Laid back on my brown couch, my nerves tingled. I felt like a kid on December 24th. At my computer, I looked over the release list one more time. It was April 17th, 2015. Record Store Day Eve.
A year ago, Record Store Day (RSD) was just another Saturday to me. Thanks to social media, a vague awareness of RSD permeated the ether, but I didn’t own a turntable or a single record so I sped right past the store on my way to Barnes & Noble.
This year, Jeff Brandt was across town, walking the floor at his record store, Exile on Main Street. It had been a stressful week, keeping him at the shop past 2 a.m. most nights. Basking in the dramatic increase in space the new location provided, he and his staff debated on the best way to get customers in the door and how to funnel them to the inner sanctum of RSD goodies. The RSD controversy is well worn and it only intensified as the 2015 date neared. I read stories of indie retailers opting out, wanting nothing to do with the whole thing. As for Exile, “We go crazy. If you’re gonna have a record store and there’s this opportunity, you might as well take as much advantage of it as you can,” said Brandt.
“The whole thing is a cash grab, but it’s not the record stores’ fault. It’s the major labels that are really taking advantage of it, putting out too much stuff that doesn’t necessarily need to be put out.”
The whole week, I’d been refreshing Exile’s Facebook page, looking for a glimpse of the forbidden fruit, adjusting my budget with every new photo. But I wasn’t thrilled with I saw. Where was the Citizen Dick? The White Stripes? The Grateful Dead box set?
Meanwhile, Jeff and his staff continued to sign for boxes crammed with black gold. That was the easy part. The hard part was inventorying, pricing, and figuring out how to make this whole thing worth the effort. It wasn’t until two days before the big day that a shipment arrived from their main wholesaler.
Around 5 o’clock on Friday, I loaded the Facebook page one more time, thinking about bailing on the whole overhyped mess. And then….
There was now a huge photo gallery of everything they had for sale. The glorious image stream went on and on. Metaphorical tears of joy flooded my face. That Better Call Saul single was as good as mine! Sobering up from all the glee, I wondered what time I should get in line. As I pondered that, I found another photo: someone was already sitting outside the store since 4:30 p.m.
“Oh hell,” I groused. Maybe this thing is bigger than I thought.
The store was set to open at 8 a.m. and I figured I’d mosey out there around 6. But now there was already a line and it wasn’t even dark out. What I really wanted were status updates and who better than the guy in line. So I replied to the photo asking to talk to the brave camper.
I went to bed uneasy in a nervous-excited way around 10 p.m. Honestly, I was calmer the night before I got married. I asked Siri to set three alarms and stared at the ceiling fan, trying to map out my plan of attack. Back at the store, Jeff and his crew kept going. It’s a big day for the store, easily their top day for the year. They ordered pizza from the bar across the street as the RSD prep phase winded down. There’s no stopping the machine, so they locked up around 4 in the morning to grab a few hours of sleep.
At almost the same time, I sat in the drive-thru window at McDonalds, ordering an urn of coffee. It turned out that Siri wasn’t needed. After pretending to sleep for a few hours, I sat in bed at 3 a.m. — wide awake — and decided to just get on with it.
Early in my vinyl awakening, I discovered that I enjoy the process of collecting. If it were solely about the music, there are cheaper ways to scratch that itch. I’ve got no problem owning different pressings as long as the difference is significant. They’re living trophies that I get to touch and play with every day, all while sharing the experience with my family. And to that collector in me, RSD is an exciting chance to own something special. I’m sure my kids will sell off my crates when I’m gone, but let’s be clear: I listen to every record I own and I don’t flip.
The guy sitting in line had tweeted that besides him, there were two people in line. Pulling up to the store, I saw people in chairs and another lying in the bushes. As my lawn chair hit the pavement, the bush dweller stirred.
“I’m a little drunk,” he slurred.
I was fourth in line and after a few minutes of chit-chat, someone asked me what I hoped to take home. It’s the most obvious ice breaker, but my mind blanked. How many times had I reviewed the list? Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should be. Then again, maybe my presence at four in the morning gave me some unknown street cred.
“Uhh… Run the Jewels. Foo Fighters. Everly Brothers,” I mumbled.
They nodded as if I had passed their test. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I had set a generous budget (you know, that thing you always ignore once you’re in the store) but it wasn’t clear what I was going to spend it on. The line was a melange of characters. #1 — the guy who got in line at 4:30 p.m. the day before — was a twenty-something IT guy at the local university. The store only had one copy of Deja Entendu and his mission was clear. The fact that he was wearing a Brand New T-shirt kinda gave away his intentions. His dedication even made it to Reddit.
#2 — A balding local with a cheek full of chewing tobacco who seemed to know everyone else in line. He swapped stories and we rewarded him with a tutorial on how to use Reddit.
#3 — A skinny twenty-something with Buddy Holly glasses and the sides of his head shaved. He had crashed into the bush in his flak jacket, rolled jeans and vintage boots. My neighbor for the next four hours, he told me about this band he was in and the innovative 35-minute song they play. I made a mental note to skip that experience.
#5 — A big Foo Fighters Fan (FFF) who arrived a few hours later. In years past, he’d been second in line with his friend. Despite his dedication to get there early, he never listens to his Foo records. He keeps them sealed, framed, and hung on the wall.
About 30 minutes before opening, a clerk came through the line, gave each of us a number, and asked what we wanted. They were going to take our requests and pre-pick those albums out so we wouldn’t have to rush. This was the ultimate test because whatever I said would likely end up in my hands. Everyone in line listened to what those in front of them asked for, hoping that nobody would claim what they wanted. FFF behind me let out a yelp when I asked for the Foo record.
As 8 a.m. neared, everyone had put away their lawn chairs and hit the port-a-potty one last time. #3 seemed mostly sober and was handing out flyers for his band’s next gig. Across the street, I saw a man arrive, see the line streaming down the block, and turn around. Due to the size of the store, we were let into the RSD room six at a time, free to peruse the massive collection. It sounds relaxing, but the longer you spent in there, the longer someone else was stuck in the line, sharpening their eye daggers as you gave a good, long look at that U2 album.
Jeff started to relax. The preparation was done and the day had begun. All he had to do was let his team do their thing while he chatted up customers and handed out piles of records. The line was orderly, people were getting what they wanted, and the bands started playing. A breakfast food truck out back churned out burritos to feed the masses.
I’ve never gone speed dating, but choosing among nearly 400 releases with 50 people staring at you, all of them wanting to get in there and shop was stressful. I wanted to take my time and peruse the options before deciding what was worthy to join my collection. They started calling numbers and handing over the goodies. Soon I heard “#4” and walked over to pick up my new copy of The White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan, handed to me by Jeff Brandt.
Back in my car, fresh wax on the seat next to me, I sighed in relief thinking about how vinyl had brought these people together. Record Store Day acted like a beacon, calling like-minded enthusiasts to sit in the darkness and swap tales. We celebrated the shop and all the aural goodness it has to offer. It brought hundreds of people to Exile on Main Street, many Jeff had never seen before. With any luck, the day served to snare more vinyl lovers in its addictive embrace.