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Viva Adventure, Long Live Record Store Day

April 4, 2011

Porter’s moving elegy on the death of the brick-n-mortar bookstore brought a twinkle to my eye, and not just for bookstores. Sharp pangs of nostalgia hit me as I thought about how excited I and my best childhood friend would get as we made a giddy bee-line for Waldenbooks each time we’d hit “the mall.” I vividly remember us as being as psyched to get our hands on new Terry Brooks or Douglas Adams as we were to shovel quarters into Double Dragon or Ikari Warriors. While the arcade may have been the final destination on most of these trips, the first place we made sure we hit was the bookstore.

Hot on the heels of those fond remembrances came many more centered around another obsession that we shared: music. As with the bookstore offerings around me, music stores were in very short supply. But I pored over the racks of tapes and CDs–even those LPs hanging on during unfashionable times–hoping that something new and exciting would reveal itself to me through the album art, much in the same way I’d scan book jackets by unfamiliar authors looking for another portal to worthwhile escapism.

A very pleasurable connection exists between the bookstore and the music store that goes beyond entertainment and escapism, art and commerce, and meaningful social interaction: personal adventure.

I don’t just mean the personal adventure afforded by the content of books and records, but the very physical, real journey of traveling to look for a new recording or novel. These trips can be as fun and integral to the experience of the artistic product as the product itself; the death of these little, meaningful excursions would mean that part of the experiential package of consuming art dies with it.

I’ve spent my share of time at midnight release parties and pre-sale events and the like, but this story sticks with me more than any other, and it marks my first purchase of music that I sought wholly on my own and financed with my own small, hopeful pile of chore-cash:

It was 1985, mid-summer, and I was just shy of ten years old. Out of all my favorite musicians of that time, Prince was the king. Yes, his reign extended over even Weird Al and Top 40 Pop, having only recently unseated my once-beloved “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron 45” in the two years prior. His newest album, Around the World in a Day, had just been released; I couldn’t get enough of “Raspberry Beret,” and I had to have it.

After saving up money earned from performing largely inconsequential chores (mostly activities to get me out of my parents’ hair, really), I got the go-ahead to spend it on whatever I wanted, and I was allowed to walk to the only store that sold decent records to buy it myself. This was unheard of and very exciting for a 9-year-old.

Cash in hand, I took off on this inaugural voyage. Rather than taking the long way provided by sidewalks and streets, I cut through neighbors’ back yards and undeveloped lots where we often played kid games. One particular lot featured a winding creek that had long been the staging area for many kinds of sorties. To cross that creek, you needed to swing on a grapevine and, to keep from falling back into the creek from the steep bank on the other side, you had to stick the landing. All this at a run. Foreshadowing!

I ran to buy this record. Thinking of it now, I probably looked like I was running away. There’s truth in that. All these things happened on my way, if not in this exact order: I got chased by ‘hood dogs, frowned at by Mr. Frank, yelled at by Mrs. Adkins for trampling her tulips (that’s not a euphemism), nearly hit by a car ten feet from the store, had to swing on a vine to cross a fairly large creek, and was challenged by chattering squirrels. But, I was high on my own independence in this exercise of will, and nothing would stop me.

And nothing did. Despite my best indirect efforts, I made it there safe and sound, plunked my cash on the counter, and started home with this strange, titillating and largely brilliant bit of Prince’s heretofore unexplored psychedelic territory safe in hand.

Not quite. Being so fixated on decoding the artwork and spellbound by every detail I could make out about the album through the song titles, I nearly never made it home. Remember that vine?

The creek was bounded on both sides by steep banks. The side I initially crossed leveled out a little before meeting the water, but the return side was steeply banked (that’s why you had to stick the landing). As I ran down the hill towards the vine and the drop-off just beyond, I realized that both my hands were occupied and I needed to make a choice.

Often, not making a decision is a choice (ask T.Stump for what Geddy Lee has to say on the matter), and this was one of those times. Rather than stuffing the cassette and change into pockets, I decided I couldn’t let the former out of my grasp for one second, so I tried to grab the vine and swing across with my hands full.

Childhood skill fail. I landed in the middle of the creek, just missing a huge rock partially submerged there (dropped by us in an attempt to dam the thing). I couldn’t find the change anywhere, to my dismay–hey, two bucks might as well be a skrillion dollars to a kid–but my greater concern was the fate of that Prince and the Revolution tape. As I started to despair and chide myself for my stupidity, I saw it twinkling a few feet up the bank in the bright afternoon sun. It had been thrown clear of the accident; only a small hairline crack in the clear plastic told the tale.

I don’t really remember much else about that day (other than that I spent it listening to Prince), but that 45-minute trip will always stick with me in a way that downloading or streaming mp3s simply never will. This first journey will be on my mind as I head out to Record Store Day 2011 (April 16), and I’ll cherish it even more because it’s probably one of my last. This new adventure will remind me just how important the journey is to appreciating the destination.

We’ll see what happens if I run in to any grapevines along the way.

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