Sometime in 1988 or 1989, store manager Ron Davis hired me to work behind the counter at Appletree Records, after witnessing me help a fellow customer identify that the song Walking on the Moon by The Police was on the LP Regatta de Blanc and that it was in stock, something the clerk on duty had failed to do. When Ron found out I wasn't even a particular fan of The Police, he offered me a job on the spot.
For many years, Appletree was located in the same mini-strip mall near the corner of Chatham and Wabash that now plays home to Godfather's Pizza and the Sun Room tanning place. It was a dream job for me. In truth, I had been hanging out at Appletree for close to ten years already and probably was racking up as many hours as some employees during that period. That was a function of record stores: they were social hubs, places where people could meet and argue and turn each other on to music they might not have heard otherwise. Certain passages in Michael Chabon's 2012 novel Telegraph Avenue manage to capture some of the feeling.
Some young people today seem to enjoy romanticizing the myth of the old record store, with movies like High Fidelity and Empire Records serving a similar function as Westerns did for previous generations. This is what America USED to be like, kids. Them were the days.
I continued working in record stores for years, and might still be making my living that way today if the option was still there, but of course the bottom fell out of the entire industry around the time of Napster (though the writing had been on the wall for some time before that). While I appreciate the convenience of MP3s, it seems that one of the byproducts of the digital revolution is the prevalence of hermetic musical silos, similar to the ones so common in news and opinion circles where liberals often get all of their information from sources that reflect their biases and conservatives do the same, making dialogue, compromise and progress increasingly difficult to come by.
While it is common to celebrate the demise of the traditional gatekeeper in favor of each person's ability to seek music out for themselves, I personally miss the sorts of intelligent, knowledgable gatekeepers who helped point the way to music that changed my life. Today, the same democratic access to media through web platforms like bandcamp.com and youtube - which allow pretty much everyone who makes music the opportunity to post it online - also creates a sheer volume of material that is far too much for any one person to sort through. I always appreciated - and aspired to emulate - the critics, label staffers, DJs and record store clerks who helped shape my tastes and attitudes as much as any band or artist. Sealed-off silos can be comfortable but they can also become airless and unchallenging. Without the cross-pollination that comes from immersion in a variety of sources, innovation, surprise, even fun itself can suffocate, and you might not even notice it's gone.
So yeah, today is Record Store Day, and Springfield is lucky indeed to have Recycled Records still humbly thriving at 625 E. Adams downtown, not all that bloody but still pretty much unbowed, definitely the last store standing. Head over to check out the exclusive RSD releases they have in stock (if any are left this late in the day) and while you're there, spare a thought for those among us for whom that kind of dusty, contentious ambience was once a way of life, not just an occasion for nostalgia.
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