Sunday, June 5, 2022

Some Record Stores That Disaster Amnesiac Has Loved


Record stores really are like cockroaches. Despite the best efforts of beings that want them gone, they simply rise up from calamity anew. Sure, one's favorite record shop may close, and one will lament this sad passing, it happens. Still, there always seem to be new shops that arise from the ashes of the destruction of whichever old ones that has occurred. Total roach action here, to be sure. 

Disaster Amnesiac spent many years and probably far too much dough on my own collecting jones. What follows is a list of some well-loved shops from the period 1980-2020, by no means complete.

Post Exchange Record Shop, Heidelberg West Germany The first record shop in which Disaster Amnesiac really began collecting LPs. The Heidelberg Army Post Exchange (PX) was a pretty big complex as I recall, with the actual exchange, commissary, and cafeteria taking up the larger buildings. The record shop was in a smaller facility on the northwest side of the complex (?). Thanks to the generosity of my parents, and the flexibility of the store's management, I was able to put albums on layaway; it usually took about three weeks to save up and score the desired platter. My tastes at that time tended towards Heavy Rock and Metal. This store stocked lots of the former and not too much of the latter. I recall copping vinyl from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Triumph, Judas Priest, Journey, acts like that. Meat and potatoes stuff, I guess. I still listen to most of those bands to varying degrees, on car radio and at home. Funny story about military base life: once with a friend whose name I no longer remember, we opted to hop the fence of the PX instead of going back to the entry gate and having our ID's checked. Wouldn't you know it, but a couple of military police caught us; these guys must have had a laugh riot as they recalled making me practically crap my pants while they enumerated the charges that could be held against me. Thankfully, they just played with me and my pal's minds before letting us go "with a warning", but, again, I'm sure that they laughed all afternoon as they recounted their "catch" to pals at the NCO Club later that day!

LP This was the shop wherein Disaster Amnesiac discovered Punk Rock, Hardcore, New Wave and all kinds of weirdo stuff. I recall grabbing albums from Black Flag, DOA, Dead Kennedys, Simple Minds, Husker Du, along with more underground Metal stuff like Battle Axe and Metallica. One really Punk Rock pal, who was serving in the Army at the time, scored original Zoviet France albums there, too. LP was located at the outskirts of the downtown/University area of Heidelberg, in a neat, rounded building that was off of Romerstrasse, a very old street. Turntables were set up for shoppers to be able to sample records before they purchased them, always cool. The owner was a guy, probably in his thirties, who affected a kind of John Lennon look, with scraggly hair and wire rimmed specs.  In hindsight, I really wish that I'd picked his brains about German underground music, because I have no doubts that he was well versed in that deep world, or knew people that would have been. Years later, I was visiting Heidelberg, and he'd moved his shop to the Hauptstrasse (walking street), which surely got him a ton more foot traffic. I tried to engage him, to enthuse to him about my teenage shopping trips at his old original location, but he just sighed and in a very Teutonic way, muttered "it was a long time ago" and shuffled off to help another customer! A great store that lasted well into the 2000's. 

Plan 9 After Disaster Amnesiac's parents decided that they'd had enough of life in West Germany, our family relocated to Northern Virginia. In that location, I was able to peruse classic record stores such as Yesterday & Today in Rockville, Smash and Orpheus in Georgetown, and Penguin Feathers in Woodbridge, but Plan 9 in Richmond quickly became my favorite record store in the Eastern Seaboard. I guess a lot of this had to do with its environment. I would often ride a Greyhound bus for the 80 or so miles from my little suburb to the capital, itself a delightful experience. Once in Richmond, the vibes were much looser than in The District. It always seemed to me as if the weirdos in Richmond were way more weird, their verbal challenges, delivered in that very distinct Richmond accent odder, and so forth. Richmond just felt a hell of a lot more loose in some vital way. That, and no one looked askance at you for taking a toke or a drank. As for Plan 9, its two floors were stuffed with all kinds of great music, including albums by local bands, of course. I recall seeing older Punk Rockers that I greatly admired there, which was a thrill, too. There were a wide range of styles of music to be found there; my curiosity about various genres was really piqued inside of Plan 9, that's for sure. Most definitely the type of record store that one could visit, say, four times a week. Plus, I scored an original copy of the Monitor LP there in 2009 for cheap. Plan 9 has just always had that feel which most collectors know, the feel of a magic, personalized music score just waiting there inside of the bins. Last time that I was in Richmond, I found a neat little shop catering to Crust Punk up around Oregon Hill. Richmond, man.......

Reckless Records Located at the corner of Haight Street and Masonic Avenue in San Francisco, Reckless was the sort of store that bought anything and everything, new and used, and its bins were always crammed with stuff. There were other shops such as this on Haight Street, but for Disaster Amnesiac, Reckless was the most fun. The vibe there was loose, and the store was big enough that during digs, one didn't have to listen to the staff talk about what struck them as good or bad or whatever else was on their minds that day. That, and they kept the music cranked up nice and loud. It strikes me now that they did a lot of their buying from people that may have needed cash for the more lurid of urban recreational activities, because I found plenty of by then rare Post Punk and Punk stuff at decent prices. Reckless was into selling their stock, that's for sure. I was quite intrigued by the more Avant Garde side of Jazz and Improvised music then, as I am now still, and Reckless had that stuff too, without the headier vibes of Aquarius (then located in Noe Valley, I took the 24 MUNI bus there, too, of course) making for bouts of insecurity at the check out counter. Reckless's staff didn't give a fuck what you bought, as long as your cash was real or your charge card had a balance. All that, and those bins of theirs had a nice, two tier, jet black appearance that wafted paint smells, along with the dusty vinyl scent. 

Record Finder This shop was on Sanchez Street in San Francisco, sort of between the Lower Haight and the Castro Districts. In keeping with the feel of this quaint little 'Frisco 'hood, the floor of Record Finder was a bright, well lit space. It had long bins that ran along the walls and the middle of the room. One could find a fair amount of good stuff at this shop. Disaster Amnesiac always liked to pop in for the peculiar pleasure of observing its proprietor. I recall him as a middle aged guy, sort of affecting that crusty Record Store Owner persona. You know: very opinionated about what's good and what's dog shit, and very willing to articulate those distinctions. Along with the owner, there was at least one employee, who was equally fascinating. This latter guy had a greaser look, with attendant tattoos and tight, lean threads. It was really funny to hear him answer the phone, as he would intone in a sort of faux official voice, "THANKS FOR CALLING THE RECORD FINDER......HOW....CAN....I....HELP...YOU....", and then continue with that accent for the entire call. Dude also sang for a band called Fracas, denizens of the Punk Rock club circuit nation-wide and possibly upon other shores as well. He once sort of complimented me for the purchase of a Steppenwolf LP, major props! I'd imagine that his boss would not have been so effusive. There were quite a few record shops in that area, but Record Finder was my go-to spot around Upper Market Street. 

Open Mind Disaster Amnesiac may have been one of the first customers to darken the doors of this cool spot on Divisadero near Fell. I lived a short distance west from their location, and watched them as they went through the process of setting up and opening. Open Mind started out as a boutique that sold clothing and albums. That lasted for a bit, but co-owner Henry quickly made the transition to just selling albums. Still, it always maintained that small, boutique-ey feel. I recall him stocking a lot of the bands that were currently making waves within the underground music scene, lots of great Jazz albums, and Jam Band stuff. I scored tons of great Hard Rock recordings there, because Henry priced them to move. At that time, those types of albums by bands like Blue Oyster Cult and Bloodrock were not much desired by too many folks in the city. One fond memory of digging and scoring at Open Mind: one of its employees marked an original press of Sun City Girls Grotto Of Miracles incorrectly, for $1.95. Disaster Amnesiac scooped it out of one of the lower bins on the floor, promptly carrying it to the register counter, where Henry was standing. When I plopped it down onto the counter, he gave me an exasperated look,  then raised his eyebrows archly, then shrugged with a kind of "man, you got me" look, and rang it up as priced. I was sure he felt a bit burned, but, being a good dude, he did not fight me about the price. In 2019, I was walking down College Avenue near the Cal campus, and noticed that he'd reopened Open Mind there. It's my hope that its still going strong in that location. As stated, Henry is a cool dude.

Half Price Books Fremont Half Price Books is a chain with national reach, I think. When Disaster Amnesiac was ignominiously bounced out of San Francisco in mid-1999, I ended up back in the 'burbs. Social death! In that situation, I was happy to find that the Fremont, California branch of this chain was stocking all kinds of stuff, and for cheap, too. Their buyers did not seem to have a handle on some of the great items which they were getting, so they priced them accordingly. I found a mint copy of Funhouse that still had that new LP smell, all kinds of great Jazz and interesting Metal and Hardcore, Hard Rock, any and all manner of music for cheap. This was the era in which entities like eBay and Discogs were not being utilized by stores such as this, so really cool things were flying under their radar, their worth to the nerds unrealized. Their location, near the Fremont BART station, was perfect for post train ride trips up to SF for various reasons; I'd stop in after such trips, usually finding more cool stuff that they had shoved into their racks. As the years went on, Half Price Books staff have gotten way more savvy about what's coming in to their shops, but at that time, one could score any manner of cool music for the kind of prices that make collectors salivate.

Amoeba Los Angeles The Big Cheese of California record stores! Disaster Amnesiac has seen more than a few Amoeba stickers affixed to cars in Tucson, so, yeah, their reach is wide, their reputation golden. I have never lived in Southern California, but have always loved to go there. These trips are never complete without a visit to Amoeba. There are differences between the people of NorCal and SoCal, and I always felt that these differences extended to tastes in music listening. In that sense, going to Amoeba in Los Angeles was sort of like an anthropological event for me. Fascinating to see what people were digging into in the area! I loved the Jazz section, which is massively stocked with incredible nuggets, along with the Avant Garde/Weird Music bins. In those latter bins, one can find some incredibly deep scores, ones that would probably be a bit less likely had up north at the San Francisco or Berkeley locations of Marc Weinstein's creation. Along with all that, people watching at Amoeba Los Angeles was a hoot. Folks are just oddly unique in that town. I hope that Amoeba still has some presence there! 

Down Home Music Store Disaster Amnesiac lived for close to five years in El Cerrito, my wife and I's apartment about a five minute walk from Down Home Music Store. It's been a fixture in the San Francisco Bay Area music world for close to fifty years, and it most definitely has that vibe about it. Walls and floors stuffed with LPs and 7 inch vinyl, much of it seemingly rare and really aged. There's a layer of that magical dust that gives off puffs of collector heaven as you peruse the side room of this venerable shop's floor. Every time that I went in there, which was pretty often, their new arrivals bin would be filled with totally different items than the last time; clearly, people know where to take their collections for culling or cashing in. During one period of unemployment, I walked a resume over there to see about gaining a job. The guy at the cash register suggested that they might have had a warehouse position open, but nothing came of it. Disaster Amnesiac was in Down Home about a week before the government closure of small businesses in March of 2020, and I still regret not grabbing certain LPs that I listened to at their listening stations. Not that I can remember their titles........

VAMP Music and Art VAMP is a really cool, classy shop just on the outskirts of Downtown Oakland. The owner, Fernando, seems to specialize in Soul, Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues music, and has a deep connect to collectors that want to move their stuff. This small shop is crammed with those LPs, along with smaller caches of Punk and Metal, much of it from local to Oakland bands. Fernando is a great supporter of the local music scene, of which is son plays a role as a drummer. If you take your recordings to VAMP, he'll likely stock it for a while. Fernando graciously lets local players perform at his shop on occasion, and he also displays the visual art of local artists on the walls as well. He's done a great, admirable, and necessary job of boosting creative people in Oakland and its environs. The last time that I had a chance to speak with him, outside of a JFA show at the Uptown Bar on Telegraph Avenue, he had gotten a gig facilitating the sale of the collection of a very famous collector of weird albums. Hopefully his cut was solid. 

As Disaster Amnesiac sits here in June of 2022, I feel as though my time of browsing the bins at favorite record spots has come to an end. It's a sad feeling, but at the same time, I'm changing as a person, and those activities are less and less likely to be included within those changes. It's fine, I have tons of stuff to listen to, after all those years of record shopping. I wonder where those clerks and owners have ended up, what their fates were. They made life interesting for me, or at least they got me out of the house and into some kind of world. What a groovy world it was.

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