August 3rd, 2020
2010 was the peak of iTunes, and the beginning of a vinyl revival. The hipster culture, simultaneously technologically adept and retro obsessed, was key in both of those ways of music consumption. I would download albums of the moment to listen to on my iPod and scour the stacks of the past at the Music Store on West Portal on high school lunch breaks, snagging rare The Cars vinyl records and ordering my copy of Wings’ Band on the Run. The shopkeeper and I became familiar, and he would sometimes hold certain records for me. I had an “in” as it were. I usually was his only customer during the dead retail hours of 12 PM-1 PM.
I would hurry back to the campus, carefully storing my newly acquired treasures in my locker before the next class, counting down the minutes till the day would be over and I could go listen to them.
The journey home after school would always be exciting. Two days a week, my guitar would be tow, giving me that artistic edge I wanted to convey so badly. I wasn't a mathematical genius, I was certainly not a graceful athlete– but I could write a song, damnit!
I would take the M train back home through the West Portal tunnel, and then I would get off at Powell St Station– the downtown shopping destination for San Franciscans and tourists alike.
Yet, amongst the high end clothing shops and makeup outlets, at the intersection of Powell and Ellis, right in front of the iconic Cable Car turnaround– there was Rasputin.
A vestige of San Francisco eclecticism and weirdness in the midst of exemplary commercialism.
Rasputin (yes, named after the Romanov’s mythologized doctor and priest) was the most distinct place that sold records in San Francisco– it had a real funky character.
There was a pizza joint right next to it, and combined with the rolled joints smoked by their employees– created such a distinct smell, I can recall even today.
The first floor was DVDs, then you climbed a staircase, passing the band T-shirts (mostly metal bands) and then you arrived at the elevator, which was the only way you could go to all the different floors.
Once you chose your floor, the elevator would arrive (sometime you would stand there, waiting for ages).
The doors open. Another wave of pizza and weed odor melange would hit you. You would enter, noticing the elevator covered in stickers, graffiti and the dirtiest doormat carpet you have ever seen.
A blasé employee, perched on a stool, blasts the music of their choice on the janky boombox and asks you what floor you wanted to go to.
“Pop/rock,” please. Sometimes a smile, sometimes an eye roll. I didn’t care. I was in heaven. The doors open and I gleefully launch myself into the stacks, ready to find something new.
I bought key records (Jessie Ware & Kimbra’s first albums) at Rasputin that I had discovered by listening to a new streaming service– Spotify. In my high school friend group, we embraced this platform so we could share playlists (the 2010s version of sharing mixtapes), keep tabs on what the other person was digging, and discover new releases at a rate quicker than ever before.
Vinyl hunting, however, was personal– it was less about trends and more about pure interest– I could nerd out about my 60s/70s/80s obsessions and learn about other genres I really would not have been able to get in to– jazz, samba, bossa nova, West African–you name it. Flipping through the stacks was another manifestation of broadening your musical horizons, learning about other cultures– my hours spent a records stores have provided me with an irreplaceable musical education.
The blessing of going into a record store was you would always leave with a new discovery- a discovery that perhaps would be the record to change your life.
Today, I ventured out and visited Generation Records in the Village– exactly 5 months after I made my last vinyl purchase before NYC put in restrictions. I spent an hour there, conversing with the ever so friendly shopkeepers, finding rare 45s and even some classical records in the mix.
It truly was a semblance of goodness amongst the sadness of shuttered shops and "For Sale" signs. I almost felt sixteen again as I yelped out in glee after finding a used copy of Roxy Music's Flesh + Blood.
Or maybe, that bubbling joy– of finding that glimmer of art that keeps your blood pumping– maybe that is something we should keep on engaging with beyond our adolescence. The record store reminded me of that. And it just goes to show how vital it is to keep these vestiges of art and creativity alive and open.
So, to whomever is reading this– if you are so lucky to have a record store near you during restrictions, open physically– I urge you to go in and find a new discovery.
Inspiration could be just one vinyl record away.
keep the music going––––xxoo
P.S. I also urge you to order from a record store online, as many cannot physically open during restrictions due to COVID-19. Find a local record store near you by using this website:
Also! Amoeba Records, an iconic California business, is still accepting donations through their GoFundMe page to help pay their employees and keep stores operations going as they are still closed: https://www.gofundme.com/f/amoeba-music-needs-help-to-survive