The Last Rebel Record Store

"Truly an independent”: Know Name Records’ Dan Beck. Credit: Photo by Jim Walsh

“Do you have any of the Record Store Day exclusives?” asked a customer on Saturday afternoon of Dan Beck, who stood behind the counter of Know Name Records, the record store/head shop that, since 1977, has been tucked into a mini-mall next to a dry cleaners and across the street from Super America on the corner of 60th & Portland.

The occasion was Record Store Day, and all across the world vinyl junkies descended on mom and pop shops to browse, purchase and partake in the burgeoning record hound community. In Minneapolis the eight–year-old ritual had denizens making treks to such bricks-and-mortar institutions as Fifth Element, Treehouse Records, Roadrunner Records, and the Electric Fetus — but not so much Know Name, which Saturday celebrated its 37th birthday in relative Record Store Day obscurity.

“No, we don’t do the exclusives,” said Beck, who has been at Know Name since 1993. Then he repeated what he told the steady stream of music shoppers that came through his door Saturday:

“We celebrate [Record Store Day] in a sense because it’s our anniversary month. When it first started, it sounded like a good idea and we kind of bought into it. But now they want us to sign a pledge stating that we won’t sell these exclusive releases on Ebay, or they set the price on the releases in order for us to get the releases, but the ones that we order, maybe we get a third of the ones we want, and the stuff is on Ebay weeks before it’s even out …”

In other words, Record Store Day has too many rules for these dudes, so out of respect to the independent spirit of independent music itself, Know Name goes it alone and just says no to RSD’s growing group think. Launched by a national coalition of independent record store owners as a way to survive and thrive in the digital age, Record Store Day has been a boom to independent stores and artists, but like so many things, the independence has given way to a herd mentality that to some smells an awful lot like a corporate hijack, one that the independent–minded Know Namers can’t stomach.

“We’ve got our own version of independence,” said Rich Wilson, ringing up a customer’s vinyl finds and incense sticks.

“Truly an independent,” echoed Beck. “We’re kind of the bastard child of the Minneapolis record store scene. We got ranked 10th in Vita.mn’s Top 11 Record Stores this week, and those guys have obviously never been in here because the write-up was like, ‘While Know Name appeals to more than Deadheads and their Phish-worshiping disciples, this south Minneapolis staple has a special place in the hearts of hippies.’

“We don’t have a single Phish record or CD in here, and yeah, we probably get scorned because of the smoking paraphernalia. But I can tell you stories about everyone who walks in here; it’s almost like a bar atmosphere: Pull up a barstool and tell us your woes or talk music, talk everything. I don’t know what it is about the appeal we have, but people come in and tell us everything that’s going on in their lives. But it’s good. People need a release like that.”

Owners and Vietnam vets Bruce Benson and John Headley combined their record collections and opened Know Name at the dawn of punk rock, and at a time when the Twin Cities independent record store milieu consisted mainly of the Wax Museum, Oarfolkjokeopus, Hot Wax and Northern Lights. The current scene has new stores cropping up every year, and all that activity bodes well for an environment of hanging, listening, and talking passionately about shared passions that remains the main domain of the record store.

“It’s family,” said Wilson. “It’s a very friendly place to work, I really enjoy it. I got into it because I really like music and people come in and we talk about shows and new releases and everything. It’s always fun.”

“You can’t put a price on it,” said Beck. “It’s draining sometimes, people coming in and talking, because they unload so much on you, but I don’t mind doing that. And today we did really well — even without the damn exclusives.” 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at madripple@earthlink.net and www.jimwalshmpls.com