A few months ago, I downloaded Jim Carroll’s classic 1980 album, “Catholic Boy,” from iTunes.
It was the first album I ever downloaded, and it happens to be one that I already had. I needed the digital copy because my vinyl copy is cracked in half and held together with pink duct tape. (From a strictly aesthetic perspective, in keeping with the album’s art-punk themes, this is great. But the fact is, it’s quite literally impossible to listen to the taped-up side.) I would have searched out another physical copy of the record, but I had a $10 iTunes gift card from a piñata at a friend’s wedding. I threw a lot of elbows and hip-checks to fight off the wedding party and get that card. So, I figured I should use it.
I found the iTunes experience pleasant enough. Total convenience. Music delivered immediately. A catalog of titles more varied and expansive than any brick-and-mortar record store I’ve been in. It’s a marvel of technology. To deny that would mark me as a Luddite. More than that, it would be futile; there’s demand for downloaded music, because downloaded music is a genuinely nice product.
But I’m going to make a case for record stores anyway. A lot of my fondest memories of college have to do with record shopping with friends at places like Flat Black and Circular and Wherehouse Records in East Lansing, Mich. We would spend hours going through the dollar bins, comparing our finds and then hurrying home to take turns trying them out. I feel comfortable there, like I’m among my own people, the kind of people who nod approvingly when someone buys an old Otis Redding album but can barely contain their scorn when someone buys Coldplay. That’s why it’s a shame to see record stores dying. It’s not because we need them. (Like printed books and newspapers, they offer little in the way of practical value — vinyl and paper, after all, are not music and literature; they’re a means of transmitting those things.) It’s because for me, and a whole lot of people my age, record stores have always been a signifier of community. They were OUR place.
Now, I have to admit I’m neither an audiophile nor a vinyl-only-fetishist hipster, the two categories it seems record stores must rely on these days for business. I just like going there and flipping through records and CDs. And maybe it’s stupid to rhapsodize about what is essentially outdated technology. But I’m an unrepentantly sentimental guy, and record stores mean something to me. They mean something in the same way that spreading out a newspaper on the breakfast table means something or in the way that sleeping in line overnight for concert tickets and sending actual pen-and-paper letters used to mean something. They mean something in a way that pretty much ended with the 20th century: They mean something in analog.
That’s on it’s way out. It’s something we had, people my age and older. And it’s something people younger will never have. I don’t say that because I think you should fear for or pity that younger generation. They have other things; they never needed record stores. But there was a time when I did. I’ll always be grateful the stores were there. And, as long as going down to the store to buy a record is an option, that’s going to be the way I get my music.
— The Indoorsman