Today was National Record Store Day. I never knew record stores had their own special day until I listened to a store owner interviewed on NPR this morning. My favorite job ever, and I had a slew of crazy gigs over the years, was working for a year at Recordland in Kalamazoo in the late 1970s. The job helped pay my way through the last couple of semesters of college, but I would have paid the store to work there. Seriously, that’s how much I loved it and the cast of characters I worked with.
This wasn’t the wild west days of indie record stores where you could buy a poster to go along with your album, some incense, and a little weed in the back room. Recordland was a chain store in a mall. To get shoppers attention, we’d crank up the sound on a new release so they’d come in and ask, “Who is that?” Think Rickie Lee Jones’s “Chuck ‘E’s in Love.”
Kind of like the Apple Store today, all walks of life would spend a chunk of their day flipping through rows and rows of albums while listening to new music or classics one of the employees cued up on the turntable. Some days it became a competitive sport with who played the weirdest stuff. On any given afternoon you could hear Waylon Jennings followed by Nina Simone followed by Supertramp. It was a mixed bag of zaniness.
I was hired not for my expertise in any one musical genre but because John, our fearless leader, and the store manager said he loved my enthusiasm. I never forgot that. No one had ever mentioned my name and enthusiasm in the same sentence. But he knew I was a music groupie and would come in on the shifts no one else wanted. Sunday at noon to open? There I was, large coffee in hand, ready to cue up Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” because everyone working was hungover. Stock bins after closing? No problem. Plus, we shared a love for white Russians, and he’d buy.
There were jazz experts, bootleg record archivists, those that knew their album cover art, and the few who could find their way around the discography Bible, a ginormous book of yellow sheets with every recording ever made. You needed the numbers on those yellow sheets to order some esoteric Frank Zappa LP or to win a bet on what year a particular Beatle album was released.
Yes, those were the days of endless songs to accompany a mood and the belief that music could change a life. And it did. Mine. I went on to write for music publications and wrote my master’s thesis in journalism on the writing and influence of Rolling Stone magazine after doing an internship there in the 1980s. Better yet, I met my husband through his friendship with the assistant manager of the store. The job was like a cool planet everyone wanted to live on. In that crazy year, I was lucky enough to be a native. A record store employee, the greatest gig ever.