In praise of record store Saturdays

I was all set to pop off this week about how ugly the city has become, uglier than ever before in my lifetime, what with all the part-time construction crews, bombed-out roads, dormant bulldozers and cranes; all the traffic and imminent road rage sure to ruin our precious spring and spill over into the long hot natives-getting-restless-with-their-leaders summer, but I haven’t got the stomach.

I was ready to rant on behalf of places like It’s Greek to Me and The Corner Store and all the other businesses on Lake Street sucking wind because construction that was supposed to take a few months is now in its second year because we the people can’t get our bleep together enough to elect representatives who will do the basics, like work hard and react viscerally to the eyesores jutting up all around us and keep the freeway entrance and exit ramps up and running and the bridges not collapsing or closed, but I’m tired of complaining and the sun is out.

I was finally going to suggest that I know many out-of-work and underemployed taxpayers who would gladly pitch in to spell the lollygagging contractors and subcontractors and their crews who, at the end of the work day and on weekends, leave our city looking like Kabul or Beirut or Baghdad. I was going to suggest a volunteer construction army-slash-good-old fashioned barn-raising to clean up the city and finish the work that needs finishing, but I’m sure some class-conscious nose-picker would call me elitist and an enemy of the unions and working man, never mind that journalism is and always has at heart been a blue-collar pursuit, so who needs the trouble, and besides, today I’d rather talk about an e-mail I got the other day from Jo Lenardi, a wind-sucking music biz friend in New York:

“if you are paying attention you probably know that record stores are becoming extinct — going the way of the dinosaur — seriously. which means i am on the verge of not having a job. or a career. many of you have known me my whole life and know that i have only done one thing — sell records. i would like to still be employed in the year 2009.

“saturday april 19th is national record store day. all the indie stores around the country will be celebrating their existence.

“so please go to your local store and buy a record. or two.

“if you want a choice of where to buy music and also a choice of music please go to your local record store this saturday. many of the stores have special events and sales planned so it will be fun and maybe just like old times.

“i’m not sure if you are aware but cds have come down in price ginormously. you can find the new rem cd (just to name a favorite of mine) for just $9.99 at many shops.

“so please keep me in a job for a while longer. buy a
record !!!!!”

The Twin Cities, of course, is the capital of the independent record store, going back to the ’60s and Amos and Dan Heilicher, whose one-stop distribution outlet became the mega-store Musicland. These days, in this neighborhood, “indie store” means Treehouse Records, Roadrunner Records, and the Electric Fetus. And it’s no mistake that National Record Store Day lands on a Saturday — the best day of the week for kicking around the aisles.

Which is what I did a couple Saturdays ago at the Fetus. I walked in, and the comforting smell of incense made me feel like I was one with George Harrison in Bangladesh, while the creak of the wooden floors beneath my feet instantly reminded me I was taking part in an experience rooted in something the online shopping trip can never approximate. Red Owl T-shirts hung behind the counter, drool-inducing posters decorated every wall, good music was playing and good people were hanging: It was a Saturday. And a familiar figure was prowling the aisles.

“I’ve been coming here since 1970,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, cradling a stack of CDs (Grace Jones, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Costello), and looking for more. “First thing I bought? Rod Stewart’s ‘Gasoline Alley’ and Joe Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen.’ I come here a lot, especially whenever I have two hours on a Saturday like right now. I just saw Bob Weir last night, and I thought, ‘You know, I don’t really have any good Grateful Dead; I should get some.’

“You look around here and you see people from all different cultures and all different ages. It’s important to have a great independent local music store that doesn’t homogenize. This is a great music town, and you can come in here and find something that is not out of some kind of box or the big chain stores.”

Not to mention the kind of staff that invites discussion, not pretension, and memorable in-store performances over the years by the likes of Costello, Mason Jennings, Larry Graham, Patti Smith, Billy Bragg, Frank Black, Charlie Daniels, Ween, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Tim O’Reagan, Iron & Wine, John Entwhistle, David Johansen, John Hammond, Koerner, Ray & Glover, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the Cowboy Junkies, and on and on.

A true embarrassment of riches, the Fetus is in the midst of a spring-long 40th anniversary party that happily coincides with National Record Store Day. So do yourself a favor and carve out a little time Saturday for stopping and smelling the incense and traipsing through the titles. Just be forewarned that if you drive, it might take you a few hours to get there, but that’s why God made bicycles.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.