Hang in there with me … this one’s going to get a little autobiographical and sentimental.
In September 1988, I turned 11. That month, my dad told me we were relocating from Paris, France, to Pusan, South Korea. He traveled there so much for work that it made sense for my family to live as expatriates for a few years. Uprooting at that age is hard enough, but I’d have to learn English and navigate a world where I couldn’t even “read” my surroundings.
I was a budding metal fan at that time. So the first thing I looked for in our new locale was a record store (cassettes, first and foremost then) where I could spend my meager allowance. I found a small tape shop with a TON of metal about 20 minutes away by bus. Not sure HOW I found that store; remembering it now, the great seas parted to reveal it. Traveling there became my Saturday ritual. As I navigated the hardships of making new friends and mastering a new language, I found solace and excitement at discovering new metal bands. Mind you, I couldn’t read ANY of the descriptions or talk to the shop keeper. But I marveled at the fantastical artwork and took chances. As my familiarity with my environment increased, I ventured further to other music stores, finding super-specialized metal and punk shops that were so small they could pass for a broom closet. I also started to tape trade with metal maniacs across the world and ordered from catalogs I’d get from Japan, Europe and the states. I discovered new bands from magazines I’d get in the mail or by reading the thanks list in my favorite records. My net was cast a little wider each time. I made many friends this way, both near and far.
Fast forward to about 2000 … I’m walking in Lakeview and I see a store called Metal Haven with a knight’s armor in it and an endless parade of records, CD’s, back-patches, etc. I just about fainted. I loved this store and whenever I was home from tour, I tried to visit both the former and current location. I even interviewed owner Mark Werglaz for a piece I wrote for the Reader when I was at Medill. And so it’s with great sadness that I read of Metal Haven’s closing. Mp3s, declining CD sales, illegal downloads, our economy, etc. It’s not one thing; it’s converging culprits working in tandem. What a shame.
Obviously with the Internet at your grasp, you can find anything from anywhere at any price. But whether you’re as insatiable or not in your search for music as I was/am, I’m here to make a plea that you support local record stores. When you buy music in a physical place, you connect to people, and you nurture the organic nature of seeking art and immersing yourself in it. Combing the racks at your store lets you discover new music almost accidentally. You add touch and sight to the sensory experience. Smell, too – nothing smells quite like dusty record sleeves. (Aren’t our lives structured and boxed enough? Why not add a little psycho-geography to it.) . There is much fulfillment to be found in being around other humans who share our interests. Some might argue that the Internet does promote community, and you could easily chat with people about music through your digital window to the world. True in some respects. But limiting.
Buying music locally also should resonate with just about anyone who doesn’t want to see commerce being reduced to strip malls and boarded up mom and pop stores. Think of buying food online vs. the grocery store. Or imagine museum visits being reduced to JPEGs on Google. You might think it a stretch, but I posit that you can’t fully experience immersion into music from just a download or a package in the mail. The travel time, the anticipation, the search, the grail and endless hours of escapism that follow—all connected. I am so saddened to see the salvation of music being reduced to instant gratification and one-click satisfaction.
Still, some stores ARE surviving and remarkably adaptive, in the same way that bands and labels stayed creative with fancy vinyl packages, special downloads, fan-picked set lists, etc. Reckless ls a great example. Evidence that community does thrive around stores can be seen at Permanent and Hyde Park Records and many more. Check out this woman’s quest to bring you music. A lot of these stores started selling DVDs, books and other things besides music – and some stores have phenomenal decorative aesthetic and appeal. Ever been to Laurie’s in Lincoln Square? Good God, it’s like the best bedroom ever! Online auctions and making inventory available online is pretty much a given, too. But I doubt ANY store clerk prefers that avenue for retail over real interaction.
So think about what Miles Raymer said in his Metal Haven piece: “Even if you hate metal you should be sorry that Metal Haven is closing. Few record stores anywhere, to say nothing of Chicago, can claim to be just as fanatically obsessive as their most rabid customers. They’ve always been rare. Now they’re in real danger of extinction.”
I’ll really miss a store that is so specialized it seemed designed just for the inner metal-maniac child in me that still wishes every trip to get new music felt like that first prophetic bus ride back in 1988. And not that it should matter to the story but the first cassettes I bought were Iron Maiden’s Caught Somewhere in Time and Twisted Sister’s Come Out and Play. I still have both of them today. They cost me the equivalent of $3 each.