Dave’s opinions so please don’t blame everyone

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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.”

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“Pope County Blues” by Larry Long

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.

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“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five


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.

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“Ellis Unit One”

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.

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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.

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“John Brown’s Body” by Jimmy Smith

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.


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“Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Marisa Anderson

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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This 1931 single by Victor Young and his Orchestra is sort of like the “super groups” popular in the 70s and 80s, since it features vocals by many of the biggest names in music: The Mills Brothers, The Boswell Sisters (with a solo by Connie Boswell) and Bing Crosby. It was released on the Brunswick label just before Christmas that year.

The same month New York’s Bank of America collapsed, holding at the time total deposits of more than $200 million. It was the largest bank failure in the history of the United States. The following month Congress created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which lends millions of Federal dollars to banks, insurance companies and railroads — at a time when unemployment is nearing 24%, the program is dismissed by working people as “the millionaire’s dole.”

The popular music of the Depression era expresses an unexpected optimism, although there are also many songs which tell the heartbreaking stories of the depositors left holding the bag, so to speak, as the banks collapsed. Just a couple years later Connie Boswell was one of several people who recorded “Underneath the Arches,” a song about the homeless men who slept under a bridge (her single was not as successful as the Andrews Sisters’ recording). And Bing Crosby recorded one of the defining songs of the time in 1932, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime?”:

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An enormous hit when Brunswick released it just before the election of 1932, the song was decried by Republicans as anti-capitalist. It is often described as a defining song of the era, and should be seen to represent in particular the broken dreams of a generation which felt it had not received due compensation for its contributions. The song’s most poignant lines make topical reference to the “Bonus Army” protest march of mid-summer 1932, in which tens of thousands of veterans of the Great War crowded around the Capitol as Congress voted down the Wright Patman bill, which would have provided immediate funds to begin paying veterans their long-promised bonuses.

Two unarmed veterans were shot by police on July 28, and the US Army was ordered to disperse the encampments with rifles, bayonets and tear gas. This all may sound alarmingly familiar.

We don’t have to tell you that these are some troubled times — picking up a newspaper any more is an exercise in how much bad news one’s heavy heart can stand. The headlines report different problems than those from the Great Depression, but times are nonetheless tough in what economists have been calling the Great Recession.

Generation X, to which belong the proprietors of your friendly neighborhood record shop, is likely to be the first generation in American history to find itself poorer than its parents, according to studies from the Pew Research Group. We’re accumulating far more debt, much of it related to college loans, and the things we tentatively invest in like our homes and, if any, our doomed retirement accounts, are at best barely staying above water, while for the Boomers the mere act of buying a home and maintaining a mortgage could set one up for comfort.

Ironically, those so quickly dismissed by Boomers as the “slacker” generation are proving to be more involved in our children’s lives and our communities than our parents were at the same age. Check out this awesome long-term study from the University of Michigan, if you want to feel better about what you’re doing Xers. We’re making more money, accomplish more, but accumulating less for ourselves. We’re actually living more aligned with that 1931 single “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” than the way we were raised.

While most mainstream reports of this phenomenon are accented with images from The Breakfast Club or Reality Bites, and peppered with references to REM (even though we’re, like, so over them) some get it right, and some are just fun to read.

You might have noticed during your last visit to Hymie’s that nearly all the once-vacant real estate along East Lake Street is bustling with activity — we’d say booming but most of these new businesses are being established by Gen Xers. We mentioned earlier that the music of the Great Depression often expressed an unexpected optimism. Bandleader Ted Lewis recorded a pair of sides in January 1931 with an all-star group (one even featuring Benny Goodman), the same month Wright Patman introduced his doomed bill to Congress — one was called “Headin’ for Better Times” and the other titled “There’s a New Day Comin’.” And another Victor Young single issued by Brunswick in 1931 also had some fun lines about food.

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Its hard to say if the music of Generation X is as characteristically optimistic, because popular music is so much more fragmented now than it was in the early 30s. Surely there have been waves of oppressive pessimism, like seemingly every corporate rock record recorded by an Xer in the 90s. Today it would all seem characteristically diverse more than anything else. Its amazing how many different things you could hear on an average night here in the Twin Cities, and how wide-ranging the interests of regular customers here at the record shop.

Having finally outlived the shackles of being the “slacker” generation, we’re now regarded as the “Meh” generation.

The positive side of this hardly-apathetic expression is the live-and-let-live attitude it embodies. More and more folks are creating music and other art for the simple joy of creation — here at Hymie’s we’re inspired by the hard-working musicians who balance the artistic ambitions with the obligations of work, parenthood, caring for parents, whatever it is, with grace and dignity. Whether we’re poorer or richer, we’re creating together a richer world.

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Our friend Jack Klatt wrote this song, “Life’s a Drag,” a few years ago for his second disc, Mississippi Roll. He didn’t like when we compared him to Bing Crosby, but we meant it in the kindest of ways. A drag or not, life here on East Lake Street is a bowl of cherries.

…is something we’ve never enjoyed doing. First of all, it implies there’s something wrong with them. And us. But worst it misses the whole point. Why do people make them in the first place? Most bands we know and love (even the really awesome ones) struggle to find the time to practice together and get to gigs that hardly pay, let alone the challenge of raising thousands to put together what they’ve created on an album. Why buy records? Because these people worked really hard to make them.

There’s some things we don’t love about Record Store Day: the gimmicky, novelty feel of some of the releases, the esoteric nature of others. The enormous risks we must take in ordering either. Over the four years we’ve been hosting a block party on 39th Avenue to celebrate the occasion, the quality has improved — earlier Record Store Day releases were often felt shoddy, ironically disposable. Not so with the stuff we’ve been unpacking this week. Could the price be lower? Yep, we think so and thanks to the indie labels who have heard folks on that. Could the special releases just be more awesome? Yep, again we think so, but this year is the first that we wish we could steal a couple of the special releases for ourselves. [Laura covets the Cake box set that collects all their albums and more, Dave really wants the reissue of the Litter’s 1967 single on Scotty Records — in case you feel like shopping for us]

10151982_10152356921289445_418789765615247478_nThe cartoony microphone at the left represents for us, as owners of an independent record store, the best thing to come from six years of Record Store Day marketing. Holding it is a reporter from MPR (whose voice was instantly recognizable!) who spent a morning in the shop recording sounds and what we had to say about running a business, about the role our shop plays in the neighborhood, and about trying to balance small business with family.

Every year we have a few of these visits — local TV, radio stations, newspaper writers. We spend the first couple of weeks of April answering emails full of questions or doing telephone interviews while also trying to help the folks who come into the shop — it all adds up to an enormous marketing campaign, a blessing. Other folks are reporting stories about other record stores and it’s happening all over the country. Sure, those really big shops probably make a killing off the Record Store Day releases, herding people like cattle to troughs filled with colored singles in still plastic sleeves and reissues of albums you could just hunt down — but smaller shops like ours benefit the most from all of the unexpected attention. It’s the best advertising in the world. It’s why we’ve outlasted the chains, it’s what makes record stores totally unique in American commerce. Small is better.

The months after get more fun each year, with new people trickling into the shop. New collectors, old collectors we won back from the internet, and folks cleaning out attics and basements filled with dust-draped albums that haven’t been touched in years.

Record stores like ours aren’t going anywhere, not like they were six years ago when this shop might have been liquidated. Look! Two new shops have opened in St. Paul this year. Record Store Day and its special releases may have jumped the shark, but we hope this annual tradition will not disappear. We appreciate the attention that comes from outside of the local music scene, the collectors’ community, and the neighborhood which has, by the way, been awesomely supportive of us.

The interviews are all fairly similar — not because the people assigned to report on Record Store Day are lazy or unprofessional, but because their job is to explain something apparently mystifying to most people. It’s a question that eventually comes up, one we are asked in a different way every April. Each year we offer different answers, never as eloquent as we’d like. It happens at other times, whenever we are introduced as owning a record store in a setting outside of a record store…

Why do people still buy records?

Some people just do it — who knows why. Probably the same reason that people out there, somewhere, have collections of everything from the glass insulators on powerlines to the AOL cd’s that you found in your mailbox for years. There’s no underestimating the collector impulse — we wouldn’t run a record store if we didn’t love records and enjoy the really narrow and specific of collecting them. Mono or stereo? Is this a reissue? The original cover? Does it have the inner sleeve, the liner notes, the inserts? There’s no underestimating the allure of the postcards in a Pink Floyd or the panties in an Alice Cooper.

But that simply doesn’t explain it — we’re not all collectors like that, though bless them for being the keepers. So many of us write on those original covers and send those postcards. It is surely a smaller number who wore the panties inside original copies of School’s Out, which of course were doomed once teenage boys (believe it or not this was Alice Cooper’s core audience in 1972) discovered they were instantly and awesomely flammable. This is why things become rare and valuable.

Records, let’s not forget, are essentially a disposable product. They were never intended to be heirloom pieces — that’s the “Record Store Day record” mentality talking. Astral Weeks may have been a masterpiece but it was pressed on the thinnest, cheapest piece of plastic Warner Brothers could get away with marketing, and shipped in the cheapest package possible. Did you ever wonder why nearly every original copy of Nashville Skyline has a jacket that’s split open — because it was poorly made, the glue that held it together was no good. Nobody at Columbia Records cared that tens of thousands of people had to fix the latest Dylan album with packing tape. We’ve always thought the Sundazed Records reissues of this album fail in their otherwise accurate reproduction in that the jackets stay securely glued together.

The 45 is an even more extreme example: today an object of collector fascination and lust, but originally designed to be the most disposable of all. They were meant for teenagers to stack on portables while they boogaloo. They arrive here in water-stained cardboard boxes and old cookie tins, sometimes packed tightly and sometimes dumped without a care — most have been damaged in at least some way. They often contain stickers, initials, are moldy, are warped, or simply so scratched that they won’t play ever again. Still, every box is worth a look.

schroederAnd the 45, bless it, is a very durable thing. It’s remarkable how well they’ll play, even in the poorest of shape, and how good it will feel to play them. The tactile experience of holding a record has, for us and for so many of our regular customers, an enchantment we couldn’t possibly express in words.

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just one lookA nice copy of “Just One Look” by Doris Troy is surprisingly uncommon. We understand, having worn out this copy a good deal ourselves in the ten years or so it has been in our collection. That is, of course, only a fraction of this single’s life, which began its long journey to our living room in (presumably) the Monarch Pressing Plant in Los Angeles, based on the marking in its matrix. That was 1963, meaning it was around forty years old when we captured it and filed it next to Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush” in a box in our house. It has spent around twenty percent of its long life with us, and will likely find its way into another box in another home one day. You don’t own your record collection so much as you’re taking care of it for a while.

Replacing our record would be as simple as a handful of clicks. A nicer copy could be on its way to our door for five or ten dollars in less time than it took to listen to the song just now — for some this is the only way to buy records: Nearly everything you can imagine can be found online — for a premium, of course. Would you like to hear Sidney Poitier read Plato over west coast jazz arrangements? You could by Friday. Would you prefer a track for track synthesizer re-make of Ringo’s third album (Ringo!) — there’s one out there somewhere online waiting for you.

One thing that keeps us open is that the people who bought those two albums when they passed through Hymie’s almost certainly didn’t walk through the door looking for them (who on Earth would?) — they were looking for something interesting. A question we’re always asked by interviewers is “Which records are we trying to find?” Is there something we dream about, besides a grocery store opening across the street?

We’ve never had a good answer. We’d love to see a few rare gems, if not necessarily own them. Jethro Tull’s first single mistakenly named them Jethro Toe — we think they should have kept the new name, and one day we’d like to see a copy of that single. Both sides (“Sunshine Day” and “Aeroplane”) are on the 20th Anniversary box set so we could hear them anytime, but to hold a little artifact like that in your hand would be a pleasure.

Several of our favorite groups in the world are working on their next records: Southside Desire is mixing their second album, Wizards Are Real recording their third, Narco States recording and re-recording and re-recording their first. And Whiskey Jeff… Lord knows what he’s doing with that album — when you hear him play here with his awesome band on Record Store Day you’ll understand why we so much hope he’ll have an album we can hold, take home, hug and kiss, and never take off our turntable. Maybe the record we’ve always been looking for hasn’t even been made yet.

Record collectors love the unexpected. It keeps us digging in crates, it makes it impossible to pass a garage sale, and for some it takes them not to a single record store but to several over the course of an afternoon. Who knows what new surprise will be in the next bin? For instance just this week we brought a large collection into the shop which included this delightful version of “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” by Joe Bonsall and the Orange Playboys:

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This is why we’ve never had a good answer when asked about the records we wish we might find — who knew a cajun cover of Jim Croce existed? Some collectors may be looking for a big score, but most of us are looking for something no one has heard in years. A lost treasure. Every one of us wants to be Harry Smith in one way or another. When you put a record on your turntable you are, after all, bringing to life a frozen moment of the past through a nineteenth-century technology that, while easily explains, is endowed with an enduring magical aura.

difficult listeningWhat comes out of your speakers is both a link to the past and a moment in the present, for that record you’re playing will never be quite the same with each new listen, each new owner and each new turntable. It could be something as stupid as a musical version of the Bible in which Thurston Howell III plays the part of the Almighty Creator, or it could be a moment of sublime beauty: there is a recording of Johannes Brahms playing the piano, made in 1889. This is the impulse that has driven many posts here on the Hymie’s blog — one day what is beautiful, the next what is joyously absurd.

There’s a poem by Charles Bukowski where he describes a three-legged cat he adopted, called “The History of One Tough Mother.” You can hear him read it here, but you’ll have a hard time finding any of the Bukowski records. Here’s how it ends:

and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,”look, look
at this!”
but they don’t understand, they say something like,”you
say you’ve been influenced by Celine?”
“no,” I hold the cat up,”by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this!”
I shake the cat, hold him up in
the smoky and drunken light, he’s relaxed he knows…
it’s then that the interviews end
although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
graphed together.
he too knows it’s bullshit but that somehow it all helps.

Our interviews go a little better than this, and Irene still has all four legs and her tiny tail, but the ending sometimes feels similar. We walk someone around the shop and show them the listening stations, peculiar records. We show them the picture of Hymie above the jukebox and pose for another ourselves behind the very same counter. And at some point we find ourselves in the very same position as Bukowski, trying to explain this extraordinary and inspirational thing to someone who just doesn’t understand.

This year it was Pennyroyal‘s second album, Baby I’m Against It that was our cross-eyed, three-legged cat. And these folks can appreciate a good pop song, they’re good people. But they don’t understand. Here’s a band that runs down the Velvet Underground and Lucinda Williams, sometimes in the same song, that out-discos the new wave bands that found that happy medium, and has written some of the best new songs the Twin Cities has produced in the five years we’ve been hosting Record Store Day events. Not to mention the best female vocalist in the Twin Cities, no matter what the dumb old City Pages says.

What the reporters hear is another “rock band” on another record, and marvel at the fact that somebody is still making records, let alone buying them. And the same story always appears in print, on the radio. Presumably on the nightly news too, because somebody always comes in the next day and says “I saw you on the TV!” We learn that vinyl sales are up some remarkable percentage over the past year or decade (though we never learn they are still a fraction of the massive music entertainment industry). Specifically we hear what people come in and tell us all the time: records are coming back!

We have always said that around here they never left.



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