LOCATION: Anytown, USA
TIME: The Early ’80’s
A young, burgeoning music fan has got to start somewhere. This is the brief, snappily-written story of how a young man with a quick wit and a smart answer for everything began his slow, steady evolution into a full-fledged music obsessive.
The time was 1981 and the popular music scene was having its own personal identity crisis. Disco was now officially “dead,” much to the delight of so many mullet-sporting, air guitar-playing music elitists. The reality is that disco was not actually dead, but was certainly on life support. After being embraced (and then abruptly abandoned) by the mainstream, it had boogied its way back underground to the black and gay clubs from whence it came. However, to anyone listening to Top 40 radio, it certainly seemed like the roof was no longer on fire. The newest British invasion had yet to come into full swing and New Wave was still a few minutes from its global takeover of radio stations and video channels.
None of this was apparent to an 11-year-old boy living in a small town next door to nowhere. He was also having his own identity crisis, at least musically. Not knowing or caring what was hip, cool or contemporary, he began to devour anything and everything that was spinning on the radio. He spent countless hours watching badly-dressed artists flash across his television screen every week on American Bandstand, Soul Train and Solid Gold. They were filling up his life with music, putting rhythm in his soul. He was informed by a schoolmate and fellow music junkie that a small independent record store was located in the mall just one town over. After gathering together a list of songs that he just had to have, he made that first fateful trip to his future home away from home.
ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO
The record store in question was nestled at the very end of the only shopping mall in the area. He had been to that mall many times in the past. How could he not have known that such a fantasy land existed ? Had he been blind, insane or just clueless ? Nevertheless, his life was about to change in ways he couldn’t imagine. Upon turning that last corner, there stood a small beacon of light in an otherwise dark and unforgiving world — a little store called ‘Hot Dog’s.’
DAVE: “Wow ! It’s real. It’s really real. A whole store just full of records. What the hell kind of name is ‘Hot Dog’s’ for a record store, though ? Maybe there’s a snack bar in the back. That would be cool.”
Yes, it really was real. That small store held an entire universe of dizzying pleasure for a boy who wasn’t even out of grade school yet. Alas, it turned out that there was no snack bar anywhere to be seen, but that hardly mattered now. The walls were covered in artist posters, empty record sleeves and round, vinyl slices of ecstasy. The store was staffed with grumpy, slightly knowledgeable college students who were more than willing to pass judgment on your taste in music, even if you didn’t ask.
Against the far left wall were racks of cassettes. They were small and compact and perfect for taking to wherever you went when you wanted to avoid the latest school pep rally. Thankfully, the main area of the store housed row upon row of beautiful, shiny vinyl. They almost seemed to call his name as they glistened under the cheap, fluorescent lights. The middle of the store held albums of every genre, packaged in huge, glossy cardboard sleeves. Young musicphiles coveted the illusive album. However, albums were a full $7 each, certainly more than anyone with a meager allowance could possibly afford. An oasis was about to appear in the distance, though.
In the back of the store, against the far wall, was a young person’s central nervous system — the singles rack. Dozens and dozens of freshly released, reasonably priced 45’s cascaded down before our young hero like a plastic waterfall. Quickly adding things up, he realized he could easily snag a stack of singles with the small fortune that he’d been saving. He began skimming his way through each disc, searching for the titles that he longed for. A few of the artist names sounded familiar from the radio but most did not. Who was this Pat Benatar and why was she wearing a leotard ? He had so very much to learn. By the time he had gotten to the end of the rack he’d found a few of the items he was after but not the ones he wanted most.
Then, as if by a divine miracle, he spotted yet another rack of singles beckoning to him from the far right corner of the store. Why were these in a different place ? It turns out that this was something called the back catalog rack. It was full of recent singles that had dropped off the charts but were still in demand. He didn’t have a clue what a back catalog or even a chart was but it hardly mattered. Looking for that Go-Go’s song you heard a few months ago – it was right here. Trying to fill in the gaps in your Huey Lewis & The News collection – no problem. Flipping through the treasure trove before him he found a few more of the songs from his list. Unfortunately, some of them still seemed out of reach. He’d just have to ask the friendly staff for help.
DAVE: “Like, I wanna buy these records but I couldn’t find everything that I wanted.”
CLERK: “Which ones were you looking for ?”
DAVE: “Well, I need one I heard on the radio that I think is called ‘Bad Girls’ or something. I think it’s sung by Diana Ross or maybe it’s Donna Summer. I get those two confused.”
CLERK: “Um, OK . . . that would be Donna Summer. Are you sure that’s it ? Kids your age don’t usually order those kind of records.”
DAVE: “Yeah, I’m sure.”
CLERK: “OK, well the rest of the songs on your list are kind of old but we can special order them for you.”
DAVE: “What’s that ?”
CLERK: “It’s when a customer wants something that we don’t have in stock. We make out an order form of what you want then we let you know when it comes in.”
DAVE: “You mean I can get anything that I want just by ordering it ?”
CLERK: “Um, yeah”
Oh, surely, this must be Heaven. That young man began making weekly trips to this new center of his universe. He would spend all of his allowance and all of the birthday and holiday money he could wrangle together. He quickly became known to the store’s employees who would often hold records for him behind the counter. What began as an anxious trip to find a few records, became the beginning of a lifelong, blissful devotion to music.
In the intervening years, he devoured hundreds of vinyl singles, vinyl albums (even at $7) and cassettes. Later on it became fancy, newfangled formats such as compact discs and digital downloads. Out of his need to share his discoveries he created mixtapes, an online radio station, a music blog, a podcast and a music review column. Of course, all of these endeavors became world famous, if only in his own mind.
The record store at the center of our story eventually moved to another location (followed closely behind by its self-proclaimed best customer), before finally closing its doors forever in the late ’80’s. However, the door it opened inside of a young boy would never close and remains wide open to this very day.