Yes, once upon a time in a land far, far away, I sat from high atop the splintered stool behind the counter of the independent record store, and dismissively waved shoppers away like one would wave away fruit flies. Where do we keep Cold Play? Um… under C, you do know the alphabet, don’t you? Whatever [eye-roll]. The 22-year-old version of me felt little more than disdain for the empty sheep-ple content in their narrow Dave Mathew’s Band existence; or even worse, the stammering morons trying to impress me with their knowledge of Royal Trux B-sides.
I was a dick. This is not a revelation, I realized it years ago, but I got a reminder last month when I came face to face with my 22-year-old self while record shopping in Cambridge with Mr. M.
I love record stores. I love to visit them in new cities. I love the smell of them: like dust and vinyl and years of smoke and sweat and piss. The smell of home. In Your Ear in Cambridge smelled like home and the 20-something girl behind the counter was playing My Bloody Valentine—a little obvious, but a good start. The place was a wreck though, crates and crates of unlabeled vinyl in random stacks, knocked over onto the floor, shoved in corners. It looked like a giant record-eating beast had thrown-up in a basement somewhere and left a stoned Willie Nelson fan behind to tend the place.
Yet somehow, in all that mess, M managed to find an extremely rare Bauhaus single, just lying on a stack of random records. Fucking score. When he asked how much it was, the clerk rolled her eyes, stopped chewing her hair for a moment, and said he couldn’t buy it, it was only for sale online—like, that’s why it’s not marked (idiot. God why are you still talking…). Okay, I get it, this is karma for all the people I made feel shitty about making me get up to unlock the cassette case for their piece-of-crap reggae tape.
The thing is, I know now that I was never that cool, and this girl isn’t either. It took years, but I can now admit that I like Elton John, I like Def Leopard, and I hate Minor Threat. There, I said it [thunder clap]. Cool is over-rated, not to mention unattainable. But back then I was constantly trying to look cool in front my fellow employees who were all older, more knowledgeable, and male. I’d say things like—Joy Division is good, but they were totally influenced by Wire, without ever hearing a Wire record. Now I own Wire records, along with numerous other bands I didn’t know about back then. The point is, I was a dumb insecure kid, and I tried to compensate for it by acting like a shit.
I wanted a time machine so I could go back and apologize to all the total strangers I made feel bad about their Brittany Spears purchase (sure it’s for your sister). Part of me sympathized with this girl, and part of me wanted to teach her some respect for her elders. I wanted to tell her that when she grows up she’ll feel bad she was such a self-involved cliché (believe me, I should know). But really I wanted to punch her in the face and tell her I was listening to that My Bloody Valentine record back when she was still eating paste.
But in the end I realized there was nothing my adult self could tell her that would have any effect. So I reached deep down inside and found that 22-year-old girl still writing graffiti behind the counter at Wax Trax and I put her on one last time. And as we left the store she leaned over to the clerk and said—My Bloody Valentine…a little obvious isn’t it?