There Is No Cat

As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

Thursday, December 22, 2022

I used to go to record stores

I used to go to record stores. I used to go to record stores a lot. We had some really great record stores thirty-five years ago. Here on the Jersey shore, we had Jack’s in Red Bank, where a friend slipped me a promo cassette of a compilation by New Zealand’s great Tall Dwarfs, sending me on a journey of discovery (I was already into bands on Flying Nun but somehow hadn’t discovered Tall Dwarfs yet); they also had cassettes on the Xpressway label from New Zealand that were incredibly rare. We had Vintage Vinyl in Fords and in their brief foray in Eatontown. In Hoboken, Pier Platters was amazing for anyone into bands like the dB’s, the Bongos, the Individuals, or any of a dozen other Hoboken bands. Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton was another great store. In State College, where I spent my college years, we had Arboria, a great source for cheap used records and European pressings of hard-to-find bands like the Soft Boys, and City Lights, where I found the first single by Yo La Tengo before anyone ever heard of them. In the city, Tower, of course, and right around the corner, Other Music. I couldn’t walk into either of those places and get out for less than a hundred bucks. Other Music in particular was unbelievable for the obscure stuff you could get there and couldn’t get anywhere else. Jack’s and PRX still exist, but the others are all gone. And even if they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t go there any more. Because record stores don’t have what I want any more.

The Internet ruined record stores, like it ruined book stores and so many other things in life. Things that you had to dig through cartons to find or write away to the other side of the world for were now just a search box away. It took a lot of the joy out of going to record stores. But the other thing was that places like Amazon took the profit out of record stores. Record Store Day was the final dagger. In an attempt to reclaim some of the custom that had fled to Amazon, RSD refocused record stores from bringing in young customers to bringing in older customers to repurchase music they had been listening to for decades, in different or expanded formats. It kept a number of record stores alive while destroying the thing that made me want to go there, the ability to find something I hadn’t heard before. By turning to things we had all heard before, they gave up their soul in exchange for continued life. RSD is all about reissues and live recordings of “legacy” artists, not about new music. If you want to find new music, you have to go elsewhere. I’m old, and by rights I should be listening to the same stuff I listened to when I was 18, but fuck that, if I learned one thing from listening to John Peel on the BBC World Service, it was that I want to hear something I never heard before, not the same shit over and over.

Of all the elsewheres to go, my favorite is Bandcamp. The great thing about Bandcamp is that they fill the gap left by records stores, but also the gap left by music magazines and fanzines, both of which were also destroyed by the Internet. Bandcamp Daily and other articles they post take advantage of the net’s ability to incorporate multimedia into pages, so instead of just telling you about a new band and their songs, they can let you hear them, something that zines were limited in doing (some zines included flexidiscs or companion CDs, but that was a limited number and far from standard). On Bandcamp, I can listen to the music before buying it, which is a nice addition to what I used to do with record stores when I would buy a record based on what the cover looked like.

The streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have their places. I subscribed to Spotify for several years, then switched to Apple Music when Spotify started funding anti-vaxxers during the pandemic. I find them useful mainly for playing music I have on vinyl but haven’t digitized yet, and for a game I play where I play a song I know and then look through the related artists to find something else to play next. I’ve found a few new artists that way, but nowhere near as many as I find on Bandcamp.

If I look at where I buy music nowadays, I would say it’s probably 85% on Bandcamp, 5% on Amazon, 5% at record stores, and 5% from Apple Music/iTunes Music Store. I miss record stores, but the record stores I miss are never coming back.

Posted at 3:23 AM


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This site is copyright © 2002-2024, Ralph Brandi.

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio

There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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