So far as anyone could tell, I used to live in record stores. I hung out in record stores; I swapped tall stories in record stores; I learned to drop names from Abba to ZZ Top in record stores. Once I even posed nude for photographs (don't even ask) in a record store. So it startled me to realize, as I wheeled into the parking lot of Wherehouse Music yesterday afternoon, that this was the first time I'd been in a record store in nearly a year.

Of course, record stores, with few exceptions, don't sell records anymore; they vend CDs and cassettes and DVDs and videotapes and the usual pop ephemera. But the dynamic is still the same: they've got it, and you want it, and it usually costs a little more than you'd hoped but you still want it. So what's changed? Old farts like me gripe about the miserable semi-musical excrescences that the young folks crave, but when I was one of the young folks, there were just as many old farts to gripe about my tastes, so that's nothing new. And while coming up with $17 plus tax may strain the budget of a Britney fan, I had just as much difficulty saving up $3.98 plus tax for Beatles '65. (Of course, back then, it made more sense to buy singles given the filler factor inherent in all but a handful of albums, it would still probably make more sense to buy singles and despite their best efforts, the recording companies haven't quite succeeded in killing them off.)

What about Napster? Never used it, or its presumed successors either. And while I've picked up a handful of MP3s on Usenet, generally of stuff that isn't commercially available for some reason or other, building a music library via downloads is really impractical for someone who doesn't have a broadband connection. (I live about 100 yards past the local DSL cutoff point, and I have cable only because the landlord has the whole cluster of buildings wired.) Besides, to make MP3s sound better, you generally have to resort to higher bitrates, which plays hell with the MP3 promise of (comparatively) teensy file sizes, and I have a built-in philosophical resistance to newer yet lower-fidelity media.

So why do I seem to be avoiding record stores? Maybe it's the not-quite-suppressed memory of a not-brief-enough period of crushing penury. Maybe it's too easy to shop for CDs online. Maybe I feel uncomfortable spending time in a place that caters primarily to people one-third to one-half my age. Or maybe I simply no longer feel connected to the record store or to its wares; most of the stuff I do buy is reissues of stuff I forgot to buy (or already wore out) on vinyl, and the local store probably won't have it because they need the shelf space for Blink-182. (I wonder if they ever took off their clothes in a record store?)

The Vent

10 June 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill