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It Was The Best of Times
By David Kenny
It used to be terrible. You’d saved your money up for weeks, get the bus into town (which for me, living out in the sticks, was a 2 hour long round journey) and raked through the records for hours until you had found the records or CDs you’d been hunting for. Whether it was the newest release stacked next to the cash register or whether you’d ventured downstairs into the 2nd hand section to search out that rare gem. And the 2nd hand section was never much fun cause it smelt funny (and illegal) down there. Plus you were surrounded by posters of the Queen or the Pope having a spliff or a stereotypical bug eyed alien asking you to “take him to your dealer”, and on top of all that you were constantly worried about the designer dreadlock crusty lurking behind you looking for the Levelers 1st album (who also smelled funny and illegal.)
But one of the big buzzes in life, well for me anyway, is the buzz you get when you finally find that one piece of music, that one tune you simply can not live without. Nothing is the same as that sharp, fleeting moment of realization followed by an electric surge of adrenalin pumping through you for that split second before it simply evaporates and you’re left a little giddy and weak in the knees. A bit similar to how I imagine Lesley Ash feels after the alleyway in Quadrophenia. But once that ephemeral sensation disappears comes the hard bit, actually buying it.
Independent record shops, every city has at least one. Shrines for the champions of obscure music and for the defenders of bizarre genres. And if they are shrines then the priests would definitely be the ubiquitous Music Nazis that seem to universally staff them. Those sneering, pierced, drainpipe sporting mackerels (DRAINPIPE JEANS? Wise up!) who can turn what should be one of life’s small pleasures into a carnival of shame and humiliation. The shower of bastards.
So there you would find yourself stood in the queue, subconsciously gripping your selection so hard you’re knuckles had turned white because of the stress of the oncoming onslaught of music snobbery you were about to endure. Your palms got sweaty, your heart raced and your head thumped. Your mouth had gone dry and you could feel yourself blushing. As you got closer and closer to the desk the pressure would just keep on mounting. You knew you were getting close when you could see the pretentious Fanzines called something along the lines of “Self Mutilation” or “Eating Disorder”. Usually some sorry attempt at being ‘Punk’ by simply being arrogant and offensive but in a very Public Schoolboy sort of way, obviously missing the entire point and ending up more like the “Burberry draped apes” that they ridiculed than they would like to admit.
You knew you were even closer when you could see flyers for the local “Free Tibet” concerts (I’ve always wondered how many of the attendees would actually own an
opinion on the returning of Tibet and its people from Chinese communist rule to a Theocratic state? Or if they just went along because the Beastie Boys said it was cool?)
Then you were there. At the cash register. In the lions den. Face to face with a Music Nazi. Whether it’s some Ted in a huge cardigan (always a bloke), the trendy haircut with Ian Brown Superstars (Mug!) or a sullen faced teenager with too much eye make-up (could be either male or female, you were never quite sure), you’re in for the ancient ritual of Music Snobbery.
The strange thing about the Music Nazi is that very little of their malicious arsenal is done in a “verbal” manner. It would all be done via a vast and varied pool of snide looks, snorts, mumbles, grunts and stifled laughs. It was its own dialect with many subtle nuances and accents. For example, the level of service, or the lack of it, is as good an indicator as any of what they thought of you. Sometimes you would be left stood for ages as some Jekyll in ill fitting knitwear and converse trainers carried on his conversation for what seemed like eons, which usually went along the lines of “Beach Boys plus distortion, equals Jesus and the Mary Chain”, whilst you stood around like a spare prick at a gay wedding . The inside of your head would be echoing with “Yes, yes, very interesting you pretentious tart but when am I getting served! “
And so it was for years. I was an unwilling participant in the horrible ritual of having my musical tastes being judged by this self appointed oligarchy. There they stood like some ancient inbred religious caste casting down judgment. I lost count of the amount of time I wanted to shout at them, “Get a real job you scruffy layabout!” But I realized that would be a futile gesture. And so I got used to the chilly reception, the derisory stare and mumble followed by the stifled giggle. Then there was the eerie stone cold silence that faced you as you dutifully said “cheers” when you received your change.
However, it was always a result whenever you asked them if they had the New Order Peel sessions or any Spacemen 3 in. Or if you had gone to the counter with a rare Philly/ Northern Soul compilation or Kraftwerk etc etc. You’d deprived one of them the joys of horribly condescending to someone. They’d wanted to. By god did they want to, but they knew you weren’t in buying a mothers day present for your old dear. A little bit of savvy easily startles the Music Nazis….. but they’ll be back and in greater numbers too.
But as I got older I started to suspect that these nerks were A.T I.T., at it.
There was no way that folk who dressed like that a) had more than a clue about music than I did and b) there was no way I was taking abuse from someone who wore NHS glasses with no lenses inside the frames. This suspicion was aroused when one day I went in and asked if they could order in Half Man Half Biscuits ‘Back in the DHSS’.
“What’s that??” Sly snigger, “You want to order in a Limp Biscuit album?” sly look to other assistant
“No, Half Man Half Biscuit” Me getting instantly pissed off by some clown shoe with his dyed black hair and pierced chin. Its called EMO apparently. “Back in the DHSS it’s called” me pulling a ‘not this shit again’ face.
“Never heard of them” derisory sneer and laboured sigh as the clown shoe had to type it into the computer, which seemed to be a Herculean task of unimaginable magnitude for this EMO tramp “Back in the USSR?? Nope, it’s not in the system dude! (I’ve also notice they speak in a bizarre transatlantic accent with horrible words such as Guys and Dudes!) This farce went on for another 10 minutes.
But what sealed it for me was one day,(in a scene straight out of Kevin Sampson’s Away Days which incidentally inspired this article) I heard a musical faux paus that will never be rectified in my eyes. In the past I have had me ears battered by all manner of crap records in this shop. From the long haired beardy bloke in the Metallica t-shirt making me to listen to Megadeth as he actually done that head bashing thing, to the school tie and brothel creeper wearing no mark forcing My Chemical Romance on me, and I have stood firm through it all. But on this fateful day I had only been vaguely aware of the song playing in the background as I rummaged around the shelves looking for whatever tune I desperately needed to survive with that week.
As I prepared myself to face YET another bout of one upmanship at the cash register, I heard the conversation of the two staff working. One was a young girl who most likely was a student at either the nearby university or college. The other was a bloke in his early thirties who no doubt was a student at the nearby university or college a decade ago and just never managed to move on. They were discussing the song which was playing and the young girl seemed really impressed by the song and by the fact that she had never heard of it (Obscure is their watchword. Obscurity is better than quality in the world of the Music Nazi) the bloke then wittered on about how she was a strong female singer/ songwriter and how he was impressed by her non commercial, feminist stance in an industry controlled by men and money blah blah blah… It was only then I realised who these two turnips were on about.
The song?? It was Fast Car by Tracey Chapman. I burst out laughing. Proper, full bore laughing which left me with hardly any air left in my lungs and a bright red face. Tracey pigging Chapman! That was who they were raving about. These crusaders against the top 40, these martyrs of the general publics’ taste in music, these paradigms of musical preference and they were banging on about Tracey sodding Chapman…Shes won Grammies for gods sake!!
It was then it hit me that they were indeed divs looking for a clue and there are only two genres of music that should concern people. Good Music and Bad Music. And the perceived values of cool by the assorted selection of spanners who form all their opinions out of the NME should be shunned and I should listen to what I like. That these people, who hold their hipster status in such esteem, are little more than the result of well targeted advertising. These people are the flipside of the same coin that brings us Girls Aloud & co.
Friends of mine in the past have labeled myself as one of these music snobs, as I always label most music I hear as either ‘rubbish’ or ‘Art student toss’ and on one occasion even was quoted as saying “Meatloaf is music for horse molesters”. I can only apologise if I don’t get moist by any band who call themselves The Egg and Spoons or get a mention in NME. 99% of them just don’t float my boat. Just seems like another bunch of accountancy students singing songs that say nothing new and mean nothing to me, much like The Twang. People expect me to go and see them because they wear the same jackets as me and sound vaguely like the Happy Mondays, but its just more boring playground indie to these ears.
Anyway my excuse is that I’m just an amateur who knows what he likes (and more importantly, what he doesn’t), but these people are paid professionals.(Plus they get to listen to music all day whilst I have to sit in the office all day and get to listen to the whirr of the printers.) So, you may ask, does this just boil down to petty jealousy and bitterness?? Your damn right it does squire.
However, nowadays with the arrival of I-pods and MP-3 players, the days of record shops, especially independent record shops, could well be numbered. Which I personally think is a shame because the next generation won’t have to go through this particular rite de passage. All this downloading, and file sharing will take away the personal part of buying records. Instead of scavenging through boxes of 2nd hand vinyl or ferreting about in a pile of CDs that seem to have been categorized by Masonic symbolism it will all be at the click of a button. They’ll never be told that a certain album has been deleted or face inflated prices just because an album is regarded as a classic (I saw The Wall going for 26 badgers last week. 26 quid?!!). And it is so anonymous that people could quite easily slip crimes against music such as Van Halen, Whitesnake or even Foreigner on their I-pods and no one would ever be any the wiser. The real sad part is that they will never have to pay their dues in dark, smelly rooms and actually earn the right to turn around to someone’s latest purchase, give them that look and say “What a load of shite!”
Survival in the Independent Record store
- Show no fear. The Music Nazis can smell fear and like a pack of hungry Hyenas, they will pounce if they sense any weakness.
- Maintain eye contact at all times. This will intimidate most of them and will give you a sense of authority over proceedings. I find using a freaky Private Piles-esque 1000 yard stare most effective in this situation.
- Never, repeat never, under any circumstances, sing, whistle, hum or even tap your foot along to the song they are playing on the PA… even if it is your favourite tune of all time. Any behaviour like this will be construed by “Them” as a misguided attempt to try and get into “Their Circle”. In the psyche of the Music Nazi this will only breed contempt and encourages them to act even more aloof and disinterested when you come to actually make a purchase.
- Finally, if you can not find what you are looking for do not, for the love of god, ask behind the counter, even if there are signs up telling you to do so. It is a trap. It’s just a way of letting them know what you want to buy before you reach the cash register. If you can’t find what you are looking for, just walk away man. Walk away.
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