I’d only previously shopped in Durham, NC once before, when we stopped in Bull City Records a few years ago and I found a Hot Chocolate album we wanted to hear. My wife was attending a processional conference in the Research Triangle last weekend, and I was on my own for several hours. I enjoyed the pool at the hotel where we were staying to the utmost of my ability, then checked out and took off for the Durham location of the famous regional Schoolkids chain.
There used to be as many as seven of the shops in carious college towns in the Southeast back before The Great Record Store Culling of the Napster Era. I had visited the Gainesville, Florida store [note: Wikipedia says it’s not connected with the management team that owned these stores] in the early 90s on my first trip to that city to see Man…Or Astroman. I had also visited the Chapel Hill location in the mid-noughties onward when visiting friends who had moved to the area. There were a few things bought there, certainly. Currently, there are only three of them with one in Raleigh as well.
I made my way to the location easily enough. The heart of the former tobacco trade at the heart of the state was now gentrified and repurposed into a shopping complex called Brightleaf Square. A huge, old red brick compound refitted as a series of tony boutiques. I quickly found Schoolkids after miraculously securing a parking space. On the trip over, I felt that surely the store would be stocking the recent DLX RM, four disc set of “Purple Rain,” and at the least, this would be accompanying me home. As I entered the store, the clerk, performing what seemed like populating their presumed Discogs store with stock didn’t so much as grunt in my direction. Typical. Non-plussed, I saw the new rack of CDs right upon entering the store. Not too many of them, really. I glimpsed the familiar cover of “Purple Rain” but it did not have the metallic foil cover I was looking for. It was merely the 2xCD extended version. Disappointing.
I next turned my attention to a bin of new arrival used vinyl. I quickly saw something that I had heard about for 30+ years but had never actually seen; “The Great Lost Stranglers Album.” It was a Japanese only compilation of Stranglers non-LP B-sides in a cover that reminded me of the cover of the Lips Inc. album. No obi, and the stickers on the PVC bag rightly noted “Super Rare!!!” It could be mine for $19.99. Not tempting at that price and without the obi. Besides, I had all of the material on CD. The track listing was similar to the EMI “Rarities” B-side collection of the early 90s that had long since been in the Record Cell. Still, this was not a record I had encountered in the wild before. The false positive effect it engendered was my undoing. It motivated me to spend over an hour looking through the stock in this store when there was actually no reason to do so.
There was a bin of new LPs that, as usual, I ignored. Instead, I pawed through the used vinyl, where anything that would catch my eye would be hidden. It became very apparent that this was some really tired record stock that had been around the block several times on its march through history from the mid-70s through to today. Take another look at that Strangler’s pic above. Do you see the Argent artist tab? Who, under the age of 50 today, even recognizes the name of Rod Argent??! Or more importantly, cares?
I had looked at the used vinyl and had seen nothing. I next look at the trashed vinyl [<$2.00] and that was even worse. The usual records that proliferate in thrift stores abounded, and in similar condition. It turns out that the people who took the worst care of records ever, were basically my grandparents!
Having rifled through the vinyl to no avail,I next turned my attention to the used CDs. I have to say that one of my beefs with record stores today are the vast amounts of floorspace given to new modern vinyl at the expense of used vinyl and CDs. This store stood that common paradigm on its edge. There was a modest amount of new vinyl here, and some new CDs as well, but the vast majority of floor space here was being used for used vinyl and used CDs. It would have been the best of all possible worlds, had they only had something that I would have bought! But that was not the case. I searched through the CD bins only to find a single CD that was of interest. In fact, it was even on the almighty want list.
I managed to have bought all of the fine EMI compilations of Cabaret Voltaire collections that were released from 1998-2002… except one. “Remixed” has escaped my grasp and yet, here is was. At the front of a bin, no less, so I immediately noticed it when walking nearby. I took the photo at right and when I turned it over, I saw a $16.99 used price on that bad boy! No way. I was mainly buying this for the incredible “Don’t Argue [Live Jacknife Drum Remix]” finally on CD! It’s an Adrian Sherwood mix I have on the 12″ single but this was the only shiny CD with the Blue Velvety styled mix with acoustic drums by Chakk’s Diarmuid Boyle. I love this mix, but not enough to pay twice the going rate for a copy on CD! I continued on my deathmarch to give the tired stock in this place a glance. Only because I should not show up to meet my wife too long before her seminar was over.
This was one of the most perfunctory record store visits I’d ever had. What was worse, the store was also dimly lit; another of my Record Store Bête Noirs! More than anything, I was curious about how this place came to be. I thought that the End Times [Napster era] had killed off any lame record stores but this one proved my theory was wrong. The freaky thing was that this store in all other ways but stock and pricing, hit all of my buttons. It was mostly CDs and used vinyl. Normally, cause for celebration. I should hasten to mention that it was occupying space in the upscale Brightleaf Square shopping district. It could not have come cheaply, yet the evidence here suggested that there were not too many sales. One other older guy stopped in while I was there and he didn’t waste as much time as I did. He also left empty handed. This store in the Schoolkids chain suggested a take on the 60s aphorism: what if they gave a record store and nobody shopped?
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