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Saturday
Apr162011

The Record Store Day Massacre

There is something to be said in this world for kindness. For helping your neighbor, for saying please and thank you. For understanding the rules and playing fair. For civility. These are rules I grew up with. I use these rules with my fellow men. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yes, no matter what I said about sharp elbows: do unto others, even on Record Store Day.

I had a plan. And a list. There were only two limited releases I really, really wanted: the WILD FLAG 7", and the Big Star Third test pressing reproduction. The rest would be icing. I was there to buy music, after all, not collectibles, and this is the music I truly love. Kim's, who opened at 9, had the WILD FLAG, and J&R, who opened at 10, had the Big Star. I had a plan.

I arrived at Kim's at 9 on the dot, just as the block-long line started to move inside the store. I had expected a polite queue at the counter with people listing their choices off crumpled bits of notebook paper, but instead the limited releases were scattered around the store, high and low. Arms grappled for the high shelves, slipped below the waist for the ones on lower shelves. I squeezed between be-hoodied men, smiling and raising my eyebrows: "ladies first?" Several times I reached for an album that disappeared from the shelf with a YOINK as my hand approached, but often there was another nearby. I spotted Built To Spill on a low shelf and reached for it at the same time as another guy. He was a gentlemen and removed his hand, and as I apologized to him, we noticed there were several copies underneath. I handed him one and said "whaddaya know, we all get what we want!" The atmosphere was congenial, everyone looking pleased with their stash. Happy Record Store Day! we all seemed to smile at each other. I even found my WILD FLAG.

I stood in line at the register, waiting for the two beady-eyed men ahead of me to get through their huge stack of limited releases. They seemed quite business-like about it. I wondered with a hmmm if they were really fans of the music they had in their clutches as they fussed over receipts. The kid behind me was tapping his foot and muttering "c'mon, c'mon" under his breath. I turned around and smiled.

"Eager to get to the next store?"

"Yes! Man."

"J&R?"

"No, Other."

"Well, good luck."

"What did you get? Anything good?" He eyed the stack in my hand.

"Almost everything on my list!"

And so, satisfied but for one, I headed to J&R.

* * *

I got turned around beneath the cloverleaf of roads leading to the Brooklyn Bridge. I had to ask several people the way; the policemen were helpful, the firemen weren't. By the time I found J&R, the line spanned the entire long block. These weren't the same reedy indie kids I'd seen at Kim's; these were big wild dogs with the look of the hunt in their eyes. I thought of the wolf sculpture I'd passed in one of the back alleys behind City Hall; these too were wolves, and a sack of raw meat was about to be thrown in their midst. I stood at the back of the line, behind a kid in a denim jacket emblazoned with "There Is Only One Boss" and a silhouette of a man with a guitar. As we headed into the door, the staff was handing out tickets for claiming certain albums, like the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. I reached for a Springsteen ticket, then saw the Boss Jacket kid waiting for a ticket too. "Him first," I said. I knew she had plenty of tickets in her hand, but it was only fair for the fan to get one first.

And then we entered the apocalypse.

Utter mayhem. Some were being good: they'd managed to get close enough to the wall of limited editions, and were holding up records and handing them to the people looking for them. "Nirvana?" "YES!" I waddled towards the wall, bumbling and stumbling against the heaving mass of record buyers. The guy ahead of me stopped short, or was shoved backwards, and knocked into me. "Oh! Sorry about that!"

"It's okay. I expect that to happen to me all day." We watched the melee with wide eyes. "It's like a Target store at Christmas," I noted. I saw someone walk past with a copy of the Big Star and asked if he'd seen any others. "Afraid not. There were only about ten, and I was the sixth in line and got the last one."

There it was: the feeling of defeat. No way was I going to get my Big Star. And no way was I going to risk bruises wading deeper into the pack of wolves fighting over a carcass. I walked up to the register clutching my tickets to collect the Rolling Stones and Springsteen singles, and there I saw the same beady-eyed man who had been ahead of me at Kim's, cradling three copies of the Third test pressing. My jaw dropped. Surely this was against the rules.

"Excuse me, sir? You have three copies, would you mind letting me have one?"

"No," he said, not looking at me. "I'm buying them for friends." Sure you are.

I stood there, cursing the unfairness of this day, of people who took advantage. THREE. Three. I wanted to ask him to name three songs off the album and see him bluster as he searched for one. And then I heard someone behind the registers say it: one album per customer. They started to take two of his three away from him, even as he clutched at one of them. "My friend will buy this! MY FRIEND WILL BUY THIS!" As he grasped in an attempt to secure two, I watched the spare one being removed from his stack by the hands of an employee in a tie-dyed shirt with graying long hair and a beard. He looked like Jesus. This was my chance.

"Excuse me, sir? Could I have that one, please?" I batted my eyelashes, earnest and hopeful. He paused, then smiled, and handed it to me across the counter. I swear I heard the angels sing.

(Or was it the wolves at the back shouting for security as they clawed at each other over a Pink Floyd album? Happy Record Store Day indeed.)

I thanked the man in the beard and the tie-dyed shirt profusely, told the staff I appreciated what they were doing for us, wrapped up my purchases, and left J&R, the wolves snapping their teeth at my heels. Outside I spotted the beady-eyed men sitting in a beat up car at the curb pawing their loot. Who knows. Maybe they were Big Star fans. Maybe they had a friend at home who really wanted that test pressing. Who cried when Alex Chilton died too. Who knows.

But I doubt it.

They drove off in a puff of exhaust, a map for the next store in the hands of the man in the passenger seat. I hugged my records to my chest, pulled out my phone and called J.

"You'll never guess what just happened..."

* * *

Record Haul No. 9 (Record Store Day Edition)

Big Star - Third (test pressing reproduction)
WILD FLAG - Future Crimes/Glass Tambourine 7"
Kate Bush - Hounds of Love Collector's Edition 10" (on pink vinyl)
Velvet Underground - Foggy Notion/I Can't Stand It 7"
Superchunk/Coliseum 7"
The Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar/Bitch/Let It Rock 7"
Bruce Springsteen - Gotta Get The Feeling/Racing In The Streets 10"
Kill Rock Stars sampler
Built To Spill - Ripple 7"
The International Submarine Band w/ Gram Parsons - Safe At Home
Peter Tosh - Legalize It/Equal Rights 7" (on green vinyl, for J)

(Previously: Albums Purchased One Hot Weekend, Record Haul, Record Haul No. 2, Record Haul No. 3, Record Haul No. 4, Record Haul No. 5, Record Haul No. 6, Record Haul No. 7, Record Haul No. 8)

A final note: be sure to support your local record store every day you can, not just one day a year. I'd love for them to stick around.

NOTE: I've since been contacted in these comments by Walter, the man who had to give up his extra copies of Third. I was both relieved and saddened to hear that he really was trying to get the copies for friends who couldn't make it because of tragedies in their lives. I'm too suspicious of people; I've learned that lesson. I'm sorry I portrayed him as a villain; he sounds like the guy who would do anything for his friends, and there need to be more people like that in the world too.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

Reader Comments (11)

Great story, although the whole idea of lines and fighting over records is disturbing. Let's face it, the day has become a money grab, especially as the major labels have gotten more involved. Plus, the prices for vinyl are ridiculously out of line. The record industry apparently hasn't learned a single lesson from their troubles.

There are certain advantages to shopping in a small town on Record Store Day. I was fortunate enough to go to a great store in the small town of Warren, in the small state of RI. I'd never been there before (I just moved to RI) and I didn't know what to expect. The Big Star was at the top of my list too. There were a few people loitering out front as I arrived, not really what you'd call a line. A guy opened the front door, and I located the RSD rack. To my delight, there were two copies of Big Star Third. I reached for one, just as another set of hands reached for the other. Done. The store didn't have all that much. There were no free samplers, and they didn't have a lot of the 7"s that I wanted, but I was able to pick up the Beach Boys 10" (where am I going to find a turntable that plays 78s???!!!!), and the double Syd Barrett. Plus, the store had boxes full of great used 45s for less than $1 each. So I found a new store, got several of the things on my list, and didn't have to fight any crowds. All in all a good day I'd say.

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKen Shane

Greed is a loud beast with sharp teeth; fans can be rabid too. Even if these guys were fans, they were being greedy fans, and the greed was what made me sad. As for the prices, I'm willing to pay a bit more for vinyl, particularly rare pressings like the Big Star, but I can understand why it makes you nervous for the continuation of the format.

I'm glad to hear you scored a good haul and had a good day too! I don't like the fighting, but I do like that the day reminds us how much we love our record stores. (I'm jealous of your Syd Barrett!)

April 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterZan McQuade

I love to catch a glimpse into the things that motivate other people to get up early on a Saturday and fight crowds, although my record collection begins and ends at a small pile of Dylan, and my dad's Jim Croce albums. And I'm glad you got the Big Star album; you most definitely deserved it. Plus, I just learned that J&R qualifies as an indie record store, which never would have occurred to me!

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKrissa

I cried when Alex Chilton died too.

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonovan

Ah, this year was the worst in terms of assholism. I was pushed in Permanent Records in Brooklyn. This didn't happen in previous years. Also, no Big Star or Pink Floyd in North Brooklyn

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

Loved reading your experience today. It was a bit of a stressful experience here in Arizona, though I was able to get the Big Star record and the Syd Barrett! At the moment, I am enjoying the Gram Parsons / Jenny Lewis split 7" of Love Hurts. As Record Store Day gets more and more popular, more and more 'sellers' will be snagging up the records away from the fans. It's sad. Anyways, thanks for sharing your day with us here. I write a music blog too, so if you'd like to check it here's the link: http://www.brethelm.blogspot.com

Cheers,
Bret

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBret Helm

Numark makes a really cheap Turntable that plays 33/45/78s for about 100 bucks. I got ess-hit all for exclusive releases since I was a late riser, but got some cheap used vinyl of some stuff I may not have bought had it not been 30% off.

April 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjj

Dear Zan,

I'm the Guy who had the three copies of big star you wrote about, the "asshole " so to speak. Let me clarify some things for you since you want to classify me as some greedy jerk who doesn't know anything about the band. First off, I am a fan and have been for years. So much so I bet you in a trivia contest I could beat you backwards and forwards. I was up at 5 am and outside for 5 hours waiting to get the things I wanted. I primarily wanted the big star and vowed to get a copy for my friend John who is sick and unable to leave his house due to terminal liver cancer and one for my friend Greg who recently lost his job and his father. I thought this would lift both their spirits. I never intended to resell the copies. I went up and legally and honestly got my copies and there was no limit. People were snatching multiple copies of things with no issue. You on the other hand approached me in a whining and annoying way and,I'm sorry, but I don't know you and who the hell are you to hound me and take my copy away.
?? So kudos to you for taking something not rightfully yours and slamming me to boot. Why don't you criticize the ones there who took 2 ramones singles or three velvet singles? By the way, for the record, I am relinquishing my own copy for my friends. You are the selfish whiny woman who probably does this all the time to get what she wants! Enjoy!

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwalter

PS ---- beady eyed? You're a haggard old crow! Post a picture of yourself and let the readers decide. I am far from the monster you've depicted. You really are despicable

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwalter

Walter: Firstly, I am truly sorry that I doubted your motives, and I'm really sorry to hear about your friends' tribulations. It aches me that there's an unhappy ending at the other end of my happy one. Like I said, it was possible that you really were buying the copy for a friend who cried when Alex died too. And turns out you were; I just had a bad feeling about the day, and the unfairness of seeing someone with all the copies swelled in me to the point of writing this post. I wanted to portray to everyone the chaos of the day, how it was - in most cases at J&R - every man for himself.

I'm sorry that my gain came at the loss of one of your copies, but I'm glad to hear you managed to get one for each of your friends! In a way I was kind of hoping you'd find this post, so that I could hear your side of the story too. It's interesting to hear your perspective. I don't feel like I hounded you; I asked you once politely (though maybe desperation can come across as whiny?), and when it became clear that one of your copies was headed back into that horrible melee, I thought why not ask the salesperson if I could have it. I really am a fan too. A huge fan. It was the only reason I'd gone to that store. We all get a little rabid.

And I'll concede that my description might have been taking poetic license too far. While trying to portray you as my seeming nemesis, I inadvertently turned you a character instead of a real person. Internet: I have no recollection of Walter's eyes. I was describing an emotional character in my head. I think the emotion of the day heightens how we see each other, and changes how we color our words, which is too bad. I forget that I can be someone's nemesis too. I am certainly no Red Riding Hood (there are plenty of pictures of me publicly viewable on Flickr), and you were certainly not one of the wolves, and I can see that now. I sincerely apologize and am glad to hear that you weren't grabbing copies for eBay. Those people REALLY make me mad. I really and truly am glad to hear that you are a fan.

(I've added a note to the post above to clarify your situation so that people reading the story can hear both sides, for the sake of loving Big Star the way we both so obviously do.)

April 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterZan McQuade

Well.. thank you for that. I apologize for calling you despicable and all that too. I appreciate you writing that.it was frustrating that day so I guess I can't blame you for thinking what you did so, I'm sorry if I came off as rude and greedy.

April 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwalter

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