Gearing Up for Record Store Day, and Art “Flipping”

MUCH of my misspent youth was passed in record stores and bookstores, both as a customer and clerk, and I absorbed huge doses of enthusiasm, and I hope some knowledge, that would later help me as a scribe. So I’m always happy to read that record stores seem to be coming back, as this story timed to Record Store Day — the annual celebration of the brick-and-mortar store, argues.

The piece, in the Chicago Sun-Times, concedes that sales of recorded music continue to fall, whether sold at Wal-Mart of your local indie. But, writes Mark Guarino, “All outlets posted recent declines in sales, but if there is a silver lining for local indie shops, it’s that their declines (16.6 percent) are much less than chains and mass merchants (24 percent each).” He continues:

That’s a small piece of the overall pie. Yet the stores that say they are thriving — adding hours, employees, even expanding locations — are offering more than just music: They are also selling community and a curatorial hand in the purchasing process — two factors that have largely diminished in our culture thanks to the downward spiraling of strong independent media (both radio and newspapers) and the one-click shopping model that drives online retail.

Of course, I hope he’s right, and this is a smart, well-reported story. From where I sit, in Los Angeles, things continue to be very tough. Just in the last decade or so, we’ve lost Rhino, Aron’s, several Towers (including the wonderful classical annex on Sunset), Virgin, the record store at Dutton’s Brentwood Books, and so on. Even New York’s enormous J&R Music World recently tanked.

The resurgence of vinyl record stores — there are several good ones in my Eastside LA world — is a bright spot. But in the big picture — as a proportion of actual sales — they are negligible. And since they are mostly second-hand shops, the revenues don’t make their way to the musicians. The survival of the stores and their staffs is valuable for its own sake, though.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about clerks at bookstores, video shops and record stores; a chapter of my book is devoted to them. Here‘s one that’s mostly about classical-music clerks.

Magnapop play record store, 1994

Magnapop play record store, 1994

Let’s all pay homage to our favorite record stores on Saturday.

ALSO: Two New York Times pieces of note. First, veteran video and performance artist Joan Jonas will fly the flat for the U.S. at next year’s Venice Biennale, Carol Vogel reports. “For the American pavilion at the Biennale, which runs from May 9 through Nov. 22, 2015, Ms. Jonas plans to create a new site-specific installation for the 1930s Palladian-style structure that will incorporate video, drawings, objects and sound.”

And if you think the art market is coming to resemble the amped-up housing market pre-crash, check out this story on a show in Cologne, collecting artists the Times describes as ready to be flipped like a house.

If the market for contemporary art is in danger of overheating, the first canary in the coal mine will surely be those fashionable young artists whose prices have been driven up by speculators over the past few years… Many of these artworks are privately bought and then quickly sold on, or “flipped,” by insiders before a wider audience gets to hear about them.

The piece backs up my sense that cultural markets are beginning to resemble, in extreme ways, the awkward curve of the U.S. economy, with speculation driving huge fortunes at the top, and a hollowing out in the middle. It’s also another step in the disconnection of visual art from the middle class.

I look forward to Jed Perl, who’s become one of my favorite art critics, weighing in on this.

FINALLY: Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, the former rhythm section of Talking Heads and basis for the Tom Tom Club, have a smart blog on rock music and related subjects which I recommend to all my readers.

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  1. says

    My favorite record store moment came about 20 years ago in New Haven. I know this is post-vinyl, but it defines the experience. I was looking for the Caballe-Carreras “Lucia,” and when I took it to the check-out, the man who ran the place – alone – looked at it and shook his head and clucked his tongue. What’s wrong? I asked. This is not the choice of the staff, he said.

  2. says

    Shout out to NYC’s Downtown Music Gallery — which these days depends on mail order for a lot of its business — and the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago, where I got my start.

  3. says

    Thanks for the comments, folks. Not sure I understand the use of the term “post-vinyl,” since Record Store Day and everything else I’m writing about concerns stores that sell CDs, vinyl and probably even eight-track tapes. And we’re now living in a heyday of vinyl shops.

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