Yesterday, I was walking through the Brooklyn neighborhood to which I moved not three weeks ago, when I fell upon an indie video store that had just that day announced a going-out-of-business clearance sale. After seven years, the store was closing for good, finally worn down by the likes of Netflix and torrent communities and streaming services. I walked inside, piled up about 15 DVDs — incredible stuff: Criterion Collection Whit Stillman flicks, some weird documentaries, terrific foreign crime films — and on my way out, told the genuinely depressed dude behind the register that I was sorry to see his store delivered such a blow. He replied, truly miserably: “We stayed around longer than we had any right to.”
I think that was a pretty candid and accurate answer: The video-store game is basically over, but this guy stayed alive by curating an incredible collection and renting to a discerning and loyal clientele. I didn’t know video stores still existed anywhere, to be honest. I thought Blockbuster more or less made the indies extinct, and then Blockbuster got wiped out by Netflix. But I suppose a handful do remain, here and there, kept afloat by the stubbornest of late-adopters and luddites — for the moment, anyway, until the slow erosion of customer base and steady rise of expenses finally bring those enterprises, one by one, to a tipping point.
Are our remaining record stores merely awaiting the same fate? I dunno, man. The business models may not be identical, but the threats seem to be. It’s not just piracy, anymore — the industry is finally distancing itself from physical product. The next new car you buy likely won’t have an in-dash CD player. The real estate afforded music at big-box retailers has been steadily shrinking for years. Accessing music without the aid of a brick-and-mortar is only getting easier and more commonplace. Holdouts can only hold out for so long before their hand is forced. I’m not dancing on any graves here — I grew up in record stores, and worked in one for years before finally getting a job in journalism — I’m just preparing myself for the inevitable: One day I will walk past Other Music and see a “Going Out Of Business — Clearance Sale” sign in their window, too. Right?
I love Record Store Day not for its exclusive goodies, but the spirit of the occasion: Record stores are communities that deserve to be celebrated. You might spend more of your money on coffee or clothes, but how often does an hour spent in an establishment that peddles such wares lead to revelation? How often does it lead to soul-level human connection? I tell you, I saw that shit every day, 10 times a day, when I was working at a record store; so too was I the beneficiary of such riches more times than I can count.
This year, the people behind Record Store Day have enlisted a pretty good person to act as ambassador, a man who is no stranger to finding cool ways to make physical product more enticing: Jack White. I don’t know what exactly the role of ambassador demands of White, but he’s already released a charming video as well as a pretty impressive written statement, which stresses the visceral and tactile delights offered by the record store. Says White:
We need to re-educate ourselves about human interaction and the difference between downloading a track on a computer and talking to other people in person and getting turned onto music that you can hold in your hands and share with others. The size, shape, smell, texture and sound of a vinyl record; how do you explain to that teenager who doesn’t know that it’s a more beautiful musical experience than a mouse click? You get up off your ass, you grab them by the arm and you take them there. You put the record in their hands. You make them drop the needle on the platter. Then they’ll know.
I’m not sure the war can be won, but I appreciate the impassioned charge into battle. Check out White’s video here, and his full statement below.
Jack White’s official Ambassadorial quote:
Years ago someone told me that 1,200 high school kids were given a survey. A question was posed to them: Have you ever been to a stand-alone record shop? The number of kids that answered “yes” was… zero.
Zero? How could that be possible? Then I got realistic and thought to myself, “Can you blame them?” How can record shops (or any shop for that matter) compete with Netflix, TiVo, video games that take months to complete, cable, texting, the Internet, etc. etc? Getting out of your chair at home to experience something in the real world has started to become a rare occurrence, and to a lot of people, an unnecessary one. Why go to a bookstore and get a real book? You can just download it. Why talk to other human beings, discuss different authors, writing styles and influences? Just click your mouse. Well here’s what they’ll someday learn if they have a soul; there’s no romance in a mouse click. There’s no beauty in sitting for hours playing video games (anyone proud of that stop reading now and post your opinion in the nearest forum). The screen of an iPhone is convenient, but it’s no comparison to a 70mm showing of a film in a gorgeous theater. The Internet is two-dimensional…helpful and entertaining, but no replacement for face-to-face interaction with a human being. But we all know all of that, right? Well, do we? Maybe we know all that, but so what?
Let’s wake each other up.
The world hasn’t stopped moving. Out there, people are still talking to each other face-to-face, exchanging ideas and turning each other on. Art houses are showing films, people are drinking coffee and telling tall tales, women and men are confusing each other and record stores are selling discs full of soul that you haven’t felt yet. So why do we choose to hide in our caves and settle for replication? We know better. We should at least. We need to re-educate ourselves about human interaction and the difference between downloading a track on a computer and talking to other people in person and getting turned onto music that you can hold in your hands and share with others. The size, shape, smell, texture and sound of a vinyl record; how do you explain to that teenager who doesn’t know that it’s a more beautiful musical experience than a mouse click? You get up off your ass, you grab them by the arm and you take them there. You put the record in their hands. You make them drop the needle on the platter. Then they’ll know.
Let’s wake each other up.
As Record Store Day Ambassador of 2013 I’m proud to help in any way I can to invigorate whoever will listen with the idea that there is beauty and romance in the act of visiting a record shop and getting turned on to something new that could change the way they look at the world, other people, art, and ultimately, themselves.
Let’s wake each other up.