Whether You Want It Or Not

 

The first time I fell for an Apple product was in my friend Mike Dubin’s car. We had met in the parking lot of a Tower Records in Carle Place, NY. I got in his Mini and there was this white cassette sized looking box, but a little fatter. It had a white cable sticking out of it. It had a few buttons, a wheel, and a digital screen. I asked him what it was.

            “Pick a band to listen to,” he said, “literally anything.”

I decided within a split-second upon a local band that we were both friends with called Inside. He reached over, dialed up something on the wheel, and within seconds the first song from the Inside record was playing on his car speakers.

            “Is that… is that an iPod?” I asked incredulously.

It was the first time I had ever seen one for real. I had heard about it though. 5 gigabytes of storage for 1,000 songs. It seemed unreal and impossible, but here it was and every song you could possibly want to listen to at that moment was stored right there in a box on Dubin’s dashboard. I fell in love with that little thing right there.

I’ll admit it. I am an Apple fan. Maybe not at the hardcore level where I won’t admit that all of their products are flawed in some way. I am, however, a fan enough that every time a new product is released I will drop what I’m doing to watch its announcement happen in real time, usually via a text and photo live stream through some third party blog. You got me, Apple. If any other company released a new version of an old product I probably wouldn’t ever know about it or realize it. But, for some reason, life stops whenever Apple holds a conference to unleash their newest, latest, and greatest unto the world.

I can look at the evolution of their devices and their contributions to the music world, a world that has given me purpose and a career, with much reverence. They have reinvented the way we listen to and purchase music time and time again. Whether it was via the iPod, or through iTunes, the App Store, or through the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has changed the game and forced a dying business model to figure out a way to stay relevant.

What we all didn’t anticipate was how we would eventually devalue music thanks to their technologies and the byproducts of their innovations. At once we had an entire catalog of music at our fingertips for purchase. We became digital hoarders. Our iPods became larger and larger. Most of us were storing increasingly larger collections of music that we listened to maybe once or never. It was so easy to buy, download, rip, steal, and store music. What we once put a price on became more of an all you can eat buffet.

This is why Apple foisting the newest U2 record Songs Of Innocence upon everyone via iTunes as a “gift” for the new iPhone release is not only some serious 1984-style invasiveness, it’s also the death knell of The Value Of Music. That a collective group of billionaires has participated in “the largest album release” of all time is not surprising. They have nothing to lose. They can’t lose. They are The 1% of the music world. Shit, U2 are The 1% of the world period.

 

Here we are in 2014, where everyone believes everything is owed to him or her. Everyone needs to have everything instantly. You want to watch Karate Kid 2 right now? Turn on Netflix. You need to order a new dining room set while streaming the new Interpol record? You have Amazon and Spotify apps on your phone. You could conceivably do that while walking to get your morning coffee, which you’ll pay for by momentarily switching from your Amazon app to scan your Starbucks card stored in your phone. You need to pull up the pitching stats for 1986 New York Yankees? There’s no need to even type anything in. You can talk to your phone and it will tell you that Dennis Rasmussen went 18-6 and Dave Righetti had 46 saves.

No one worked for any of that information or entertainment. It was just there waiting for them to consume it. There’s nothing special about any of it either. It’s just a crappy movie sequel, a decent record, some tables and chairs, and numbers about since retired baseball players. Now your art has to be part of this cultural white noise, thanks to the new standard set by U2.

Most people already have a hard enough time wanting to pay for music, even a modest amount, so giving it away sets the wrong precedent. Not that there shouldn’t be music made freely available. All artists can and should do this at some point in their careers. It’s called promotion. It is however detrimental to the way we view how all artists will have to release their music. For free, straight to iTunes. If it’s good enough for U2 you will have to make it good enough for you, dear struggling artist.

I remember hopping in a van to criss-cross the United States for months on end, playing shows and selling our CDs out of cardboard boxes. We purchased them for close to 7 dollars a piece from our label, Victory Records, in a time where digital distribution was already catching on pretty hard. The problem we started to face was that people already wanted to get our record for free. They were digging it up on Napster. They were trading burned copies with their friends. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that people were even listening to us and seeking it out in the first place, but it hurts to put your heart and soul, your time and energy, fussing over visual and sonic details, spending all the money you were given, only to have some kid in Cheyenne, Wyoming tell you that he already got your songs off of Limewire. So, you stuff the CD back into the box and that little lunch you had planned for yourself tomorrow disappears. Thanks to some illegally downloaded copy of our record we were only able to put so much gas in the van.

Now U2 has gone ahead and said, “It’s okay. Give it all away. In fact give it to the people who don’t even want it.” Easy for you to say, Bono and The Edge and the Bass Player. You have all the space and time and money in the world to do whatever the hell it is you want to do. With the whole planet looking in their direction, with the biggest technological company on their side, with the most used music entertainment software and distribution method at their disposal, U2 “released” a record for free. More precisely, they forced it on everyone who uses their products.

I am fully aware this isn’t the first time an artist has used their status to promote a record by giving it away for free. Radiohead did a ‘pay-what-you-like’ experiment with In Rainbows.Jay-Z released his album Magna Carta Holy Grail for free via Samsung, but even that required downloading an app. This is the first time an album has been gifted - whether you wanted it or not. To 500 million plus people. Opening your iTunes app that morning must have felt a lot like getting that ugly sweater from your old Aunt Sally on Christmas. “Aw, you shouldn’t have.”

No really, Apple. You really shouldn’t have.

Why are you gifting me the music of a band that I haven’t found relevant in over 25 years? Don’t you have something in those secret iTunes algorithms, that suggests music and feeds ads to everyone, that can also calculate how quickly I’m going to delete this from my already oversized music library? Don’t you realize that by giving away the music of hyper-wealthy and unfortunately influential rock stars, that you are damning the model you created; the model that worked to suppress the free illegal trade of digital media by attaching a monetary value to it. This sends a message that every artist must work towards recording an album and unleashing it upon the public for free. That’s because Apple did it and Apple is right. Forever and ever, amen.

Yes, I realize that it is an option. I don’t have any responsibility one way or another to download the U2 record to my phone or my computer. I never will either in case you’re wondering, but it still irks me that it’s there. It’s the sign of shitty things to come. Welcome to the new technological musical world order where they tell you what you like.

Basically, this whole thing could have been 2 words: Fuck U2.

I’ll still buy an iPhone 6 though. When’s that coming out?

The Tower Records Chronicles: U2 Paid My Rent

 

“This side is for returns and tickets only.”

Not only was it on the sign, but also it was something that I said close to one hundred times a day to all types of customers. When you walked into the Tower Records on W.4th Street and Broadway in Manhattan you were walking into a giant fortress of music. From the time the store opened at 9 a.m. until the doors were locked at midnight, the revolving doors never stopped revolving, and the people never stopped coming in. They arrived here from places all over the map. West coast, down south, Japan, Europe. You name it, they came from there to shop at Tower.

“No, this isn’t a register. If you need help finding something I can look it up for you, or if you need tickets for a show. I can’t ring you up here,” I would say all day long. Sometimes I’d be trying to have a fruitless conversation with someone who was a guest in our country and spoke very little English, our only common language being music. Other times I would be having a long winded conversation about New York hardcore bands with Glen, the other customer service clerk and shift supervisor. All day long, Europeans with stacks of records that they couldn’t get in their home countries without paying an arm, a leg, and a Deutsche mark for, would wander the aisles. I was always impressed with the amount of money they could spend in one shot. I’d eye up those hundred dollar bills wishing I could skim a few of them for myself to pay my rent and maybe have a little left over for some records, weed, and food. Even then I had my priorities in order. In the meantime I would send them over to the other side of the store with their records and their cash.

Within the first few months of being there, it was clear that I wasn’t meant to be stuck on the main registers. The floor manager Pete, a tall Elvis Costello looking guy who wore a fedora long before guys in Brooklyn tried to make it cool again, discovered that I knew enough about music to not be stuck mindlessly ringing up people all day long. Him and Glen had me switch over to the customer service desk where I could answer questions about music, play music, take returns and exchanges, and sell tickets. Somehow I got the golden schedule – opening at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Once in a rare while I had to work on a Sunday or I would swap shifts with someone’s night shift so I could go out to a show and sleep in the next day. More often than not, I would drag my hungover self to work the next morning where I would be greeted by Glen. Pretty much every day was the same.

“What up herbie?” he would ask while unlocking the door. Technically I was supposed to be there at 8 a.m., but I would show up at 8:30. I’d pop my headphones off, shake off the loud music and tell him, in my best Jeff Spicoli impression, “I just couldn’t make it on time.”

“Whatever. You see what show is going on sale Saturday morning?” he asked this one particular morning.

“No. I don’t keep up with that stuff. You know that.”

It was true. Unless it was in the Village Voice show listings for Wetlands, CBGB, or Coney Island High, I was pretty much lost to what you were talking about. The exception now was that working behind the customer service desk I now had the added responsibility of running a Ticketmaster terminal. I never asked to run the big onsales, but the mechanics of doing so were pretty simple to me. The system was archaic with a mountain of flaws, and since all the terminals were connected to one giant Ticketmaster brain, when something went on sale it would bog the system down something tremendous. Glen always ran the sales, even though I probably knew the most about the computer and how to program it.

“Check it out, and if you want, you can make a little extra money. Just get here at8 on Saturday. Don’t be late.”

At this point no one had told me anything about it being cool to come in for a 6th day that week, but I figured an extra $30 would be awesome. Glen said it was cool, and he was the supervisor, so why not?

I suggested asking Nelson, the other floor supervisor I usually worked with.

“I’ll just ask Nelson if…” he cut me off.

“No. It’s fine. You don’t need to tell Nelson. Just check the show on the computer right now, and then run down to the deli and pick up breakfast. Same as usual.”

I checked the computer and there it was.

U2. Giants Stadium. PopMart Tour. May 31, 1997.

Glen looked over my shoulder, “You in?”

I shrugged, “Sure, why not?”

“Cool, you’re going to run the machine.”

Great. Before I even had a chance to discuss it, I had signed myself up for an unending line of rabid U2 fans that would sooner tear my head off than walk away from that line empty handed. When shows this big went on sale, there would be people from as far away as Eastern Long Island, Connecticut, and Philadelphia all trying to grab tickets from the same system. Even with a stadium show this big you were lucky to have access to tickets for even an hour. There was going to be a lot of disappointed fans. Now I wasn’t really feeling this extra $30, after taxes, but I had already agreed to do it.

Every morning I would trek down Broadway to 8th St. to pick up breakfast sandwiches for the people on the rock floor who threw in money. Usually it was just for me and Glen, and mostly it was an excuse for me to smoke a couple of extra cigarettes before I was stuck behind the customer service desk for hours before my next cigarette break. I timed my walk from the front of the store, where I’d usually light my cigarette while still inside walking out, to the front door of the deli perfectly to be able to smoke almost an entire cigarette. It was the same for my walk back. To this day the smell of cigarette smoke mixed with coffee and freshly made deli breakfast sandwiches is quintessentially New York to me. There’s something in the chemicals of both cigarettes and bacon that interact to create a smell that only exists in my memory bank of smells. It can transport me right back onto those gum and trash covered sidewalks, walking under scaffolding, past the McDonald’s across from the NYU Tisch School.  It was New York City in the 90’s undergoing a serious facelift. The university kids brought their art, and their dreams, and their parents’ money. They were living in places like the Lower East Side and some of them were starting to move out to Brooklyn, which was basically a no man’s land, unless you had grown up there, or you were crazy. I would smoke my cigarette and wonder why I couldn’t have what they had. I barely had enough to get by. Luckily smokes hadn’t reached prohibitive prices in the city yet, so that remained one of my cheaper thrills. As I understood it then, and now, these were kids who came from money, whose families paid for them to have a giant playground. I was resigned to the fact that I would have to struggle to get anything that I wanted. I’d finish my cigarette and flick it into the street, clutching the brown bag of sandwiches, holding on to my flimsy dreams in my head, and head in to start my day.

The Saturday morning of the U2 ticket sale started like every other one of these days. I bought a couple of sandwiches, smoked a cigarette, and headed in to get the computer ready for the onsale. I had programmed a shortcut key on the computer to allow it to automatically have the printer under the desk spit out the maximum number of the best available tickets with the push of one button. It was in this way that we wouldn’t waste time collecting cash, and having the already bogged down system cut us off prematurely. We only accepted cash for tickets, so we would just press the shortcut button over and over until the show sold out, and collect the cash later. The number of tickets we would get out wouldn’t even be enough to cover the amount of people in line anyway. In doing it this way, we knew we could get the maximum amount of tickets out of the machine before it sold out, and we’d just ask the customers how many tickets they needed, do the math on the register, collect the cash and send them off.

At 8 a.m. the line was already out of control. It was wrapping from the front door, down 4th Street and down to Lafayette. It was going to be a mighty task to try to satisfy all of these people, but I was going to give it my best shot.

“Okay, here’s the event code,” Glen told me handing me a piece of paper with a bunch of letters and numbers. That was how you accessed the event in the computer. Every venue had a 3-letter code and the date corresponding to the show. You typed in the code and it would prompt you for how many tickets you needed if the event was already on sale. “Do me a favor though, program another key to check for June 1st.” Glen was convinced they were going to add another date. “Also, do one for June 3rd.”

It was weird to me that he figured to skip a day. Then I realized he knew something I didn’t know. Someone had tipped him off to the fact that these were the other two dates. They hadn’t been announced yet, and they were going to blindside everyone, except us.

“Here’s the deal herbie…you hit that button until the first show sells out and then start banging on the next date. First ones that come out put them aside.”

If you ever wondered how in the 90’s all these ticket broker services flourished, and why no matter how long you waited in line or how far up in the line you were, you just couldn’t seem to get prime tickets, this is going to come as no shock to you.  I learned that morning, that when tickets went on sale to seated events, there were guys like me and Glen putting aside tickets for someone who would come in later and pay a premium for those seats. That someone was not a fan, but rather some innocuous representative of a much shadier company that would shell out high prices to get the very best seats that they could resell through their service. Sometimes we would get up to $200 per ticket on top of their face value, knowing full well that they were going to sell them for 3 to 4 times that amount. It was dirty and it was ugly, but it’s how it was done.

As soon as that first show went on sale the tickets started popping out of the machine. Glen controlled the line. He would let in 2 people at a time up to the counter where he’d add up the money owed and give them seats from the pile of tickets I had accumulated. My only task was to punch keys, and tear tickets off the machine.

Every so often I would hit the buttons for the other two shows to see if they had been entered into the system. Nothing yet.

After about 5 minutes pretty much every seat that was coming off the machine was garbage. Upper deck. Obstructed view. Nothing worth paying even face value for. We didn’t get anything prime from this show that a scalper would pay us anything extra for. It was a bummer. Maybe I was only going to make a few extra dollars from Tower for coming in today. The adrenaline thrill was dying down. I kept pressing the other shortcut keys to check for added shows, when all of a sudden…

U2. Giants Stadium. PopMart Tour. June 1, 1997.

Since the setup of the desk and the position of the customers didn’t allow for them to see the screen, the only eyes on the screen were mine and Glen’s. My heart was beating a little faster. This was it. He gave me a quick nudge and I hit the auto-sell key I had set up. Tickets started to print out below me. I prayed that the people coming in couldn’t hear the machine printing out these tickets. I turned the music up in the store a little louder. Fucking U2 PopMart, but whatever. It helped drown out the sound of the printer which was currently spitting out tickets these people could only dream of randomly acquiring.

First printout: 2nd row center. 8 tickets. Second printout: 4th row slightly off center. 8 tickets. Third printout: 15th row. 8 tickets.

24 tickets that would make us a windfall of cash, and customers in line didn’t even know a second show had gone on sale yet. I pulled all 24 and discreetly placed them in an envelope in a drawer under the desk. Once those were safely tucked away, I started hammering away at the keyboard and feigned surprise.

“A SECOND SHOW IS ON SALE. PLEASE HAVE CASH READY. TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE FOR A SECOND SHOW AT GIANTS STADIUM!” I called out to everyone inside the store and outside the front door. There was excitement in the crowd and a renewed hope that some of these people would get some decent seats.

Truth be told, the next batch of tickets that I actually ended up selling to customers was not even that bad, but the 24 tickets that I had pulled for Glen and myself to sell off were basically paper gold. We were looking at thousands of dollars on top of what the tickets were actually worth. It all happened so fast and stealthily that I almost didn’t feel bad about what I was doing. I felt even less bad at 2pm when the time came to cash out the ticket drawer and Glen’s contact came to pick up.

“Wait here. Don’t bring that drawer down to count out yet.”

This was the part where we had to settle the amount of cash that we owed for the ticket we had put aside. I watched from the customer service desk as they made casual conversation in the front of the store before dipping outside quickly where the exchange of cash took place, plain as day, in front of all of New York City. Glen came back in and came behind the desk where I was about to pull the drawer. He placed a Ticketmaster envelope on top of the register. It had my name on it.

“Stick that in your drawer herbie. Count it downstairs. Use whatever is in there to make your drawer even and the rest is yours.”

There was so much cash in that little envelope it made me nervous. There were cameras all over the store watching what we were doing, which all fed to a security office located at the top floor by the elevator. There were cameras in the count-out room as well. This is where all the register drawers were brought at the end of a shift to make sure they were balanced and to package all the money for deposit. I made the transition of money from the envelope into the drawer look as natural as possible. I didn’t count everything that was in there, but once it was settled and my register was balanced I closed the little envelope back up. The rest of the cash in there was mine.

There was a camera right above me, so I had to figure out a way to get the envelope and its contents into my pocket. I casually grabbed an enormous dot matrix printout of the day’s transactions and placed it on top of the counter with the envelope underneath. Then I pretended to knock the printout over onto the floor, causing a huge paper mess to unfold everywhere.

“My bad! Sorry, I got it!” I said as I pulled everything off the counter onto the floor where the envelope was mixed in at the bottom of the pile of papers. As I was bent down there I quickly and casually slipped the envelope into my sock. When I was done with counting out, I went straight for a bathroom stall. While sitting there pretending to use the bathroom, I pulled the envelope out of my sock.

There were ten 100 dollar bills in there. Just like I had seen all those Europeans bring in there. I felt bad inside, like I had just done something wrong. But, was it wrong? I didn’t steal anything. My drawer was even and there was nothing on camera of me doing anything illegal. It was a very gray area, but not one that I wasn’t willing to explore again and again over the years.

More than anything I liked the rush of it all. Some people smoke cigarettes. Others drink booze or put shit up their noses for a thrill. I would do all these things at one point or another, but at that moment I was hooked on money.

I didn’t even want to work the rest of the day, and knew I didn’t really have to. I had already done what I was meant to do, so I put the money in my pocket and headed out of the bathroom back down to the main floor where Glen was sitting at the customer service desk. I thanked him for letting me come in on a Saturday to make a little extra cash.

“No problem herbie,” he said, “see you Monday.”

 

The Tower Records Chronicles: An Intro

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Sacramento, 1960. A man named Russ Solomon opened the first Tower Records in his father’s drugstore. It was named so after the Tower Theater which resided next door. Over the years many other stores opened in his international chain, including store number 125, in 1983, in New York City’s Greenwich Village. I was employed by store number 125, and later at another store in Massapequa on Long Island. We considered ourselves part of the record store retail elite, and be damned if you didn’t think so.

In late 1996 I moved into a small three-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on the corner of Rivington and Norfolk Street. I shared my living space with a girl from Colorado named Dara and my best friend David’s former roommate Marc. We lived above an abandoned storefront and next to a makeshift church that seemed to have services at the strangest hours every day of the week. To the left of the steps leading to the front door was a fenced in area for overflowing trash cans completely infested with giant rats. My first floor bedroom window faced Rivington below, across from a junior high school playground. By day you could hear the screaming and yelling of hormonally charged pre-teens, playing basketball, and chasing each other around. By night you’d hear the screaming and moaning of junkies parading the streets at night looking for a fix. Within my first week there I bore witness to a drug deal gone wrong. I watched someome get violently stabbed from that very same window. This was how it was in New York City in the mid 90’s.

When I moved from my parents’ house on Long Island I didn’t take much with me. A limited amount of clothes in a portable closet, since my room didn’t have one, a mattress which I put right on the ground below the windows without a box spring or frame, a few milk crates of records, and a CD shelving unit that was at maximum capacity already. I moved almost everything I owned when I was 18 years old in one of the last cars I ever owned, my trusty blue-grey Plymouth Reliant K.  

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While my roommates were attending New York University, I had dropped out of college with no real plan or direction other than working as a clerk at Tower Records on West 4th Street and Broadway. I had worked at a major record store on Long Island and decided I could easily transition to the Tower in downtown Manhattan while looking for other jobs. I never followed through with the second part. At the time, that was considered a somewhat privileged retail job. You had to take a musical knowledge quiz and go through an interview, which seemed pretty intense at the time. Especially rigorous for a retail establishment, but I know it was to maintain a sort of heightened sense of informed cool and cutting edge that places like Sam Goody lacked. It kind of was somewhere between the movies Clerks and Empire Records. We were crass and obnoxious. We showed up late and hungover. We hated customers, and held our own tastes and opinions of music in extremely high regard. Very few days would go by where we wouldn’t subtly belittle patrons based on their musical choices. 

Tower Records in Greenwich Village was a Mecca of sorts for music fans. At one point in the 1990s while I worked there, the 4 floor, 3 store complex, encompassed the entire south side of West 4th Street between Broadway and Lafayette Street, and the video and book store across Lafayette. It was statistically shown that this megalith of music retail was responsible for 1 percent of the CD sales in all of the United States. To put that in perspective, let’s say for rough figure sake, Green Day’s Dookie (a very popular record in that era) sold 6 million copies by that time, which means roughly 60000 had been sold out of that store alone. That’s 2000 boxes of the industry standard 30-to-a-box. The numbers themselves were staggering.

The sheer volume of product and pace of people that came into and out of store 125 was massive and breakneck. From doors being unlocked at 9am ‘til they closed at midnight, every night of the year, the aisles of all 4 floors would be full, from dance music in the basement, rock on the main floor, hip hop in the mezzanine, and classical and jazz on the top floor, all being staffed by New York City’s perceived elite in musical snobbery on a grand retail level. Sure there were snobbier and hipper folks working at places like Other Music right across the street, or Kim’s on St. Mark’s Place, but in our hearts and minds we were the taste makers of the Village on a much larger scale. In reality we were just a bunch of lowlife cashiers and concert ticket sellers.

Everyone had a dream and twice as many of us ran a scam. There were ticket scams, fake return scams, straight up stealing cash scams. You name it, someone was doing it to supplement the meager $6 an hour most of us were making. I knew people who had worked there for five or more years and topped out at $10 an hour, so pulling and selling tickets on the side for 10 times the face value didn’t even strike us as weird or illegal. It’s how you survived. Even though it was the 90’s in New York City, rent still had to be paid, as cheap as it was. Even if that meant ringing people up for cash with no receipt and dipping into the register when no one was looking to pocket the money.

Every day my roommates and I would leave the apartment at roughly the same time. They would go to classes at nearby NYU, and I would head to work in the village. I’d put on my foam earphones and pop a cassette into my Sony Walkman. I could listen to approximately 3/4 of one side of a tape on my walk from the Lower East Side to 4th and Broadway. Anything from full albums by Madball, Sick Of It All, The Toasters, and various demos of hardcore and punk bands, all of which I had dubbed from CDs onto tape. Or, I could listen to one for the many mix tapes I had made specifically for the walk to and from the record store. Walking to work was basically a necessity as I could only afford a limited number of subway tokens on the $200 a week I was taking home after taxes. The rest of my money went to rent and food, but I was 18, living on my own, by my own rules in an apartment that I shared with two other kids.

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I worked alongside a strange cast of characters. Everyone was in the city for one reason or another. Whether it was to be an actor, a writer, a musician, or maybe aspire to open a record store of their own someday. They were all represented at Tower. We had this strange little family of outcasts who were the cultural heartbeat of lower Manhattan. Tourists and celebrities alike would come into Tower and ask our opinion. They wanted to hear what we were listening to. They wanted to be us, or so we thought. People would ask us what was playing on the store’s stereo system, and without even batting an eyelash or speaking a word to them, casually toss a sealed copy of the CD on the counter for them to look at, all without breaking from the inane conversations we were having with our fellow employees. We were too cool. Even our employee nametags were shaped like all access backstage laminates– a precursor to the work ID badge that I would continue to wear for the rest of my adult life.

Behind all these city dreams lay a lot of darkness. There were people stealing cash to feed their kids. Some of us were running a ticket brokering scam just to make enough money to get by. Lots of people in all stages of drug use, abuse, and addiction. Recovering addicts. Relapses. It was sad to watch, but all the while we maintained our downtown NYC cool. No one broke character. As much as we were close and let each other in one another’s lives there were tremendous walls. No one wants to be the weak link and no one wants to wear their troubles on their sleeve. Eventually those cracks start to show, and by then it’s too late. I watched the city eat some of these people alive and I wonder what ever became of them. I wonder if they’re even still alive. I got out and briefly moved to the suburbs before I got swallowed up in it. I guess I was lucky.

My name is Brian Keith Diaz, and I worked at Tower Records from the years 1996 to 2000. I worked a type of retail job that is now all but obsolete. I lived in a part of a city during a time when it was going through a massive transition from hell on earth to a playground for the rich. These are the stories of some of the people I met, worked with, became friends with, and lost contact with. It’s the last “real” job that I ever had, and it was incredibly important in shaping my life in music and my relationships with other people. Most of all it was really fucking fun. 

continued in The Tower Records Chronicles: U2 Paid My Rent

A Wordless Two Months

Two months. It’s been two long months since my last post. Where did the time go? I don’t even know. 

Two months ago I wrote a post that garnered more reblogs, retweets, and attention than anything I have ever written. It was a heartfelt post about a friend in a troubled time. I got mostly positive response to it but there was of course the negative. People who didn’t understand my angle on it, came at me like I was trying to defame my friend’s character. My blog post was edited and reused without my permission and without people contacting me, or sometimes without even crediting me. Sensationalist “journalists” contacted me via social media to expound on the words I had already put out there. I refused to help them out. 

I put a lot of thought into what I write, and I put a lot on the line. The negative attention that I received and the mixing up of my words left me a little disillusioned and I realized that even in our incredible digital age where everyone has access to anything their minds could possibly dream up, words are still one of the most powerful tools in existence. I felt as if maybe my thoughts were hurtful or misconstrued. I got turned off to writing for a bit. My intentions were never to have my words lead to more grief. 

I spent the last 2 months on a major tour around and across the United States. That’s my day job. I had a lot of time to think. The reason I still tour with a band, and not in a performance capacity, is because I let words get to me. I let other people tell me that I failed as a musician. I let other people dictate my path. I’m not saying my situation now isn’t good, and I haven’t made a good life out of what I do, but that isn’t the entirety of my being.

Today I woke up and decided that I couldn’t let that happen anymore. I got inspired to write some more again. I have ideas. I have stories to tell. Even if I’m yelling into an abyss. If you know me personally, you know I can’t stop talking. Why should this be any different?

I’m working on things. I’m writing again. 

Thank you to everyone who reads, supports, and bought a book. Thank you to everyone reblogs and reposts. Thanks to the naysayers and the people who hate me too. You are all the fuel I need to start this over again. I already wrote one book. How hard could it be to write another?

New stuff coming soon. I promise. 

Deryck

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(photo by Matt Whibley, Europe 2011)

In October of 2010 I was looking for a new touring job. I had worked with my close friends Motion City Soundtrack for years and years prior, and had finished my last stint of Warped Tour that summer. I didn’t really ever work for bands that I didn’t know personally until after Warped Tour of 2010. I got a call to go work for Primus. It gave me the confidence to be able to go work for people I didn’t know. I liked working for Primus but it was a very different scene than what I was used to, even though they were a band I idolized when I was kid in high school learning to play bass. They were an older band and crew, and I was kind of looked at as “the kid”. I learned to be a bit more responsible on that tour, and in no way was it not fun, but it was a way more mellow vibe than I was used to. 

On that summer’s Warped Tour I didn’t really leave our stage or the bus much. I have a well documented passionate hate of summer festival touring, and Warped Tour is at the top of my shit list. Our stage featured some of our old friends - Alkaline Trio, All-American Rejects - so we didn’t leave the stage too often. As a main stage band we were pretty well taken care of as much as you can be on a tour like that. Truth be told, since I was just the guitar tech and nothing else, it was a far easier day for me than it had been in years past.  It left me a lot of free time to spend in the A/C on the bus, but I also ended up wandering off to the other stages. Specifically, drummer Tony Thaxton and I would head over to one of the side stages to watch a band that clearly should not have been playing the side stage - Sum 41. I’m pretty sure in 2001 you’d be living under a rock, and one with no radio or television, to have missed out on Sum 41’s gigantic hit song “Fat Lip”. We were pretty excited to see them as many times as we could, as they seriously put on a really excellent live show, regardless of what you think of their catalog of music. 

Through my friend Chris, who was tour managing Sum 41 at the time, I was able to meet them for the first time that summer. I remember walking onto their bus and thinking to myself, “holy shit, these guys go fucking hard.” The bus was littered with empty bottles of booze. Empty cans and bottles of beer, empty bottles of wine, empty vodka bottles, and empty bottles of Jack Daniel’s.

"It’s been a long tour, huh?" I asked Chris. 

"Long tour? Bro, this is from this last week!" he laughed, and recounted how much he had spent on alcohol on that summer alone.

I was floored. How could they party this much? How could anyone live through that. This isn’t the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, and even so, in those stories someone dies. I shook my head in disbelief, hung out for a while, and said goodbye to the dudes in the band, who at this point were all pretty wasted and not really paying attention to who was hanging out on their bus at all.

Fast forward back to October of 2010. I got a call from Chris asking me to replace a friend of mine who was guitar tech for Sum 41. He had just left to do another job, so I got on board with the Sum 41 crew. My first calls with their management team warned me, “Be prepared for a lot of shenanigans. I suggest you watch the videos they post online. They like to party. A lot. Just be prepared. They party. A lot.” I was aware from having met them that this would be true, but this was also coming from management now, so I went in with a bit of caution. 

My first tour with them was in Europe and I met up with the band for rehearsals in London. Like any other new kid on the first day of school I was met with a little bit of hesitation as we tried to figure each other out, and I found common ground with the guys in the band through drinking and partying. Even though I was working for bassist Cone and guitarist Tom, the other guys - drummer Stevo and singer/guitarist Deryck - all invited everyone in on the party. They very quickly became my friends. They were all funny, talented people, and I felt had been stigmatized by uppity critics and fair weather fans as being one dimensional. After being a band for almost 15 years they still worked hard and had thousands upon thousands of fans the world over. Sum 41 made their career by being on the road constantly, and that same work ethic would eventually unravel them a bit when coupled with all the partying.

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(Japanese airport with Sum 41. Photo by Matt Whibley)

I wish I could tell you that I remembered half of the things that went on on those tours, but I spent a lot of that time shitfaced. It wasn’t uncommon to go weeks at a time drinking until we blacked out without a break. The first Europe trip was a blur of Jack Daniel’s and vodka, shitty European cocaine, and non-stop partying. The party animal in me loved it but it had already started to take a toll on my body after several months. I couldn’t believe how far Deryck could go, though. I couldn’t get myself to walk from the bus to the venue some days, and here this guy was playing shows every single night for an hour or more, sweating, running around like a maniac, and killing a bottle of whiskey. It was insanity. 

Even from that first show I did with them in 2010, I noticed that he seemed a bit unhealthy. He was definitely looking a bit pale and had the visible signs of having partied a bit hard over the years. He looked tired. He was playing shows every day and hitting the bottle every night, sometimes into the daylight. For all intents and purposes Deryck was a functioning alcoholic by the time I met him, but I didn’t really see it that way. He worked hard and he played hard in my eyes. This was the reputation they had built for themselves and I had witnessed first hand. 

That year and a half I toured with them saw a lot of ups and downs for the Sum 41 guys. Especially with Deryck and his health. Ongoing back problems forced shows to be canceled. He tried going sober at the beginning of a Japanese tour and passed out on stage in Sapporo several songs into the set. An Australian tour was cut short when he contracted pneumonia, no doubt exacerbated by his excessive drinking. Even a day or two after being in a hospital in Sydney, he was at the airport sipping wine at 9am as if nothing had happened. This was the first time I was really upset and concerned for my friend’s health. Before that I was along for the ride and part of the circus. We all enabled one another and that was okay. 48 hours before that though, I had seen photos of him laying in a hospital bed and here he was on his way to Spain, drink in hand. It was the very same thing that probably got him in that predicament in the first place. Later that evening I kind of let him talk me into letting him have a bunch of drinks at the bar after everyone else refused to hang out with him and give him the go ahead, and he passed out in my hotel room right after we trashed a bunch of signs in the hallway causing a few hundred Euros in damage. As much as I love the guy, I started to realize that this was incredibly destructive. It had become the opposite of fun, regardless of what face everyone put on for the public.

Deryck Whibley is an incredibly talented guy. Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone who works for someone who the punk rock/indie/whatever community shuns because they deem them uncool, those people will always defend their employers. But, what you don’t understand is that they are talented people. I have worked for some incredibly popular bands who receive scathing reviews from the pens of people who haven’t contributed a second of their time to bettering the genre of music they so expertly criticize. All of those bands feature talented musicians who, like it or not, have excelled at their craft and have made a career out of their unique gift. Deryck is no exception. He is also a human being. The shame of it all is that it has taken him nearly dying for him to straighten himself out. 

Two days before Deryck went public with the horrifying story of what happened to him he called me out of the blue. I hadn’t heard from him in a year, and the last time I had seen him in person he said he was cutting back on his drinking, even though I could tell by looking at him that it was not fully true. I was in Los Angeles recently with a couple of days off and he texted me asking if he could call me. As you can imagine I was in horrible shock hearing what had just happened to him. He told me pretty much the same thing he eventually went on to tell the world. I got off the phone and cried. I was imagining my friend Deryck completely hitting rock bottom alone and it scared the shit out of me. 

The music business isn’t an easy industry to come out of unscathed. I have seen friends waste away. I have seen co-workers die. People are on top of the world one year and broke as fuck the next. I, myself, have been through my own trials and faced my own demons. Am I 100% clean and sober? No. Not by a long shot. But, every time I hear a story like this from someone I was close to, it brings me that much closer to just giving it all up. I look at the Brian Diaz of 2010, 2011, and 2012 and I can pinpoint those moments where it all could have gone wrong and thankfully it didn’t. 

I hate that Deryck is going through this. I hate that it took nearly dying for him to not completely throw his life and his talents away. I hate that he’s going to be remembered, at least for the time being, as a cautionary tale rather than the talented, good person that he is. But, goddamn it, I’m glad I worked for him and Sum 41 and I’m glad that I can still call them friends. I’m glad that Deryck is still alive. Life ain’t a fairytale. It’s what you make of it and a result of the decisions you make. I’m glad that in his sobriety he was able to come to terms with that and admit that. Hopefully some good comes out of the bad. The last thing I want to hear is another friend’s name attached to a list of rock ‘n’ roll casualties. 

I wish Deryck well and hope this is the beginning of something new and better in his life. 

image(Sum 41 in Chicago, 2011. Photo by me)

Podcasts starring Brian Keith Diaz

First off thanks to all of my friends with podcasts for allowing me to be on their shows. Secondly thanks to everyone who has listened to anything I have had to say on these shows. It was a lot of fun and I even learned a little about myself! Check out these shows I was on by clicking on each one…

GOING OFF TRACK w. Jonah Bayer

YOUR FAVORITE ALBUM w. Adam Santiago

FELIZ NAVIPOD w. Tony Thaxton

It’s the weekend. Buy a book from DeadXStop Publishing!!

It’s the weekend. Buy a book from DeadXStop Publishing!!

Music In The Time Of Cynicism

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Ever since I plugged a Packard-Bell computer into the landline phone jack of my parents’ house, and dialed into America Online, the way I related to and immersed myself in music completely changed. Suddenly there was a whole new way to take it all in. There were message boards, and newsgroups. There were rudimentary blogs with archaic and incredibly long URLs where independent reviewers gave their mostly uninformed opinions about bands from “the scene” of those days. I was able to extend far beyond the reaches of Long Island and connect with people whose scenes were vastly different than mine. I could find out about shows as they were happening somewhere on the other side of the country. Previously, I would order a fanzine out of the back of another fanzine, or I’d pick up an outdated copy of one at a show. I’d send a crisp 1 dollar bill through the U.S. mail to someone in a place I had never been to and would receive a poorly assembled copy, weeks later, of everything they opined on the month before.

The second I heard that AOL “welcome" voice my brain would salivate. I’d hit all my usual online haunts. Alt.punk. Alt.music.hardcore. Alt.music.ska. Sometimes even alt.punk.straight-edge just to stir the pot. We would have lively discussions about music. Mostly between fans and regulars on the boards. There were some trolls too. In those early dark days of the internet they existed merely to stoke the coals of conversation. Flame wars would erupt and butts would be hurt. Everyone would log in, tune in, and turn off the outside world. That is, until a phone call came through on your line and knocked you offline until someone would get off the phone allowing you to sign back in again.

We hadn’t really reached the way we consumed music and the internet in the present day just yet. It would take a few years of tweaking. The electronics got smaller and faster. The phone line was ditched in favor of the cable connection. Once that happened everyone was connected constantly. Storage space on computers got larger and cheaper. Programs for recording sounds became more user friendly, and everything started to have an interface that even the most novice of users could understand. Then, in 1997, a little program used to run an innocuous little file changed everything. 

When you opened up the app* a voice read, “Winamp… it really whips the llama’s ass!" for some reason. This simple little program, Winamp, allowed you to play a new file format called MP3. Up until then all our music had to be in physical form. We carried around CDs to play in a Discman, or a dubbed cassette for a Walkman. If it was a sound file on your computer it took up a massive amount of space, which meant having a digital music collection was basically unheard of. This little 3 megabyte wonder, the MP3, was about to change the world. Here I was downloading my first one in the year 1997. 

I waited nearly 30 minutes for the song to download. It was a copy of “Dammit” by Blink 182. Once I heard the “file’s done!” voice come through my speakers I found the folder, double clicked the file, and in seconds was listening to a completely illegally procured copy of a current hit song. This was the beginning of the downfall and the rebirth of the music industry as we know it. I’m not going to bore you with the step by step details of what came next and then after. We all know the story, the dominance and the downfall, how everyone (YES, EVERYONE) at some point participated in illegal file sharing in the late 90s, and then how iTunes came along and crushed all of that. Then streaming came along and everyone freaked out over how to regulate that, and on and on and on…

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Fast forward through Napster. And Limewire. And whatever came after that. Then PirateBay and torrents. And, now, Spotify and Rdio. 

Here were are 17 years after I first downloaded that innocent little file, and nearly 20 years after I first logged into a newsgroup to have a lively discussion about the local bands of my scene vs. the locals in some scene 1500 miles away. We now have instant access to every single thing we could possibly want, or seemingly so. The ideas of video-on-demand and music-on-demand are no longer ideas. They are reality. Not only can I search for some obscurity from my late teens, I can find it relatively easily, legally, and I can stream it from my cell phone and wirelessly broadcast it at top volume to every stereo speaker in my home. I can do that in seconds and basically as an afterthought. The music that I was so passionately dedicated to all those years ago, and would go to lengths to search for, both online and in the real world, has become nothing more than a lazy Google search.

With everything becoming such an afterthought, and the ease of producing music out of one’s bedroom becoming the norm, rather than the novelty, everything has become completely devalued. No one bothers to research anything anymore, no one bothers to connect to other fans to have those lively discussions anymore. There isn’t a discover and sharing process, even if it’s essentially built in to all these networks. We have become a culture of sharing diarrhea. I know I personally ignore more things in my various news feeds than I actually engage in. When all the experts said way-back-when that the internet and interconnectivity was going to level the playing field they weren’t exaggerating. It has created a system where you can just lie in bed, record any old crap, and within minutes upload it to some website so some random stranger, lying in bed on the other side of the world, can download it, consume it, shit it out, and forget about it forever.  

What makes this any different than the studio constructed girl and boy pop groups of the 1960s? There were groups that had one hit and vanished into obscurity forever. Record, release, consume, and abandon. Of course there were exceptions. Why was it okay, almost universally accepted for a band like the Monkees who were completely manufactured at first? Why did all of that have staying power? Yet, people are doing the same thing now and it’s almost a guarantee that your shelf life is going to be less than a few months. Our disposable music culture has lined up these kids so often, had them chopped up, and spit back out before they’re old enough to vote. Now when I see a band achieve any moderate sort of success I automatically assume “manufactured”. There’s been a loss of that organic growth in how a band connects to fans and grows their career. It all became a race to see how fast something can go “viral” no matter how low quality it is. It all reeks of a business model sans artistic merit. This is how I became a complete cynic about every new thing I hear now. 

It’s too easy to hear something these days and not immediately seek out its origin. In a culture based on likes, and retweets, and re-Grams, it’s just a matter of pulling out your little pocket computer and within seconds you can look up where exactly it came from. I had this experience recently when I heard the band The Strypes

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For those of you unfamiliar, these guys are between the ages of 16 and 18, hail from Ireland, and play (quite well I may add) a very niche genre of outdated 1970s British rock ‘n’ roll known as pub rock. Very few popular artists came out of this scene, so why is this group of teens writing and playing music in this style? Looking at them it would be easy to say “boy rock band manufactured by a record label”. Listening to their music, it’s mature enough to have been written by studio professionals. Lyrically it’s not quite there, but that also seemed to be a calling card of 70s pub rock. Where did these kids learn to play and write like this? Who’s idea was it for them to cover Willie Dixon? At 16 to 18 years old I was writing music, but nowhere near this caliber, even if this was simple rave-up blues rock. I was too busy fanning the flames of internet trolls and discovering things that were happening in other parts of the world. 

Through all the research I have done it seems that these kids did in fact write all their own tunes. They worked with ultra-famous and widely respected producer Chris Thomas. They received praise from Dave Grohl, Sir Elton John, and Roger Daltrey. They toured and played around the U.K. and Europe before their break. They promoted and put together their first EP all while still in high school. They did everything that I did as a teenager who believed in his own music, except they did it with about 10,000 times as much talent. 

So, why did my bullshit-alarm go bezerk the first time I listened to this and heard that they were a group of teens? Most likely because it’s become too easy to throw something like this together and dump it out there for easy consumption. So much stuff gets thrown against the wall to see if it sticks that it becomes impossible to research the origin of it all. The cynic in me wants to be right about my suspicions. The music lover in me wants to embrace this whole hearted and without question upon first listen. The cynic’s encyclopedia known as the internet can either fan these flames or extinguish the fire. 20 years of logging on to the internet and dealing with trolls, superfans, fake viral crap masquerading as the “real thing” and shitty churned-out nonsense has turned me into a cynic of the highest level, and a goddamn annoying one at that. I can’t believe the authenticity of something until I have done the research myself and wasted the five minutes it takes to unnecessarily look it up. All the while I should spend more time enjoying it all and shutting up. 

Thankfully this band is for real. I’m glad about that. I’m glad that somewhere out there a band like The Strypes is happening organically. Maybe they reached this genre of music by stumbling across some little known blog somewhere, or maybe they just raided their parents’ vinyl collections. Either way, my apologies to them for not believing in it initially. Hopefully somewhere out there some kid in Eastern Europe or East Texas stumbles across some obscure corner of the internet and has the time, talent, and desire to build their thing from the ground up, too. Maybe I’ll come across it one day and without having to question it too much I can just listen to and enjoy it without my cynicism interfering. 

[editor’s note: they weren’t called ‘apps’ yet, but for the purpose of this post, that’s what I’ll call it] 

buy this book of cynical and sad stories of being lost around the world here - 1800 Miles To Nowhere on DeadXStop Publishing.

Might As Well Jump - Part 2

MIGHT AS WELL JUMP  (A/K/A HOW I FELL IN LOVE WITH MUSIC AND FORGOT ABOUT BASEBALL FOR A LITTLE WHILE THANKS TO DAVID LEE ROTH) – Part 2

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In the 1980s, as a 7 or 8-year-old kid it was not easy to come by money. Maybe you just had a birthday, or maybe it was just Christmas and a relative stuffed a dollar or two into a greeting card. Maybe you had an allowance, which meant your parents basically parted with their hard earned money for no good reason just to shut you up. I knew a kid that I went to school with whose parents gave him $20 a week, which to a kid of that age in 1984 might as well have been a treasure chest full of gold, candy, and ice cream. Every single goddamn week.

I wasn’t one of those kids lucky enough to be graced with an allowance. I was taught that nothing comes for free. My dad made me work for that $1 that I would get for mowing the lawn, and he encouraged me to drag that mower down the block to our neighbors’ houses and cut their grass for $1 a pop. In retrospect, it was kind of fucked that my dad had probably told our neighbors and friends that his son would head over to their place and cut their grass as long as they were willing to part with one, single, solitary dollar. But, as I look back on it I’m glad he did that. It taught me the value of hard work and chasing after what you really want. In this case it was a record. I have a tattoo on my right forearm with my dad’s name and a lawnmower. When I think of my dad I think of working hard to get what you want in life for you and your family. I also think about how it’s how I started my fascination with all things music. In fact I’m sitting here writing this right now with a piece of vinyl spinning on my record player. Some things never change.

This particular quest wasn’t for anything more than that Van Halen album. My record collection to date consisted of very few things. I had Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” because it was pretty much required by law that everyone from the years 1983 to 1993 owned at least one copy of that record. I had a record called Disco Mickey Mouse, which was probably as bad as it gets. I’m not sure where I got it, but this 1979 Disney release had some pretty awful tunes, including a reworking of the Village People’s “Macho Man” as “Macho Duck” and a disco version of “It’s A Small World”. A few 45s here and there. A copy of Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” on the A-side backed with “Living A Lie” on the B-side. Some version of Puff The Magic Dragon on another 45, and a couple of random hits from that period. Oddly enough I also had the full-length album “Stay Hungry” by Twisted Sister because I had seen the video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on MTV that same year. I can’t remember if I got it as an Easter present or something, but it’s pretty odd that my parents or family members would have gotten me a record with an album cover like this:

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My record player was extremely rudimentary. I definitely was not allowed to touch my dad’s record player, which was probably pretty high end for 1984. I know that it had one of those stack-and-drop systems that were popular then. You took a bunch of records and piled them up on top of one another and the record player would automatically drop one after another when it reached the run out groove of the record before it.  The arm was motorized and would lift and go back to the start of the next record. This was a great feature if you only wanted to listen to the first side of 5 or so records. Somewhere around 25 songs.

On the other hand, the record player I had was very basic. It was in a black case with an orange stripe, and had a plastic dust cover. It had a plastic white platter, and plastic white tone arm. There was a speaker built into it and it could play records at 3 speeds – 33, 45, and 78. There was also a setting for ‘N’, which meant neutral. In this setting, the platter would stop completely and you could move it with your finger. I used this later on when I would first discover hip-hop scratching and to attempt to listen to records backwards after learning about backwards Satanic messages being embedded. I never found anything good. Just a bunch of gibberish, and once in a while an accidental actual word.

As rudimentary as it was, this was the source of hearing all of my favorite music, outside of the radio or MTV, for the first time whenever I wanted to. And, being that all of the prerecorded albums I had owned to date were records and my collection was quite limited, Twisted Sister and Michael Jackson saw a lot of play time on there.

My bedroom at the time had a few mixed and matched things on the walls. My uncle Felix, or as we called him Tío Junior, had done some watercolor paintings of Mickey and Minnie Mouse disco dancing from the cover of that horrendous album. There were a couple of New York Yankees posters. I had a team photo of the portrait variety. Every player from 1983 Yankees was on it.  I also had a Ron Guidry poster. This is who I imagined myself to be in my long stints out in the yard throwing the ball into that makeshift tree strike zone. I had hit the trees so many times that the bark had started to wear in an area about 2 feet off the ground on each tree. I didn’t have any sort of decorations indicating my allegiance to rock ‘n’ roll bands just yet. It was coming. I just didn’t know it.

That Twisted Sister record was like a novelty to me. Not as much of a novelty as that Mickey Mouse record, but it wasn’t a life changer. Otherwise I’d be writing about that, not the band that ultimately led me down the path of rock ‘n’ roll I took to where I am now. That was Van Halen. At my very young age I saw Twisted Sister on the television and on the album cover and I knew there was some sort of gimmick attached to it. They were a bunch of men dressed like women, wearing atrocious makeup, playing songs that fit in with teen rebellion, but even then I knew there was something very unserious about it.

I normally only really listened to a few songs off of that record before switching to the Michael Jackson record. I loved the song “Beat It” and little did I know at the time but the guitarist featured in that wild solo was none other than Eddie Van Halen.

After the summer was over I had saved some money from my $1 lawn cuts. I kept it in a yellow plastic toy garbage can that was once held tiny rubber figurine toys. I had a total of $12 in that yellow can in my dresser drawer. I wanted that Van Halen record.

Every weekend my mom would go to the grocery store where I would try to stay by her side, but for the most part I’d wander off. In the 1980s it almost wasn’t a big deal to let your kid stray a little bit and meet up with you somewhere else in the store. This was before the sharp spike in kidnapping and the famous case of Adam Walsh who’s family found him beheaded after going missing at a shopping mall arcade. That effectively ended my free reign of shopping malls and supermarkets, but up until then I would hit all my favorite spots in the stores - the aisles that had the baseball cards, the sections of the department stores with the electronic Casio keyboards that made hundreds of sounds like dogs barking and church organs. My favorite was when my mom would go to the Pathmark grocery store in North Babylon, one town away from where I grew up in Deer Park, New York. Going to the Pathmark was a special treat. They had the best supermarket, because not only did they have all the usual grocery store stuff, they had aisles with books, magazines, and most importantly records and tapes. Since cassette tapes were a sort of new thing and easy to steal by teenagers with sticky fingers, they kept those under lock and key in a glass case. You could look, but you couldn’t touch. The vinyl records, however, were fully available to browse.

I knew I wanted that Van Halen record, but before the advent of carrying around digital computers in your pocket that could remind you of your record buying wish list, you kind of just flipped through the records until something sparked your fancy, or you remembered, “Hey, I want that record.” Or, better yet you wrote it down on a piece of paper like some sort of caveman. I didn’t have that foresight as an 8-year old.

One Sunday afternoon in the fall, I went with my mom to the Pathmark in North Babylon. This time, before we left, I opened up the little yellow plastic garbage can and stuffed my pockets with its monetary contents. As was my usual process I split off to the left when we walked in to the store and hit the book and magazine section first. I checked out the crossword puzzle books, the comics, and a few other things. Then I walked over to the record and tape aisle. First I scanned the tapes, but since I didn’t really own any prerecorded cassettes I breezed right through it. The record bins were to the left of the case. They were a little tall for my 8-year old height so I grabbed a black milk crate, flipped it over, and stood on it.

I flipped through dozens of hit records of the time. Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Lionel Richie. Def Leppard. Finally I reached something.

Van Halen. 1984. Just like it said on the screen on MTV. I flipped the album over to read the songs. There it was. “Jump” - the song that I recognized. Also, at this point they had also started playing another wild video that I really liked by them for a song called “Panama”.  They ran around on stage looking like they were partying. The singer, David Lee Roth, swung around like Tarzan from something suspended from the ceiling over the stage. At some point he points a hair dryer at his crotch. I had no idea what this shit was, but I wanted to party with them.

I got really excited. I had money in my pocket and the record in my hand. “This is coming home with me,” I thought to myself. I took the record out of the bin, got down off the milk crate, and walked across the aisles looking down each one for my mother. When I found her I excitedly told her about “Jump” and “Panama” and how I reallyreallyreally wanted the record and “I have money, it’s only 7 dollars and I have that from mowing lawns”. She probably looked at me like I had 10,000 heads with all the fast paced nonsense I was spewing about MTV and guitars and dudes swinging through the air. Her only response was to take the album in her hands and inspect the cover art.

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“A baby smoking? I better not see my baby smoking.”

She let me go ahead with my purchase. There it was. The first record I had ever purchased with my own money. I could barely wait to get home and throw it on my shitty record player.

For the first time in forever, since I didn’t have to cut the grass, or didn’t have homework to do, when I got home I didn’t go directly to the backyard with my baseballs and throw them against the trees. I went to my room and put the record on the crappy little turntable and turned it up as high as it would go. The keyboards started on the intro track ‘1984’. A new chapter of my life had begun.

(continued in Might As Well Jump - Part 3 as soon as I feel like posting it. in the meantime, buy this thing: 1800 Miles To Nowhere)

Dear Fred Phelps…

Tonight I will say my preemptive good riddance and thank you to a worthy adversary.

People don’t want to revel in the extinction of hate. That’s a shame. I want to marvel in it. It’s proof of evolution of species. It’s proof that not everyone wants to perpetuate ugliness for eternity. Rather than be an apologist for the differences that make us human, let’s celebrate that fact. Let’s celebrate that there is one less bigot on this planet when this one disappears.

We have waited with baited breath for the passing of our enemy. “God Hates Fags” he’s touted throughout his tortured life. We know very little except that his view is extremely unwelcome in our worldly world.

The enemy is soon gone. He proved to be a worthy adversary, but it’s over now. Let’s not pretend that freedom of speech has protected his hate of human beings. Let’s toast to the fact that evolution works and that now there will be that much (pinching fingers together) less garbage crowding the planet.