Low Fidelity: Last Shift At The Shore

For more than a year, Neill Jameson has posted periodic columns about his life in a New Jersey record store at the Deciblog. They've been among the most popular features we've run in recent years. Neill recently clocked out for the last time and agreed to give us his thoughts after last shift. Fear not: you will hear more from Neill in the future. --

It’s been more than a year since I was given a soapbox here. Last month, I wrote a sequel to the first article on the status of independent record stores. Much to the delight of casual record shoppers in the southern New Jersey region, I recently finished my tour of duty after four years, right after finishing the story.

Working in a record store can be a great thing. You’re surrounded by music all day and that’s all you focus on. But like anything it can burn you out. You see issues with certain people’s ethics when it comes to things like bootlegs (i.e. “unofficial imports”) or if you see stores selling rewrapped promo CDs as new. You deal with customers who may be having the worst day of their lives and didn’t mean to get shitty with you but it doesn’t matter.

I’ve never been a conventionally “nice” person but I have worked in retail for a very long time. Somewhere along the way I became bitter. Because of that I gave off the judgmental aura of a snobby record store clerk which so many people parody. It was time for me to get out of this store and move on to the next thing.

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The first order of business is the news that Urban Outfitters is apparently now the largest supplier of records in the country. A lot of people are writing the obituary of the vinyl record because suburban hipsters no longer need to take a train into the city to buy records. They just have to run to the mall. They’re concerned that their hobby is now accessible to too many people. Look, fuck off with that logic, ok? You’re forgetting that in the last year Target and other monster chains also stock vinyl.

People hold on to exclusivity. The exclusivity of their hobby, their collections, even the bands and music they “love.” I would hear people complain on a nearly daily basis about how they no longer are interested in certain bands or going to their shows because “too many people got into them.” This idea of wanting something to be exclusively “yours” shows such disdain for the artists and what they do. Let me ask you something: just because people have latched onto a band you’re into and now they have some modicum of success and might be able to pay a bill or stop eating peanut butter sandwiches they’ve now lost what spoke to you in the first place? In certain instances when a band changes to fit a popular sound I can understand, but that’s only like 20% of the time I’ve heard complaints.

The growth of the vinyl industry into the sight of mainstream culture has brought in far more of the curiosity seekers than I could have imagined. Fossils from far and wide, some who crossed the land bridge to see Elvis’ first performance, are attracted to the bright colors and smell of moldy cardboard. The amount of shit these people bring in thinking they’ve secured their retirement is astounding. I instituted an “appointment only” policy to buying records but no one pays any attention to that.

I’ve found the rudest and angriest people in my local area are all the ones who are trying to sell their youth. It’s a strange thing, being rude to someone who controls what, if any, money you might get for your belongings. “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN YOU WON’T BUY THEM? I BROUGHT THEM ALL THE WAY HERE” is a general quote. These people are confounded because the man on the TV said records are coming back and that asshole in Detroit found a storage locker with a lawnmower, a human corpse, and three records worth college tuition (if you’re going to a school your parents won’t brag about) but the man behind the counter in front of them (who had to wash his hands twice while looking over the collection) doesn’t want to do anything but burn the records they hauled in.

Fortunately the vinyl boom we’re talking about generally means you can send them to your competitor down the way.

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The alphabet is a confusing grouping of magical signals that only the most learned necromancers can discern and unlock. This is something that I and most record store folks have learned. It’s the sort of shit Mark Twain would make a comment about and you’d use as a meme if he were still alive. No, Led Zeppelin would not be in ‘Z’ nor would Frank Zappa be in ‘F’. “Well I left my glasses at home” is not an acceptable excuse for a stupid question. Why the fuck would you leave home without your glasses?

Did you drive here? How is that not disturbing you? It shows the world is a cruel and unfair place when I get pulled over for an inspection sticker that expired a week prior but Helen Keller is on the road running over cats and probably texting.

People also walk into a store and yell random questions into the ether hoping their asinine requests will be answered by the magical genie who will just pop up like the assholes in a State Farm commercial. I understand everyone is busy and sometimes you need help locating something in a jiffy. But manners and an inside voice go a long way.

You walk into a lot of stores and it looks like the clerks aren’t busy but in many cases they’re working online to prepare their Amazon or Discogs stores for the upcoming holidays. Being rude about things isn’t going to help your case.

In the spirit of full disclosure I did once get fired from a record store for not standing up and showing a customer what part of ‘B’ the Beatles were in. To be fair, we also sold crack pipes at this store and I was at a very interesting part of the book I was reading. I never said I wasn’t lazy but that doesn’t make me the rule here.

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One thing I missed last year but have been made aware of either through what goes on in front of me or through other stores is a more disturbing problem then why so many copies of Rumours sold this week: the harassment of female employees. I know this is an issue in every walk of life but it probably should be addressed here.

Guys, I get that it’s a great thing that you’ve gone into a store and there’s a lady who shares some of your common interests. But, like in any situation, if you try to make an advance and she says “no” then you need to back off.

Watching how creepy some guys get is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It’s also worrisome. In spaces that deal to counter cultures you will always have people who’ve been socially inept their entire life and treat the place with a solemn set of emotions. That’s fine, that’s what music is for. But if upon being rejected your first instinct is to create a seventeen volume mix cd set with notes on why each individual song reminds you of the girl who said “no” then maybe you need to sit down and reevaluate your life, preferably with a doctor.

If she is giving signs that she’s only being nice to you because it’s a job and you’re a customer then I’d keep that four page letter involving a few lines of poetry mixed in inappropriately for kicks in your pocket. Look, the long and short of it is simple: stop being a moist, heavily breathing creep. It’s never acceptable for you to touch a woman when she is helping you figure out the alphabet to find whatever record you think will impress her. If you’re told to calm down or to leave, then leave. Don’t go back. You’ve lost your privileges. Don’t be “that guy” who the stores share stories and photos of because you come across as a walking Amber Alert.

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I still value brick and mortar stores. I value the sense of community they can give to a town as a place where subcultures can meet and exchange ideas. It’s a place where people can pick up a record that will enrich their lives. Even with things like Record Store Day, which attract the flippers and businessmen (or to a much lesser and sadder degree: Cassette Store Day). I still believe that the history and future of independent music rests on the shoulders of brick and mortars, for as long as they can carry it.

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