Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"Goodbye...lay the blame on luck..."

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, so much and for so long.

It could have been a sad, solemn experience—it was the end of an era, after all. Instead, the gathering Saturday evening at the record store was filled with music, fun, friends, good food and life-affirming laughter of the type I haven’t experienced since leaving the store for Corporate America.

Memorabilia covered the walls: photos and apparel spanning the 32 year history; posters from the days when The Sav booked concerts; tapestries with the smiling sun logo. Photo albums seemed to multiply on every counter space. Some of the hanging mobiles were missing, as customers eager for a piece of history had placed bids that were too silly to be turned down.

Candles flickered on and around the antique showcases, still brimming with ornate silver jewelry and handmade, one-of-a-kind necklaces. Marcum had dug out all the old award-winning reel-to-reel commercials, which he duped onto CD and blasted through the powerhouse vintage Marantz amplifier. We roared at the risqué radio ads and lamented the conservative voice of today’s milquetoast airwaves. The signature incense burned all around.

The smell has always been the same, and we laughed assuredly that no matter what sort of shop may open in the space in the future, it will still smell like the Record Store. The smell has permeated its being, and will live on infinitely.

We gathered around the Artists Showcase in the back of the store, peering at photos of our much younger selves smiling with Ace Frehley, Queensryche, Poison, Winger, Badlands, Pantera, The Cranberries. We howled at our haircuts, our clothing, our youth. We reminisced about our missing fellow employees and wished them there. And because they weren’t there, we were merciless in our remembrances and laughed heartily at their expense.

The stories spilled out. Confidences were breeched--it no longer mattered. We pulled the widow aside and admitted the secret hi-jinks we got up to while on the clock. What was the harm? We could no longer be fired, after all.

Oh and there were some really juicy bits too. Two employees lived “rough” in the store when they were evicted from their apartment. They kept sleeping bags in the car, slept in front of the showcases, and left just before The Sav turned up to open the store at 8 a.m each morning. He never knew. Another employee took an informal poll on how many staff got jiggy in the back office—with customers, with boy/girlfriends, with each other. There were admittances of getting high in the back hallway, getting hammered on the clock, sending customers to pick up food orders, and having a local band play a concert in the store after closing. There were over 100 people in attendance, and The Sav never even knew the event took place.

We tried to remember the rules of the elaborate game of hacky-sack we used to play, which involved trying to knock as many country artist cassette tapes from the shelving as possible. Reynolds remembered that we got points deducted for knocking off artists we liked, like Soundgarden.

Another “game” was the friendly competition between all the guys, which consisted of amassing as many “hot chicks” phone numbers as possible. There were extra points for the “hotness” of the girl, and there were bonus points if she visited the store more than once in a week’s time after giving said phone number out. Even more points were added if she returned with a mix tape for the guy—double bonus points if the mix was a good one. Each had his own hiding place for his “stash” of numbers: underneath the turntable; tacked to the wall behind the special orders; in an envelope beneath the amp. Since most of the guys had girlfriends, the competition was simply an ego booster—proof that the guy “still had it.”

There were times it backfired on them, with entertaining results. One guy was stalked by a Michael Jackson fan after he turned down her repeated requests to go to Prom. She used to follow him when he went on dates with his girlfriend, and would sit outside his house in her car. His girlfriend, rather than being angry, felt sorry for the girl and went to sit with her, bringing her tea and coddling the sobbing girl. Another employee had to deal with a hippie chick who, after being rebuffed several times, sat on the curb outside the store and cried every single day for three weeks. Only when the guy was working, of course.

Tears of laughter streamed down our faces as we remembered the dreaded Things List. Each morning The Sav wrote out a list of tasks for us to perform during the day, to keep us busy and keep us out of trouble. As if! And woe be unto any employee who managed to somehow piss off The Sav. Between guffaws and chortles, we reeled off the tasks that verified “shit list” status: blowing up the deflated Led Zeppelin blimp; polishing the brass poles; changing the bin liner in the outside trash barrel. Webber even coughed up a tidbit of unprecedented shit list material: having to put three coats of varnish on every wooden LP bin in the store! “I don’t know what I did, but it must have been a whopper!” he mused. Reynolds shot an eye up to the deflated Zeppelin and reckoned it hadn’t been inflated once since he left in 1997. It certainly didn’t look as though it had.

The Zeppelin brought the musings upward, and we began to point out all the crafty cut’n’paste sessions we had, mostly at the expense of the hanging mobiles. Rather than do actual busywork whilst on the clock, we’d spend hours devising intricate cut’n’paste masterpieces. My handiwork was still there: Macaulay Caulkin and Ice-Cube masquerading as members of The Crusaders. Janet Jackson still sports a Darth Maul mask. Reynolds face still smiles merrily on the body of Billy Duffy, as The Cult’s Sonic Temple mobile dangles from the ceiling, gathering dust.

PJ will always be the Cut’n’Paste King. He and TC did cut’n’paste battle every day for several years, commencing with TC defacing a copy of Rolling Stone with PJ as the middle Hanson brother. PJ, however, emerged the victor with a craftily placed series of TC’s face over every usable surface available. PJ snapped a photo of TC at a Dingle-Jam concert, and then spirited it off to the copy center across the road for an evening of fun. It took several weeks for TC to locate and destroy all the incriminating evidence, the last of which was his stoned mug plastered on the body of Jimi Hendrix, holding court high above the album racks in the middle of the store.

The subject turned to the regulars, each name or description bringing with it a flood of laughter and yet more stories. We missed them, we admitted, even the ones who drove us crazy and grossed us out. We regaled tales of sightings outside of the shop. Hilarity ensued.

We posed for photos, stood behind the showcases once more, hugged for eternities. We were the fortunate few—former employees of one of the best, most renowned independent record stores in the country. The final closing of the store could have been maudlin. Instead we celebrated that it had existed at all.

If good things lasted forever, would we appreciate how precious they are?

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