Dave’s opinions so please don’t blame everyone

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Now that the the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour has moved along to additional exotic midwestern locales like Indianapolis, Columbus and, presently, a two-night stand in Kansas City, we suppose the haters can take a break from all that exhausting hating. And the rest of us can go right on shaking it off.

There was a day during Tay-Sway’s visit it seemed our only local weekly’s website posted nothing but articles about complaints from “the liars and the dirty dirty cheats of the world” on their music blog. This is only surprising because we forgot there was any writing underneath all those pop up ads. The paper itself offered a begrudging explanation for the success of “Shake it Off” which was so insultingly dismissive of Tay-Sway’s talent we’d have been shocked if it appeared in a actual publication of repute. Turns out she didn’t write, record and release an awesome song: she “lured us with familiar trappings” and “told us a story that was alternately tricky and engaging” only to “let us down just enough to come back for more.” Taylor Swift, literally described in the piece as an “evil genius,” is portrayed as a loathsome temptress at best.

1989 is a great record, and “Shake It Off” is a great song. We can’t imagine someone needing a scientific explanation for the success of a song by a male performer. The article implies that twenty-four year old woman couldn’t possibly have succeeded by talent, and must have used an “evil” formula and “magical songwriting and studio tricker” to beguile our children. She is regarded with the sort of disdain deserved by the contrived corporate marketing which targets our children, when in fact she has been nothing more than a successful performer (and often writer) of pop songs. Nobody suggested Pherrell’s “Happy” was some sort of nefarious scheme, even though it first appeared in a children’s movie. It was just a damn catchy song.

Incidentally, the highest notes in “Happy” were in the first line of each verse, not the chorus. Its a much more common formula in pop music than as described in the article (doesn’t anybody remember Queen?), as are the other incantations of “magical songwriting and studio trickery” Taylor used to “lure” our children. “Happy,” for instance, also extended each successive chorus, hitting higher notes each time, and ended abruptly. Many pop songs follow this formula, but they do not merit such scrutiny because they’re performed by men.

Also, they do not have the audacity to tell the haters to go fuck themselves.

If anything has offered some bitter-old-bastard legitimacy to 1989, it’s Ryan Adam’s surprise cover version, out online Monday and in stores soon. After all his Whiskeytown released an awesome cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” when little Taylor Swift was all of four years old. Adams carries more cred than any music writer at any weekly in any city in America — he’s way cooler than us and we met Thurston Moore last week — and he thinks they’re “great songs.” T-Swizzle tweeted “I WILL DIE!” when she heard of the planned project, and we shared that hilarious response on the Hymie’s Facebook page as soon as we heard. We’re not ashamed to be Taylor fans, even though we’ve already been burned once (in this love letter to another record store disguised as an article). We bet Taylor has also been misrepresented in the press, but we haven’t had a chance to check on that.

Adams has been posting achingly brief samples of the songs for more than a month, and we’re especially excited to hear his “guaranteed saddest version of ‘Welcome to New York’ ever” (“or your tears back”), as well as the rest of “Stay” and, naturally, “Shake it Off.” These posts by the veteran songwriter have included praises for Tay Sway’s songs, including, “Stoked to dig in to these jams. So much going on in those songs,” and (about “Bad Blood,” which this week became the first full track released) “Unreal song, Taylor. Wow.”

Those who think so little of Taylor Swift can finally have their cake and hate it, too: enjoying an album of awesome songs while still resenting the success of a woman on “a never-ending campaign to convince us she’s a normal girl.”

tom waits saturday night lp“Drunk on the Moon” is hardly one of the most memorable songs from those early Tom Waits albums, but it has always conjured some funny images for us. Of course, if you’re actually paying attention he’s not drunk on the moon, he’s enjoying the exuberance of a lovely evening lit by the waning moon. This, of course, is what we’d do if Irene would let us come to the moon with her, and maybe we’d just have a celebratory snifter.

There are a handful of accounts of drunk astronauts, mostly dating from one of the darkest chapters in NASA’s recent history, the same summer US Navy Captain (and astronaut) Lisa Nowak drove nine hundred miles in space diapers to confront and kidnap the girlfriend of a former lover. Her story buried this one, about actual drunk astronauts: colleagues who were cleared for flight in spite of concerns over their intoxication. Nowak, incidentally, denies she was wearing space diapers.

Our interpretation of Tom Waits’ innocuous song has always been wrong. Turns out he is not one of the twelve men who have walked on the moon, and that none of those twelve had the opportunity to get drunk while bouncing over its dusty surface. We often attribute inspired musical accomplishments to drunkenness, perhaps all the way back to Dionysian mythology. This is only sometimes an accurate depiction.

beethoven the 9 szellFor instance, the performers who debuted Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A Major on December 8th, 1813 are said to have thought he was drunk when he completed it. The orchestra, which included Louis Spohr, Antonio Salieri and several nineteenth-century virtuosos, was compelled to reprise the symphony’s Allegretto at the event, which was a charitable fundraiser for wounded veterans.

Regular folks like us, who rarely have enough in the piggy bank to attend the orchestra, can only imagine the fervor instilled by the coda of the symphony’s final movement, an Allegro con brio with a whirling, Dionysian delight. The seventh is one of the most unusual symphonies, not only of Beethoven’s but of the pen of any composer — second movement Allegretto is so popular as to be often performed on its own, and the manic energy of its fourth movement is entirely unique in the music of the romantic era.

Wagner was impelled to declare the seventh the “apotheosis of the dance,” praising its “blissful insolence” and “bacchanalian power” in an oft quoted essay. Klaus Roy’s notes in our copy of George Szell’s late 50s recording of the symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra add to the impression of drunken inspiration: “For drunk he surely was, drunk with a power that is granted to a few mortals: to sustain during the hard work of musical creation and notation a sense of motion so irresistible that he sets his listeners afire with him, every time, and all the time.”

Many believe Beethoven was an alcoholic. It would account for much of his behavior, including oppressive social anxiety and his inconsistent, often callous changes of heart. In spite of the enormous artistic achievements of his last decade (the late quartets and the ninth symphony representing some of the finest art any human being has created) his life’s story is characterized by a steady downward spiral. When he died at fifty-six in 1927, an autopsy revealed signs of cirrhosis, as well as strong traces of lead, which was commonly used (illegally) as a sweetener in cheap wine.

Whether the initial response to Beethoven’s seventh symphony was any more than an oft-repeated misunderstanding is lost to the ages. We’re not even certain who was performing that night. If his contemporaries thought of him as a drunk, this is likewise lost — perhaps no one had the courage to put their convictions in writing. Most were in awe of the maestro. Franz Schubert, after a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet no 14, lamented, “After this what is there left for us to write?”

History has recorded Beethoven’s father as an abusive alcoholic who beat his son and forced the boy to perform for his friends. Whether Beethoven would have continued the cycle will never be known because he never married or had children. After his brother’s death, Beethoven began a long and hostile battle with his sister-in-law for custody of Karl van Beethoven, the sole heir to the family name. Karl attempted suicide in 1826, and bid farewell to his mortally ill uncle the following year to serve the Austrian army in Jihlava.

urlKarl was pretty unsuccessful, but lived well off his inheritances. He died as young as his uncle, also likely from cirrhosis, so we could speculate he too was an alcoholic. There is only one picture of Karl, forever to live in the shadow of his uncle just as nearly every contemporary composer feared they would. His only son, named for Uncle Ludwig, emigrated to America and worked for a railroad company in Detroit. He and his wife, a concert pianist, had a son named Karl Julius van Beethoven, who died without having children and with him was extinguished the family name Beethoven.


Some of us do struggle with alcoholism. Others feel abandoned, or have never recovered from some rejection. You have no idea the kind of pain the person sitting next to you has survived. Some of us just wish we were appreciated — imagine being Beethoven and at the height of your accomplishment you have no one to make proud. No father, no mother, no children. People will never forget that Beethoven had to be told the audience was applauding the finale (or the scherzo, depending on the account) of his ninth symphony when he conducted its premiere. This was his first appearance before an audience in a dozen years. and he was, by most accounts several measures off at the end.

So was Beethoven drunk on the moon, perhaps when we composed his Sonata no. 14 at about the age of thirty? Maybe, but the common title “Moonlight” wasn’t applied to the popular work until several years after Beethoven’s death, more than twenty-five years after it was published as Sonata in C# Minor “Quasi una fantasia” — literally “almost a fantasy.” It’s Adagio sostenuto feels more like a funeral dirge than a fantasy. Hector Berlioz called its melody “a lamentation.”

All signs suggest alcoholism as a defining factor in Beethoven’s life, and likely in much of his art. The maestro is largely silent on the subject, although he did once write that the “world doesn’t know that music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses out his glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunk.”

The story in yesterday’s Star Tribune about Krista and James Botsford, the North Dakota couple who have refused to accept payment of $50,000 to allow the Sandpiper pipeline to pass through their land, had for us a David vs. Goliath feeling.

It also reminded us of the long battle in Minnesota over what was called the CU Project. This proposal to build high-voltage direct current power lines across several central Minnesota counties led to substantial protests from farmers. All were worried about future use of their land, its value, and the safety of the lines. Most of all, we wrote when first wrote about the events here on the Hymies blog, “middle-Minnesota residents felt their lives and land were being disrupted to serve urban populations.”

The post went on: “Opposition to the CU Project led farmers to use ingenious guerrilla tactics – Construction sites were vandalized with tractors and farm tools. Trucks were used to block construction and their ignitions damaged. By 1978 incidents were increasingly serious – A crowd of a hundred or more farmers chased powerline crews from a worksite. Soon after, in the famous ‘Battle of Stearns County’ farmers sprayed state troopers with anhydrous ammonia. We are not making this up.

There were also nonviolent protests. Just a month later eight thousand people marched from Lowry to Glenwood in protest. Temperatures were below freezing. Regardless, the CU Project was ultimately completed nonetheless, using land owned by nearly 500 farmers, and the Coal Creek Station, which creates the power transmitted through the lines, is today the third largest producer of coal ash in the country. It is supplied by the Falkirk Mine in Underwood, North Dakota, one of the largest such operations in the country. It may be powering the computer on which you have just now listened to Larry Long’s song.

Other Minnesota folk singers wrote about the events (including Nancy Abrams, Dana Lyons and Charlie Broten) but Larry’s was the only recording we could find.

Whether someone will write a new song for the Botsfords fight against the Sandpiper pipeline seems unlikely to us — dramatic as they could be, court battles are hardly as exciting as protests. Like the Botsfords, who can trace the land’s legacy in their family back generations, we’re uncomfortable with the precedent set by the State of North Dakota using eminent domain law to force the family to comply.

Historically, these controversial provisions have been used to serve the public good, usually in the form of utilities. They seem increasingly to be used to further private interests, as in several cases here in the Twin Cities. Does it truly serves the public good for North Dakota Pipeline Co. to run $2.6 billion worth of line through three states to deliver Bakken fracking oil to Superior, Wisconsin? We have pretty simple lives here in the Longfellow neighborhood, and we’re glad to pay more for the little gas we use, the airplane tickets we rarely buy, and so on — especially if it means we’ll continue to live in a country with family farms.

We’re awful proud to have been chosen in CNN’s list of “ten of America’s beloved record stores” last week, but we’ve got bigger things on our mind when we look at the headlines each morning. And we sure wish CNN did too.

For starters, the Baltimore riot. And for good measure recent events from North Charleston, Ferguson, and Tulsa, where after restrained suspect Eric Courtney Harris was shot ‘by accident’ and said he couldn’t breath, the last words he heard on this Earth were “fuck your breath” — its harrowing footage to watch, especially considering the savage choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island last summer for the crime of selling loose cigarettes.

The Daily Show‘s criticism of CNN’s coverage has been both hilarious and alarmingly on point.  Not only did the twenty-four hour news network offer hours of fawning coverage of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner instead of covering the Baltimore riots, but anchor Wolf Blitzer seemed to have completely forgotten the past two months in his absurd denial of the riot’s precedence.

The media has offered a tragically narrow view of the Baltimore riots, completely ignoring the crowds who showed up to help repair damages during the aftermath. CNN’s own coverage sure seems like its set to promote the same stereotypes the media pushed after the 1989 LA riots. Meanwhile, the “Black Lives Matter” movement has misdirected is passion to punish unrelated people. Whether their protest at the Mall of America last year ‘raised awareness’ is negligible, but whether it cost thousands of workers much of a much-need Saturday’s income is certain. There appears to be no leadership on this issue which public officials address with trepidation. There are enormous systemic problems and no one has the courage to acknowledge them.

The fact that the US Justice Department doesn’t track police shootings of civilians at as alarming as any other fact unearthed by recent events. A recent Washington State University study suggests police actually shoot white suspects with less hesitation, but the cruelty of police killings of black suspects is nothing short of a national disgrace — especially considering footage of officers not providing CPR or other care in South Carolina, Oklahoma and elsewhere. What have we become?

Unfortunately, the Justice Department largely has no interest in the subject, since local police usually handle inquiries into claims of an officer’s use of force, and the officer is rarely disciplined. Look at a recent case right here in St. Paul, in which Chris Lollie was followed and harassed by police while waiting for his children outside their pre-school in a skyway seating area:

His ‘crime’? Refusing to provide identification, even though there was no probable cause he’d committed a crime and therefore no cause for officers to ask for his identification, let alone follow him for several blocks. He was undeniably harassed for his race and innocent of any crime (it was a public area where First National Bank had previously encouraged everyone to “enjoy a seat”) — the video is especially upsetting to us because it happened so close to home.

the messageWhat discipline did the officers who harassed and assaulted Chris Lollie recieve? None. Even though all charges against Lollie were dropped (you cannot ‘trespass’ on public property), they were exonerated by the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Commission in a decision announced last November.

This is the militarization of police we’ve allowed. Lollie was in the right: innocent of any crime and honestly passing time while waiting to pick up his kids at pre-school before being harassed, followed and tazed (this hurts a lot, by the way) not merely for his race but also the additional ‘crime’ of asserting his rights.

This is also the extent to which we pretend to not see communities within our country. For years we were told we’d win the “hearts and minds” of a country we occupied, while at the same time denying the own concern to our own citizens.

Last Wednesday the Supreme Court halted the execution of three death row inmates in Oklahoma until their challenge to the state’s method of execution can be reviewed. The State of Oklahoma had taken an unusual step of requesting the Supreme Court to halt the pending executions because under its Constitution the Governor cannot delay them for more than sixty days, as reported in the Wall Street Journal here.

Thirty-four states and the Federal Government use lethal injection for prisoners sentenced to death, although many states rarely execute prisoners. One of the three drugs used for most lethal injections, sodium thiopental, was discontinued by domestic drug company Hospira in 2011. Companies in the European Union will not provide the drug if it is used for lethal injection, so several states have experimented with different combinations of drugs to carry out the procedure.

As a result, the State of Oklahoma executed convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett on April 29th last year with an untested combination of drugs. The 43-minute procedure was described by his attorneys as “torture.” It was the second US execution last year using midazolam as a sedative which resulted in the prisoner speaking, gasping, and attempting to rise from the gurney. The Supreme Court will hear arguments that the new drug cocktail used to execute prisoners violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The spiritual advisor for one of the three Oklahoma inmates, Richard Glossip, is Sister Helen Prejean, a long-time advocate for the abolition of captial punishment. In 1995, she wrote a book about her experience advising another death row inmate which was made into a feature film. Glossip was twice convicted of a contract killing.

Opinion polls consistently put Prejean and persons such as ourselves in the minority when it comes to capital punishment. The United States is also in the minority, finding ourselves in the company of such enlightened bastions of freedom as China, Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

dead man walking

We wouldn’t really recommend Dead Man Walking, the film based on Prejean’s book, which describes her experiences meeting the families of an inmate and the victim of his crime. We’re much more interested in music than movies, of course. The soundtrack for Dead Man Walking was an interesting compilation album. Unlike the public defense of the poor, no expense was spared: the disc included new, original songs by Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and Patti Smith. It was a top-selling soundtrack, and Springsteen’s song was nominated for an Academy Award.

We’re fans but also cynical folks, and it’s hard to see how his song wasn’t nominated simply for having been by the Boss. His hasty treatment of the heavy subject is really no better than the rest of the songs from his mid-90s malaise. Likewise we love Tom Waits, but the two songs he wrote for the soundtrack fell short of what else he was recording around the time. One, “The Fall of Troy,” was later recorded by Kurt Wagner (of Lambchop) backed by the Pine Valley Cosmonauts and is our all-time favorite cover of a Tom Waits song, and the other has a jaunty charm not removed at all from Bone Machine or the Night on Earth score.

The remarkable thing about the Dead Man Walking soundtrack was that the reason we’ve never gotten rid of our copy of this best-seller is a song by then-unknown country songwriter Steve Earle, the only person on the disc to have actually done time (Johnny Cash’s aggradized one-nighters don’t count as “time”). Like Sister Helen Prejean, Earle approaches the subject with insight and sensitivity. All of those marquee names might have once been great songwriters, but it’s Earle who actually gives listeners something to think about.

Prisons are a major employer throughout the rural United States, including Walker County, Texas, which is the setting for Steve Earle’s song. While they provide a modest living in many similar counties which otherwise lack employment opportunities, the primary beneficiary of the American prison industry is major corporations. If you eat at McDonalds or Wendys, its entirely possible your burger was packed by an inmate. Your Verizon or Sprint customer service call is likely to be handled by another inmate. Elsewhere prisoners make blue jeans sold in budget department stores like KMart and JC Penny, and female inmates in South Carolina have sewed products for Victoria’s Secret.

And one of the ugliest jobs in America, the execution of prisoners, is carried about by employees like the protagonist in Steve Earle’s song, who find themselves working in prisons like the Ellis Unit because there are no other opportunities where they live. There is more than one way in which capital punishment in America is limited to the poor.

John Brown was hanged by the United States in Charles Town, Virginia on December 2nd, 1859. In the attendant crowd were Walt Whitman, Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Boothe, who is said to have borrowed a militiaman’s uniform. The noose was not removed from his body before it was placed in a pine box and set on a train bound for North Elba, New York, where he had bought a homestead ten years earlier for a dollar an acre.

The debate over Brown’s legacy began immediately after his failed raid on the US arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on October 16th, and has never ended. Before his trial many spoke for his defense or to his detriment. Whether or not he was America’s first homegrown terrorist is still discussed, although in the beginning that was a word which did not exist. Henry David Thoreau’s speech, “A Plea for Captain Brown,” was first delivered in the author’s own Concord on the 30th, and has the immediacy and eloquence of the unadorned and ad hoc remarks of Robert F. Kennedy on the evening the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated more than a century later. At his most piercing, Thoreau says

The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to bed and sleep quietly afterward. All his prayers begin with ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ and he is forever looking forward to the time when he shall go to his ‘long rest.’ He has consented to perform certain old-established charities, too, after a fashion, but he does not wish to hear of any new-fangled ones; he doesn’t wish to have any supplementary articles added to the contract, to fit it to the present time. He shows the whites of his eyes on the Sabbath, and the blacks all the rest of the week. The evil is not merely a stagnation of blood, but a stagnation of spirit. Many, no doubt, are well disposed, but sluggish by constitution and by habit, and they cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by higher motives than they are. Accordingly they pronounce this man insane, for they know that they could never act as he does, as long as they are themselves.

The song “John Brown’s Body” became a rallying cry for many during the Civil War. It was written, according to a likely apocryphal account, by the Massachusetts 12th regiment, offering tribute to both the martyred revolutionary and the battalion’s own Sergeant John Brown. Its melody is based on a camp spiritual, a product of America’s “Second Great Awakening,” the religious revival which lent levity to the abolishionist movement. The Reverend William Patton, who as chair of the committee petitioning President Lincoln to pass the Emancipation Proclamation offers historians unique insights into our sixteenth President, collated the song’s standard verse:

Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave, While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save; But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave, His soul is marching on.

John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave, And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save; Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave, His soul is marching on.

He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few, And frightened “Old Virginny” till she trembled thru and thru; They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew, But his soul is marching on.

John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see, Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be, And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free, For his soul is marching on.

The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view, On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue. And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do, For his soul is marching on.

Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may, The death blow of oppression in a better time and way, For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day, And his soul is marching on.

Another New York abolishionist, Julia Ward Howe, reworked the song as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was first published by the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. Her song has been played by every major American party at one convention or another, and become a patriotic anthem. Her husband, Samuel Grisley Howe, had been one of the “Secret Six” who funded Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. We don’t believe for a minute she was not involved herself.


The novelists John Steinbeck and John Updike both borrowed lines from Howe for titles (The Grapes of Wrath and The Beauty of the Lilies), and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. often used lines from its lyrics. One sermon, delivered on April 3rd, 1968, is especially moving for its heartbreaking prophecy. “Like anybody I want to live a long life,” he begins,

Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.

And using a line from Julia Ward Howe’s lyric, one which had probably been sung for a century or more before it was ever documented, King concluded, “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” It was the Reverend’s last sermon. He was shot the following evening outside of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

The very evening Dr. King was shot in Memphis, Robert F. Kennedy was scheduled to address a political rally in a mostly black neighborhood of Indianapolis. With little notice himself, he shocked the crowd with the terrible news, and delivered a calm, impassioned address. Hinting to his personal grief, he quoted

he same evening Robert F. Kennedy addressed a campaign rally in Indianapolis, speaking with candor our political leaders would be unlikely to muster today without conferring with their handlers. His short, eloquent address recalled the death of his own brother and quoted an ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus, who wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget

falls drop by drop upon the heart

until, in our own despair, against our will,

comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

“We will have difficult times,” Kennedy continued. “We had difficult times in the past, and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence, it is not the end of lawlessness and disorder, but the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.”

While many cities around the country were ravaged by angered rioting, Indianapolis was not one of them.

Malcolm X once made a reference to John Brown, when asked if white people could join his Organization of Afro-American Unity. “Definitely not,” he said, but added, “If John Brown were still alive, we might accept him.” The anger which inspired Brown, and a century later Malcolm X, never once succeeded. They and so many others became casualties of their cause. Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry did not inspire the slave revolt he envisioned, but he gave his life — and the lives of two sons — to the cause. Historians rarely agree, but on Brown’s role as a catalyst of the Civil War they’re solid as cement. Hours before he was hanged, Brown wrote he was “now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

And so it came, and so it has never stopped.

We could look back at John Brown as our first domestic terrorist as comfortably as we might call him a champion of freedom. His body is in the grave, but his soul marches on, no matter what side of it all might put you at ease. Today’s turmoil hardly merits the violence of the 1860s, the 1960s, or the last six months. Even Malcolm X came to see the potential for racial unity, in what we recall as the most moving passage of his autobiography as narrated to Alex Haley. “I saw all races, all colors,” he began, describing his first Hajj. “Blue-eyed blonds and black-skinned Africans in true brotherhood! In unity! Living as one! Worshiping as one! No segregationists, no liberals. They would not have known how to interpret the meaning of those words.”


In spite of our many similarities, record collectors don’t seem to connect with comic book collectors. Sometimes it seems like we don’t even speak the same language. It’s a shame, because so many recorrds have fun comic-themed jackets. hinting at all we share in common. We can’t think of a better recipe for a fun Saturday afternoon than a visit to the Nostalgia Zone, the awesome comic book shop just a couple blocks down East Lake Street from your friendly neighborhood record store. We’re not sure who has more fun, ourselves or the kids.

The reason we’ve been pondering the differences is that Record Store Day, which will be up to its eighth year this coming April, was based on Free Comic Book Day, a fairly brilliant promotional scene which has sadly been eclipsed by its crass, over-commercial cousin.

Record Store Day may have been just as sincere at its outset seven years ago, but its become the year’s most burdensome seasonal challenge for small shops like ours. Ironically, few of our regular customers express interest in the now hundreds of special releases with the official Record Store Day seal. Many of us who have been collecting, playing and enjoying records all our lives find the entire phenomenon baffling, sometimes alienating. A sought-after record shouldn’t be so because a corporation decided to limit its production, and a new recording by a favorite artist shouldn’t be a challenge to find for fans.

Yes, the official Record Store Day releases do sell well on the third April of each year (and for “list prices,” ie prices set by the wholesalers, which we find to be unreasonably inflated). The enormous sales of these releases each year has given us a budget to host a family-friendly block party featuring fifteen or more local bands each year — and we feel blessed for that.

We don’t expect the major labels are ever going to create a record we could give away just to get folks interested in the very idea of listening and collecting, like Free Comic Book Day has done for years (comic book stores do, by the way, pay a small price for the ‘free’ books you can collect that day, so please support them by buying something else!). We do wish they would create quality products one would enjoy adding to their collection. Unfortunately, while the number of official Record Store Day releases has ballooned into the hundreds in recent years, few fit this criteria.

Major labels have used the event to move massive quantities of moldy catalog material (2014’s official releases included an Eric Carmen single, for Chrisssake). Unreleased archival material that would have made an appealing release without the ‘limited edition’ bullshit is poorly packaged and over-priced. And the dirty secret of record store day is this: none of these products are returnable.That merits repeating: Record Store Day vinyl is a non-returnable product. We’re all stuck with what doesn’t sell.

This event which ostensibly designed to support independent record stores forces us all, the following week, to list hundreds of singles and EPs and janky remixes and reissues online, just to get rid of them. There are RSD releases from four years ago still kicking around our shop, tagged at and sometimes below the wholesale price we paid.

But here’s what we love about Record Store Day: the local music media really gets behind us. Radio K did so much to help  City Pages tagged us the “Best Record Store Day Location” this year, and the Star Tribune has always published our local music lineup for the two stages. Our favorite bands get the exposure they deserve for the awesome music they make — this past year we were honored to be the site of Black Diet‘s record release show for Find Your Tambourine, and their stellar set in the drizzling rain was one of the best things that’s ever happened here at Hymie’s.

acceff1437d8d14be69fb15ff49512d4_f12115Each year’s block party has produced these moments of sublime musical magic, from Fat Kid Wednesday’s smoldering set our first year to the time we pushed Whiskey Jeff up on stage with a borrowed guitar to buy time for another band and the crowd loved him as we do. All of this — the stage, the sound, the city’s share just for using the street — is paid for by those special Record Store Day releases.

What makes Record Store Day‘s extension into “black Friday” so distasteful to us is that it seems to have nothing to do with record stores and everything to do with large labels moving quantities of catalog crap. The unfortunate collector who goes home with this schlocky shit isn’t going resent the corporations that now manage the recordings of, say, the Doors or Jimi Hendrix, nor the Record Store Day establishment that’s which has put records before record stores. They’re going to resent shops like this one, struggling to survive and finding the old adage as apt as ever: “With friends like Record Store Day, who needs enemies?”

The day after Thanksgiving should be an extension of the holiday: a day for making epic sandwiches with the fridgeful of leftovers, finding the holiday decorations in the basement (our family writes a letter to our future selves about the holidays each New Years Day when we pack this stuff up, so there’s that to look forward to in the boxes), and catching up with friends who’ve returned from around the country for a few short days. The last thing we’d want to do it drive around town to find some junk which, honestly, is easier to find online twenty-four hours later.



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