid’s had it all, and the prices were a reasonable one to four bucks a record.
Aisle after aisle, stack after stack. The mysterious substance known as Glorious Black Vinyl was in abundance and ripe for the picking.
Whole days were built around a Sid’s trip. There was always a lunch stop, usually in the food court or the fast food parking lot.
We bought everything we could. Modern rock, classic rock, new wave, metal, reggae, folk, classical. Young minds expanding at rates we could barely afford to keep up with.
Afterwards was the listening party and follow-up: conversation, debate, immersion.
Who got the best deal? Coolest album art? Anybody score the posters from The Dark Side of the Moon?
Why was Peter Gabriel better than Sting? He just was.
Did Jim Morrison’s lyrics mean anything? Only if you were wasted.
Just how stoned is Clapton on this album? Very.
What, if any, are the merits of The Monkees? Not much.
Sid’s fed our musical tastes that places like Peaches Records & Tapes in Fort Lauderdale simply could not. Too big, cold, impersonal.
Sid’s gave us Abbey Road, Nothing’s Shocking, Desire, Bitches Brew, Legalize It, all in one day.
A decade later I returned to Sid’s. My friends and I had all since moved away from South Florida. By this time, Sid’s downgraded to a smaller, more cramped location. The once brightly lit store had fallen dark, as half the lights were cut to save on electricity.
I was the only customer.
Some of the bins had clearly not been handled in years, as a thick layer of grey grime covered the records. The lone staffer looked bored and half asleep. I got the feeling he wanted me gone so he could close up and head home.
I didn’t buy anything.
Sid’s closed at the dawn of the new millennium. Yes, you could say it was due to the changing nature of the music business, competition from other retail outlets, or the advent of the digital download era.
But the real reason Sid’s had to shut its doors was because of us, the Vinyl Freaks. We had moved on and took our support with us.
Sid’s gave us so much, for so little. Not only an education in music, but also a sense of community. A place to go and hang out, a destination.
The lesson is this:
Under two thousand indie record shops left is a small number considering the size of this here United States. If these stores are to survive, we have to show our love and keep the community alive. Music, the musicians who create it, and the folks who provide it need to be supported by Vinyl Freaks the world over.
And by the way, don’t forget to back up those digital music files.