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?"
"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"
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)
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.