STILL HERE AND NOT GIVING UP: The I Need that Record! Documentary

Reports of the indie record store’s demise, though not entirely
exaggerated, remain premature as long as there are still crate diggers to
champion it.

 

BY RON HART

 

Although
technically I should count Modell’s Shopping Center or Times Square Stores as
such on a literal level, the first proper record store I ever went to was a converted burger joint called Titus Oaks on Old Country Road in
Westbury, Long Island.

 

I
originally started going there with my cousins to rent the old WWF Coliseum
home videos, but soon enough I began tagging along with my uncle on his routine
runs there to dig through their endless bins of vinyl, thus forever inflicting
me with an addiction that might be cheaper and safer than heroin or the crack
rock, but harboring an appetite of need that is just as voracious. And nearly
25 years after walking through the doors of my first mom-and-pop shop, my
insatiability for that routine run still flows through my veins like so much
hemoglobin; which is the exact reason why self-described “guerilla filmmaker”
Brendan Toller’s critically-lauded documentary I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent
Record Store
(MVD Visual) hit me with an emotional chord normally
designated for those abused animal commercials with the Sarah McLachlan bed
music.

 

Over the course of 77 minutes,
Toller explains the slow, torturous death of this great American establishment
by utilizing appropriately placed public domain stock footage, old newsclips
(particularly a great snippet of Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Lars Ulrich of
Metallica bickering about Napster on The Charlie Rose Show), killer
animation from Matt Newman, and an eye-popping guest list of pundits including
the likes of Thurston Moore, Ian Mackaye, Noam Chomsky, Mike Watt, Lenny Kaye,
Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz, Glenn Branca, Patterson Hood of the Drive-By
Truckers, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, Of Montreal guitarist BP Helium,
legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen and punk scribe Legs McNeil.

 

Much of the rhetoric here lays the
blame (and rightly so) at the obvious culprits and perpetrators responsible for
the demise of those shops: FCC deregulation under the 1996 Telecommunications
Act and the resulting (revolting?) rise of corporate FM world-eater Clear
Channel in the legislation’s wake; MTV; radio payola; CD price gouging and the
antagonistic relationship between record labels and consumers; the advent of
big box chain stores; and of course the dreaded specter of online file sharing
and illegal downloading. And each one of these sociopolitical afflictions most
certainly levied a heavy hand in the hobbling of record store culture in the USA, which has
seen the closing of over 3,000 indie stores across the nation in the past
decade.

 

However, all the finger pointing aside, the film
does quite poignantly encapsulate the emotions of shoppers like myself whenever
one of our hallowed havens of vinyl does fall prey to the symptoms of the modern
age. Particularly moving are the segments where Toller captures the mood of two
stores in the process of shuttering their doors – a pair of sorely missed
institutions of Connecticut crate digging, Middletown’s Record Express and Danbury’s Trash American Style – by
effectively documenting an equal balance of anger, sadness, nostalgia and
uncertainty amidst both the store owners and their longtime patrons. One of the
doc’s best scenes, in fact, features a defiant Malcolm Tent, who ran Trash
American Style out of a Danbury strip mall for 16 years before the landlord decided
to revoke their lease to make way for the expansion of the neighboring
Minuteman Press, peddling vinyl on a college campus and, in true punk fashion,
spitting a quote from G.G. Allin to the camera undoubtedly aimed at his
corporate detractors:

 

“I’m still here, and I’m not giving up!”

 

There is
a thin thread of optimism that does weave itself throughout the context of I Need That Record!, validating the
parenthetical statement in the flick’s subtitle by highlighting the opening of
a new punk-and-hardcore shop in CT as well as the prominent profiling of several
nationally renowned stores such as Boston’s Newbury Comics, Chicago’s Reckless
Records, Culture Clash in Toledo, OH, and Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, MN,
all of which seem to be doing fairly well despite the grim economic climate.

 

However, the
complete blind eye to the many shops in both New York
and New Jersey
will certainly prove to be quite disheartening to any Tri-Stater viewing this
DVD. I mean, come on, Toller has guys who literally define New York City music like
Moore, Branca, Kaye and Frantz talking about record shops, yet he doesn’t include
the likes of Other Music, Kim’s Video, Academy Records, Rebel Rebel, A-1 or
even the recently departed reggae mecca Jammyland in the film? And that’s not
even scratching the surface of the dearth of brick-and-mortar shops located
beyond the bridges and tunnels of money makin’ Manhattan, a veritable hunter’s
paradise that includes Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, the world famous Princeton
Record Exchange in Princeton, Mr. Cheapo’s on Long Island, Sound Fix in
Brooklyn, Flipside Records and Tapes in Pompton Lakes, NJ, Rhino Records and
Jack’s Rhythms in New Paltz, NY (a rarity in itself being two successful shops
that peacefully co-exist not even a thousand feet from one another), House of
Guitars in Rochester, NY… the list can go on and on and on and on. To
not have included at least one or two of these establishments here is complete
and total heresy in my opinion, and truly does leave the lingering scent of
incompletion. But then again, I’m sure there are folks in California, another state teeming with
quality record shops that seemed to have been overlooked by the filmmaker, are
feeling the same way.

 

Nevertheless,
I Need That Record! The Death (or
Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store
, in all of its
imperfections, is a sobering and worthwhile expose documenting the demise of a
genuine American institution that will definitely strike a chord with anyone
who spent a Saturday afternoon on his or her knees thumbing through a post office
bin of dusty old vinyl. Just make sure you stick around for the DVD’s
entertaining extras, which includes extended interviews with many of the
pundits and is well worth sitting through. You get to hear Lenny Kaye reminisce
about his first trip to the record shop (Vogel’s in Brooklyn, where he picked
up 45s of Bobby Darin’s “Queen of the Hop” and Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People
Eater”) and Thurston Moore talking about his first concert as a kid (a solo
show by Rick Wakeman of Yes, oddly enough) and discovering The Stooges, Can and
Amon Düül by way of the cut-out bin at his local Woolworth’s.

 

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