6/20/2012 – the record store

I miss going to the record store. My musical home away from home was Ralph’s in downtown Scranton, a charmingly grungy place that was run by guys who knew the ins and outs of what they were selling and were never condescending, no matter how appalling your choices might have been (this was the 80s I’m talking about now…so these guys were appalled non-stop). I think the owner’s name was Kenny. A super cool guy. Looked like a Jaws era Richard Dreyfus with curly hair.

Ralph’s Record City was where I bought nearly all my vinyl albums. It was where I bought Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights”, which made the clerk’s day ’cause he thought he was the only person in Scranton who knew what a genius Thompson was. From then on everytime I was in the store we’d talk about Thompson and his work. It felt like another world in there. It seemed the only place I could go where nobody thought I was a weirdo.

It was the days of ordering stuff. If they didn’t have it, they’d get it for you. Fast. The service was incredible. As I remember, so where the prices. Seven dollars for a record. Maybe eight. 45s were a buck. My poor Dad had the misfortune of working withing walking distance of the place, and I’d call him and place my order so he could bring it home. A few times he messed up (“all these guys with long hair scream the same don’t they?”) and got the name wrong, and he’d bring home something truly bizarre. But he was a good sport about it. Ralph’s always took back stuff. No hassle on returns at all.

Of course things are so much better now. In the internet age. We all have, at our fingertips, access to everything. A few clicks, and it’s yours. Hard copy CD? Two days. Download? Instantly. And that’s if we choose to be ethical about it. Just about anything you want is available for free if you know where to look.

But making things better sometimes makes things worse. What I loved was the place itself. The vibe. The guys who worked there. The music they’d play and the way they treated you more like a fellow fan than a potential shoplifter. The way the world would disappear when you went through that door. The great posters on the walls. The ever so slight smell of pot coming from the back room. You just don’t get this kind of thing anymore. Nowadays I do my music shopping at the kitchen table on a laptop. How suckass is that?

I’m not one of these guys that longs for vinyl either. I had a shitty record player and got tired of sticking pennies to the arm to weigh down the needle in an attempt to eliminate the skips. And whenever I’d buy tapes my cheaper still tape player would somehow unravel them and I’d be stuck doing that idiot thing with the pencil. And then the tape would somehow wrap around itself, and fixing that was like trying to pick up mercury in your hand. As for 8-tracks? Who the fuck invented 8-tracks anyway? Cutting off a song in the middle? They were enough to make a kid mentally unstable. For life.

So I welcomed the arrival of CDs (my first CD purchase was the Smithereens “Green Thoughts”). What I didn’t like was buying all the records I already had in another format because you couldn’t buy replacement needles anymore. Eventually, everything I bought from Ralph’s Record City dropped away. Even “Shoot Out the Lights”. Nobody went downtown anymore for music (or for anything else, really). It was the ascent of the large chains at the mall. Now the guy behind the counter was most likely some 15 year old with a mullet and an earring in his nose….and if you asked him about the latest Richard Thompson release he’d think you were talking about half of the Thompson twins.

And I swear prices doubled.

I wonder where Kenny is today? For all the good he’s done, I hope he’s doing well.

In a bit..



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