Record Store Memories

by coldglass

In honour of Record Store Day, three memories involving music shops. Admittedly, only one of them involves an independent store, and not in a particularly positive way, so maybe I’m doing more harm than good. Still, it’s the thought that counts. These are all as true as I remember them, though maybe exaggerated. Memories usually are, really.

Over a decade ago, I was in the Virgin Megastore in Cardiff, a shop that played a small but significant role in my personal growth when I bought a VHS copy of Ghost In The Shell there. Also memorable for the fact that I always, without fail, got a static shock if I touched the handrail whilst walking down the stairs. Whilst browsing through the racks a particular CD caught my eye; one entitled Elder Sign by Endura. Or ENDVRA to go by the cover, as it used Roman lettering. As a die-hard fan of HP Lovecraft I naturally wondered if the title was a reference to his Cthulhu Mythos tales, and indeed my suspicions were confirmed when I saw that one of the tracks was named ‘Ubbo-Sathla’. The title ‘Nailed To The Cross Of Pluto’ stuck in my mind as well. I didn’t buy it, but ever since I first saw it I occasionally wondered about that mysterious Lovecraftian CD. This was back in the dark ages of the Internet when finding information on niche subjects meant trawling through garishly designed fansites, and all I could discover was that it was a compilation of tracks from now out-of-print albums. Every now and then through the years I’d wonder what it sounded like, but somehow never bought it even after eBay and Amazon made getting such obscurities child’s play. The memory of happening upon that jewel case amongst the rest of the ‘Rock & Pop’ section has remained with me clearly to this day. Really, this story should end with me emulating the doomed protagonists of Lovecraft’s stories, my obsession wearing away my sanity until I end up scrawling crazed lyrics on the walls in broken Enochian. What actually happened was that it became available on Amazon in MP3 format and I downloaded it. It sounds exactly like I imagined it would.

November 2002. Post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor release their third (and as it turned out, final) album, Yanqui U.X.O.. GY!BE had a serious counter-culture image, what with the hand-pressed sleeves made from untreated cardboard and the refusing to sell merchandise and so on. This image was from my perspective probably somewhat exaggerated due to the lack of solid information about them; again this was in pre-Wikipedia days when information online was not only unreliable but scarce as well. I remember someone telling me once that the band lived communally in an abandoned railway station; of course I didn’t believe them, but it didn’t sound that implausible to me. Anyway, I decided that this was the perfect time for me to put my money where my mouth was and support an independent record store rather than a giant corporate chain-store. So I went to the nearest indie record store in Hanley, I omit the name because I’ve forgotten it to protect the relevant parties. No sign of it, so I went to ask the man behind the counter if they had it, or would have it later. He turned away from his copy of Mixmag long enough to favour me with the kind of expression I imagine noblemen in pre-Revolutionary France used on inconvenient peasants. “No” he said, turning back to his magazine. I went to HMV instead. They had a stack of copies displayed in the position of honour right inside the door. When I got it home, I saw that the artwork for the back cover of the album consisted of a diagram purporting to show how five major record labels were linked to weapons manufacturers. I’d like to say I felt guilty. I didn’t.

That same branch of HMV in Hanley, on a Saturday afternoon. You know the kind, when the place is absolutely rammed with people, half of them in a tearing hurry and the other half trying to kill time. The air is unpleasantly warm and muggy and there’s always someone bumping into you. Whatever rack or shelf you want to look at has at least three people already standing in front of it, and if you manage to get through them you keep having to move to let someone with a pushchair through the aisle. In any case all the stock is jumbled up so even if you’re in the right place, whatever you’re looking for probably isn’t. The staff are all visibily sweating and bear that expression that suggests they’re moments away from either bursting into tears or running amok. I managed to find something I wanted, I don’t remember what, and was standing in the lengthy queue. A group of teenage boys in front of me spent the whole time arguing over whether Tupac Shakur was really dead or not. One side insisted he’d faked his death, presenting as evidence the (quite true) fact that by that time he’d sold more records and made more money whilst dead than he had whilst alive. The opposing party’s main counter to this was the belief that Tupac would “never abandon his people like that”. It was only five minutes or so, maybe ten at the most, but by God I thought I’d never get out of there with mind and body intact. Tupac was recently resurrected in hologram form to perform at the Coachella festival, a fact which to me is far weirder than any conspiracy theory.