In Defense of Record Store Day
I’ll admit it: before last Saturday, I was an RSD hater.
Just like some of the posts swirling around social media protesting the day as a faux, greeting card-esque holiday, I’d written it off a long while back, when I realized a line out the door of a local record store wasn’t because the building was at capacity – it was because there were dozens of folks eagerly waiting to peruse three boxes of records placed on plastic tables at the front of the shop. Since I wasn’t interested in the exclusives, I walked right in and browsed a floor that, aside from that snaking queue, seemed like a standard Saturday. That image has stuck with me for whatever reason – what makes these items so sought after when there are thousands of other titles readily available? Guess the thought just didn’t jive with why I first started digging.
I’ve “observed” the day ever since, though in my own way. My brother and I would make a day out of it, visiting our favorite local shops and always picking up something. Since RSD is presented as an initiative to help promote local, independent record shops, we felt it was important to show up and support, even if we weren’t indulging in the exclusives that garnered all the buzz.
This year, getting a chance to see RSD from the other side of the counter, I changed my tune a bit. I had the opportunity to witness and interact with many pockets of vinyl culture I’d otherwise judge from a distance, and it helped me understand what makes the day special.
When I arrived prior to opening, I saw an older couple that frequents our store second and third in line. They’d been standing out front on Tenth Street for three hours. Later, I encountered a man and two teenagers (his nephews? his sons?), all decked out in fresh Weezer gear from the band’s Oakland tour stop earlier in the week and geeking out that they secured copies of the RSD Blue Album and Teal Album exclusives. They’d turned the day into a bonding moment, a celebration of Rivers and the Weez.
Similarly, there was a woman who frantically called looking for a Duran Duran exclusive. Though I couldn’t guarantee availability, I could confirm we’d received the title. Less than an hour later, I was greeted up front by a super fan – Duran Duran t-shirt matching a Duran Duran hat adorned with Duran Duran pins – who wondered if we might have any other stuff from her favorite band. Even for a die hard fan, I was able to locate a few picture sleeve singles she didn’t think she had in her collection.
The one that stands out the most though is a younger woman with glasses, who met me at the check out counter with two RSD exclusives from the Bird and the Bee. She had also called ahead, and was elated to find out we were the only store that carried the titles she was anxiously looking to procure. As I rang her up, she said “I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” going on to mention that she had a chance to interview the bandleader in her school paper and has been a super grateful fan ever since. This support was her way of returning that gracious favor.
While I’ll always find it criminal that it’s ok to significantly mark up a bargain record simply because it’s a shiny new color, I also recognize that Record Store Day is its own sort of phenomenon. Much like Black Friday, some come out for the rush, to see if they were able to arrive early enough to get that one record before the limited stock runs out. Isn’t that why a lot of us dig in the first place, to come into contact with a title that’s continued to allude us, or to discover something that renews our devotion to this beautiful thing called music?
I’m reminded of another interaction later in the afternoon, when a man was at the shop with his daughter and her friends. He played an Iron Maiden record at the listening station and handed the girls a pair of headphones, telling them this was the music he was listening to at their age. This may have been the first time those girls stepped foot in a record store, the first time their fingers have sorted through rows of unknown records, their eyes drawn to beautiful cover art or a familiar artist. If I hadn’t accompanied my brother to On the Corner years back and spent four bucks on Steely Dan’s Aja, there’s no way I’d have the collection I’ve accumulated today, much less chosen to DJ with that collection. I can’t be mad at an event that can serve as a gateway for inspiring future vinyl lovers. We all start somewhere. I’m not sure if I’ll see many of those patrons again before RSD Black Friday, or even next year’s event, and that’s fine.
Though I doubt my impatience will ever allow me to be the kind of person who lines up hours ahead of time on RSD, my experience helped me gain some needed respect and appreciation for those who do. The vast majority of folks aren’t looking to make a quick buck by flipping their rare purchase for double the price on eBay. Rather, they’re fans excited to support their favorite artist, dig deeper into a favorite album, or simply feel the energy of a lively record shop. The day injects a communal mentality into what can sometimes feel like an isolated pursuit, letting those of us who have spent hours searching through dusty bins to find that grail know that we are not alone.
by Brandon Roos – 2019