Record Store Day 2010

Sierra and Isaac didn’t care about Record Store Day.

In fact, when I told them, out of the coolness of my Cool Dad Heart, that we were headed to Ernie November to check out Record Store Day, Sierra sort of looked at me, blankly, unimpressed and clearly confused as to why her father, Cool Dad though he might be, was suddenly giddy. Confused as to why, within minutes, he had turned into a child.

“Record store?”

“Uh… Music store,” I said, hoping to clarify.

“Music store?”

I should be happy. At least she grasped we were GOING SOMEWHERE. Isaac just ignored me and banged metal measuring cups together.

The weight of the occasion was completely lost on them, but I suppose the occasion wasn’t for them. This was for me. This was a father showing his children a bit of history, a tradition quickly becoming obsolete even in my own life: a record store, with physical records and CDs and videos; music in a concrete form, the way we had always accepted them until the icy hand of technology forced convenience into our lives, sending the value of tangible media into a nosedive.

This was a lesson in locality, understanding the process through which music used to be acquired, much like a field trip to the farm teaches us how chickens were raised before the factory model became prevalent.

Sierra wandered the aisles, pointing out album covers, counting monsters – you’d be surprised: there are a surprising number of monsters on modern album covers – and carrying a VHS copy of the South Park movie. Isaac spit in my ear and grabbed for my hat.

Though it wasn’t in the same location, it was this store – Ernie November – where my musical education formally began. The same could be said for most of my group of friends; hell, it could be said for most of the 20- and 30-somethings who grew up in Sioux Falls

Our high school punk band sold demo tapes in this store. It’s where we bought tickets to our first punk rock shows – mine was Good Riddance – and where we discovered bands that still resonate today: Texas is the Reason, Cursive, Jawbreaker, Hot Water Music.

What we didn’t know then is that, there in that record store, shuffling through used CDs, the atmosphere stained with incense and our opinions influenced by the certainty of indie culture, we were also experiencing the benefit of small business. We were getting a view of music that many couldn’t experience – not because they didn’t want to, but because they weren’t lucky enough to have an independent voice in the music business. The culture of a big box retailer is all about serving the lowest common denominator, discovering new music isn’t as safe as developing taste through the hive mind.

The Internet changed all of that. Now, discovering music is easier. It’s safer. It’s fueled by television soundtracks and iPod commercials, delivered immediately through the tubes and into the warmth of your computer’s speakers.

The unfortunate side effect is that independent record stores are waning, their importance halved. It’s no wonder that vinyl has come back as both a method of acquiring music and as an art symbol of its own: independent labels and record stores and fans of both are desperate to develop a new niche.

And I for one hope it works. Nothing will replace the community of a local independent record store. More than anything, I think that’s what I was foolishly trying to convey to Sierra and Isaac. I was forgetting that these were two kids too young to even comprehend what music means, too naive to understand the significance of this dirty old building, these used CDs and albums, these weird covers with monsters and singers with dirty hair and stupid names and lo-fi music they’d probably never hear.

I probably overdid it. I spent more than I should have, purchased a few albums I didn’t need, even grabbed an exclusive Record Store Day release 7” that I can’t even listen to until I secure a turntable.

But then again, maybe I haven’t been doing enough. Because independent record stores – both here in Sioux Falls and in every town I’ve ever lived or visited – have helped paint a small part of who I’ve become. I owe them in part for my sense of independence, for my reluctance to blindly accept mainstream and for a couple of lasting friendships.

My kids might not understand that right now. But they will.

My only hope is that they’ll get the chance to experience the same thing for themselves.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 17th, 2010