November 24, 1998 was a Tuesday. Like many Tuesdays as a teenager and throughout my 20s, I’m in line at a check-out with music in my hand.
On this day: a CD copy of Pearl Jam’s “Live on Two Legs.”
As I get to the counter of the HMV at Upper Canada Mall, I notice the same album I’m about to buy, but not on compact disc. There, perched above the cabinets behind the cash registers, is a vinyl copy.
“Is that for sale?” I ask. It’s already been sold, I’m told.
“But we can do a special order for you.” My eyes light up. I purchase the CD copy (to listen to in my Discman as much as I possibly could in the next few weeks) and gave my name and phone number to the clerk. I'd get a phone call as soon as it’s in.
That HMV moved to two different locations during its remaining 15-or-so years at Upper Canada Mall. The special order never arrived.
A lifetime of record collecting has come and gone between then and this past Saturday. But, finally, after almost 25 years, I got to spin my own copy of “Live on Two Legs” and hear the first words out of Eddie Vedder’s mouth.
“The waiting drove me mad.” Fitting, if not a touch inaccurate.
Saturday was Record Store Day at independent shops throughout Canada and around the world. Typically held in April (with an offshoot on Black Friday), this year Record Store Day was split in two, a pandemic-driven pivot similar to those found in so many other industries. As one of the Record Store Day exclusives, “Live on Two Legs” was re-released, on clear vinyl, and I would be damned if I was going to be shut out again, even if it meant waiting two hours in line before spending 11 total minutes in the store.
Since 2008, Record Store Day has been a way of showcasing the importance of independent record stores and the culture they help to cultivate in their communities. Today, it’s celebrated on every continent that houses a record store (get it together, Antarctica) and on Saturday, stores in our area saw lineups of devotees waiting to grab that one (or several) special limited edition record they just had to add to their collection.
I’m not so blind to realize there are issues with Record Store Day that go beyond supply chain issues. Like most good things, it’s been somewhat sullied by corporate greed (only Visa will know how much I spent in total between the April day and Saturday) and unfortunate gimmicks (countless picture discs, three-inch records, or worse, cassette tapes). But it’s still a great day for a community to form and more people to enjoy the warmth that a physical piece of media can provide.
And we’re lucky in these parts to not only have the stores we do but that they also made it through the pandemic. Every time I walk into one of my locals (the plural is on purpose because I feel like a regular in more than one shop), I think of Rob Gordon from “High Fidelity,” explaining how he stayed afloat as the owner of Championship Vinyl.
“I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here – mostly young men – who spend all their time looking for deleted Smith singles and original, not rereleased – underlined – Frank Zappa albums. Fetish properties are not unlike porn. I’d feel guilty taking their money, if I wasn’t… well… kinda one of them.”
As an aside, it’s not just “young men.” While those of us Saturday morning were predominantly white men of a certain age, the act of buying and appreciating records is as inclusive as ever and those who rally in opposition to that (who, admittedly, are likely white men of a certain age or writing ridiculous books like “Record Collecting For Girls”) need to come correct.
Having a record collection, I will admit, makes absolutely no sense. They’re inconvenient (you can only listen to them in one location) and expensive (in the US, part of the reason vinyl is now a more than $1 billion annual industry is the $30 average sticker price). They’re bulky and awkward; I’m moving in the next month and the only thing I’m not sure how I’m getting from Point A to Point B is the thousand or so records currently neatly organized in my living room.
But the only sense any collection needs to make is that it fills something inside you that you might not have realized you need. Whether it’s comic books or Faberge eggs, having a collection of anything is the ultimate “you do you” moment. You barely need to justify it to yourself, let alone anyone. All it has to do is feel right.
And after all this time, few things feel more right than cutting into the wrap around the jacket, taking the record from the sleeve, putting it on the platter and dropping the needle.