Retail Anecdotes, Pt. 2

(Trying for Friday amusement, here.)

A slight down of my post-dentist visit to the music store was that a lunatic showed up and started hassling some French tourists. They handled it like champs and he disappeared. Did remind me …

When I managed a music store in Missoula (before Boston), the kooks were not extremely kooky and it took only one “get out and don’t come back here” to shoo them away.

But in Boston, working the record stores as the Designated Big Guy I had to get troublesome customers out the front door and their Big City Intensity clued me that sooner or later something terrible was likely to happen. A motive to get outta that and into journalism.

I should, though, mention my all-time favorite shoplifter. It was still vinyl in those days and you can’t have everything crowded in the back of the store, though the box sets were always behind the counter. Anyway this speedy ace comes in, grabs a fat armload of LPs and is out the door, with me right behind him.

I’m sure he could outrun me under regular circumstances, but he was bogged down with all those records. After half a block, I was catching up. So he began shedding LPs, dropping one on the sidewalk every couple steps. After he’d gotten rid of more than half his stash, I realized I’d lose more merchandise by continuing to chase him rather than go back and collect the discs dumped on the sidewalk. So it worked out for both of us, man. You got away with some goodies. I got credit for at least mostly foiling a robbery.

Albums Bought in Missoula and the Stores That Nourished Them

(In rough order of preference.)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unity, The Nashville Sound (Thirty Tigers)

Isbell and his group deliver their strongest outing with songwriting and ensemble work riding the same wire from start to finish. Particularly potent, never-falter trio of songs in the middle: “White Man’s World” (highlights the state of a cluster of incredibly difficult issues), “If We were Vampires” (death like they don’t hardly ever write about it no more), “Anxiety” (ordinary confessional numbers can just get off the psyche couch and go home).

Neil Young, Bottom Line 1974 (Coffee Tea or Me)

I bought this as a good gamble (see comments on Rockin’ Rudy’s below) but then read online that it was a huge fan favorite and about four tracks in you have to hear and agree. First, Young is in as relaxed and ebullient a mood as i can recall and slips from fun to scorching passion without a blink. Ten of the 11 songs from the show were unreleased at the time of the performance (the bonus tracks are a meh demo of “For the Turnstiles” and a superb “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong” from another show). Young’s explanation for how to cook pot and honey and why he gets tired of doing the same numbers night after night are stone classics.

Blondie, Pollinator (BMG)

A virtuoso display of making the old new and interweaving change and continuity. Harry and Stein are as smart, resourceful and literate as anyone to work in rock and roll and their funhouse-mirror eroticism is a treat and a tingle. Also, Harry don’t sound like any 72-year-old I’ve ever heard.

Old 97’s, Graveyard Whistling (ATO)

Timely reminder that “veteran act” is a neutral term unless you earn its implied honors. Push your established sounds and words, show frequent flashes of casual mastery. “Bad Luck Charm,” “She Hates Everybody,” “Turns Out I’m Trouble.”

Roscoe Mitchell & the Note Factory, Song for My Sister (Pi, 2002)

Another vet making the most of extended experience and wisdom. There were some noises back in the day that the lack of all-out free jazzing on this was some sort of surrender. Piffle. Just (“just”) proves Mitchell can write in more styles and with more emotions than you knew before.

Arcade Fire, Everything Now (in partnership with …)

Yeah, yeah — the complaints stick to some degree. You have fun until you look deeper and there’s no there there. But at least two cheers are deserved and that title track is an instant best-of number.

Extra Golden, Hera Ma Nono (Thrill Jockey, 2007)

Unusual band I enjoy a lot whenever I get around to them. Know how to do laid-back and alert and sturdy threads of percussion in pop-song structures. Worth getting to know if you don’t.

Yothu Yindi, Tribal Voice (New Management, 1992)

I sought this out because I knew it was the first outlet for Geoffrey Yunupingu , who recently passed and was noted as the best-selling Aboriginal musician of all time. I was underwhelmed because he seemed to belong to a bland trans-cultural category: mild and MOR with some touches of exotic spice. This is more uptempo and funky and how I will remember the performers. Still doesn’t belong in the same boundary-skipping paragraph as Tanya Tagaq and Hun Huur-Tuu.

THE STORES:

Even if you are not a music fan, you have to check out Rockin’ Rudy’s when you are in town. (I did not visit the related vinyl store because I am firmly in the business of not acquiring any more LPs.) For a number of years, my visits to RR were bring-downs because the music department kept shrinking as the other goodies took up more and more space. It was all but an announcement that physical recorded music was on its way out. Much to the store’s credit, RR has now taken a stance that physical music is here to stay — expanding both the vinyl and CD floor space.

My favorite section is simply marked “Imports” (code for “Bootlegs”). I know that founder Bruce Micklus is a firm Neil Young booster — Rockin’ Rudy’s is the only place I ran across a copy of Young’s Rock’n’Roll Cowboy, one of the most incredible bootlegs ever made — so I felt very confident picking up Bottom Line 1974. Also, I was wowed that Isabell’s The Nashville Sound was a freakin’ Best Seller. Place attracts a good-taste clientele.

I had been gone from Missoula for 20 years when Ear Candy was started, but lemme tell ya, if it had been around in my campus days I would have been in three or four times every week. And now, a trip to town is not complete without a visit. I won’t call the decor a throwback, but rather, timeless — heaps and piles and hyper-full rows and shelves and … every music nut visits such a place in dreams. And you realize how much it takes sharp ears and taste to keep proper exotic stocks (they ain’t big on Top 40 at Ear Candy). I had forgotten about the Roscoe Mitchell — there it was to correct my mistake. Thrill Jockey had sent me Extra Golden back in the day, but had somehow missed Hera Ma Nono and I could not imagine a better place to run across it. Often I take a shot on inviting comp or single-artist ambient/dub because they have such ace selections. But this time I lacked the guts.

PS: I had the urge to buy the new Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, not least since latter-day Fleetwood Mac was one of MB’s all-time faves. But then I couldn’t deal with the fact that this would be the first album with these players that she would never hear.

[This post is finished.  My gout is better.]

T-Shirt Memory Souvenirs: The Natural History Exhibit Hall

Sadly, I can’t even track down any leftovers about it on the Web, but for several years Livingston Montana featured The Natural History Exhibit Hall that emphasized dinosaur fossils (along with some wonderful super-rare photo books of fossils). I had long ago moved away, but it remains a comforting memory for me. I also recall when I was a little kid and visited my first real-life reconstructed dinosaur in a little town half a day’s drive away from Livingston. “Wow,” I thought, “I sure wish there was someplace like this at home. I’d be there all the time.”

The Natural History Exhibit Hall didn’t make it (as with many operations in town, the customer traffic was too seasonal) but I treasure the memory of it, and this t-shirt.

Memorials

A tough ceremony. I haven’t always socially remembered the passing of friends. A best bud from high school died tragically in a car wreck but (a) we had been out of touch since the teen years — and in your mid-20s that can seem like a long, long time and (b) I was too broke to travel back to MT more than once a year. Another dearest friend was just not the memorial-havin’ type. A merciless disease too soon and suicide generate the most agonizing rituals.

Oddly, I’ve had the same superstitions as this writer, that cataloging every near-death experience I can remember might trigger a terminal event. But, while we can debate the triteness of the idea, I do buy the notion that, as long as somebody remembers you, evokes you even in their mind, you are not entirely gone.

30 Years Ago Today, On the Summer Solstice of ’87

… Donna and I wanted to get married because the day fell on a Sunday and would be easy to always remember. And would always feature the longest potential sunshine of the year. But our selected minister had a commitment to a weekly sermon on the radio (!!) and so couldn’t do it until the next day. So we were married on a Monday — thirty years ago tomorrow.

“National Lampoon” (What, Again?!?!)

Almost all of these depressing and catastrophic developments were news to me.  As I said earlier, in what has proved to be the most surprising frequent topic in this blog, I stopped paying much attention to the operation and its spin-offs after 1978 or so. (I’ve never even seen a “Vacation” movie since I regard Chevy Van Chaser as toxic unfunny.) But the NatLamp story is still enlightening on several levels.

One, in the contest to revive a once-notorious outsider magazine, Punk and CREEM now have to give up the Botch Crown to National Lampoon. Obviously no other publication has fallen as far or squandered so much energy.

Two, this is further confirmation of a most peculiar failure of understanding: reviving a brand is weak and lazy. It’s just throwing out an imitation. Inventing a hit brand is a lot harder, but the real task at hand.

Third, the piece touches on a crucial transformation: NatLamp started as a mixture of the subversive and the sophomoric. And it eventually went with the easier option. Part of that whole horrible wave where racist and sexist and generally bigoted humor was considered “bold” or “rule-breaking,” whereas the opposite type of satire was and is the tough way forward.

Yeh, I know — it’s cheap fun to satirize the squares and the Establishment. But those are extinct. The powerful and smug and cruel and hate-mongers and anti-thinkers are the targets of our time, and they can be fired upon.