Pinky Pie

Insomnia, the end of record stores, Michael & Me

Posted on: April 25, 2011

Michael considering the options at the Jazz Record Mart while talking to his dad back home.

I had a rude awakening in the middle of the night, or better said, a rude unable-to-get-back-to-sleep.

I thought I was doing the sensible thing – reading a book after a requisite amount of tossing and turning.

But this novel included a chapter in which the primary character, a man in his 80s, visits a record store looking for a certain local jazz artist.

And that got me thinking about the end of record stores, as we once knew them. We had two record stores in our local mall for a number of years and they disappeared without me noticing.

In this metropolitan area of 120,000 or so – OK that doesn’t seem that metropolitan – we have one dedicated record store, Deaf Ear, in downtown La Crosse. Otherwise, you can buy records at Barnes & Noble and Best Buy.

And then, of course, you can buy them on-line, which I do most often, or download a tune or album from iTunes.

And that is the reason for the end of record stores, when people like me do our buy while sitting on our tush. The selections are much wider, but like anything else we buy on-line, we do not help the local economy.

Back in St. Louis, once we reached a certain age as a kid, we were allowed to walk to the Olivette Shopping Center, where we could go to the drug store, dime store, bakery and Cook’s Music Store. Mr. Cook had listening booths where we could listen before we, in theory, bought anything.

Mr. Cook soon realized that we kids were not going to ante up to buy 45s or LPs. He kicked us out and soon removed the booths. I don’t think the store lasted that long, either. Sorry, Mr. Cook.

Our son, Michael, was surrounded in music from the earliest age when we played Sesame Street and Raffi CDs when he went to bed at night or for a nap. Add in the music that his dad plays in various bands, and it was natural for him to want to play.

Before he gave up Raffi, we took him to see a concert in Madison, dragging his big sister Maggie along with us much to her disdain. What I liked about this concert was seeing moms stand up and yell shrilly, “Sing ‘Down by the Bay!’” I would bet many of these earnest mothers a decade or two earlier were at very different concerts, yelling something else.

Instead of hunting animals, Dick and Michael scouted record stores. And the Promised Land of record stores – at least to our son, Michael – was the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago. Michael played a mean jazz saxophone, was into jazz so much that going to this store was nirvana for him. It was nirvana just watching him.

I think we visited the store three times – once in his freshman year when his band took a trip to Chicago and two other times on the way back from a jazz camp at Northern Illinois University. The photo shows Michael conferring with his dad in the middle of the store as he tried to decide which vinyl and/or CDs to buy. You can never have too many, apparently.

One of the times we were there, he visited with the store’s founder, Bob Koester, who the Chicago Tribune described as a “colorful Wichita, Kansas-born jazz and blues enthusiast, seat-of-the-pants record retailer, producer and walking compendium of record industry history.

Michael studied the records so carefully that other shoppers even came up to him to ask for suggestions. They thought he worked there.

Another downfall for brick and mortar record stores are the smart phones iPods that allow us to carry our record store in our pocket. We can even instantly download songs and if we are unsure of what we hear somewhere out in the world there is an app called Shazam that can provide the information.

As if on cue, Dick  walked into the room, asked what I was writing and responded, “I miss record stores.”

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