24 February, 2009
Prose: An Introduction By Way Of A Lesson
Hello everybody, I'm Eriq Nelson
For seven years I worked at the Tower Records here in Richmond VA and I loved damn near every minute of it. It paid my bills (kind of) and it introduced me to some incredible people (very true!). More than anything, it broadened my mind to an unspeakable variety of music. For the area I grew up in, the decaying working class suburbs of Richmond, I had a pretty catholic taste in music. Ani Difranco, Rancid and Tool were my favorite bands coming out of high school and I knew jazz. I thought I knew jazz. I thought I had a broad taste in music. Wow, was I wrong.
Well, I wasn't totally wrong. For the time and place I had been, I was a pretty broad minded dude. The fact that I had a woman singer in my CD collection was pretty outlandish. The first weeks at Tower proved to me how narrow my tastes really were. I met people with knowledge and experience in music so far beyond my reckoning that they appeared near inhuman. I met customers and employees who blew my mind clean in half with the depth of their knowledge about jazz, classic rock, zydeco, African funk and a thousand other genres of music. I listened, I learned and I soaked it all in.
In time, I had been brewing in music long enough that I could start really helping our customers out. I could give them advice about new albums, recommend classics to people, find live albums and deep cuts they might not know about and generally keep them happy with what was in their CD decks. It wasn't always easy, there were plenty of rude people that didn't want anything to do with what was outside of their tastes. It bothered me sometimes, I love music more than almost anything else there is. Eventually I realized that there was nothing I could do for these people, and I let them on their way.
There was another disease running through the record store. It infects knowledgeable employees, it breeds on blogs, Facebook and it's spreading into your local vinyl resellers, one stops and bars. Its name is Indie Snobbery. No one wants to talk about it but the silence must be broken. Not to complain about it's existence, bitching about it's like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but you'll never get anywhere. No, No there's been enough bitching. Instead, I will give you A Lesson.
Meet Mark. Mark is a typical suburban white guy, works in an office, is 35 or 36 and has a pleasant wife. He shops at Tower about three times a month and comes in to buy a pretty demographically typical spread of pop/rock and light jazz records. No one pays him any mind, no one really talks to him. He is a ghost.
One afternoon I see a new hire giving our buddy Mark the "eyeball roll" as he asks for help. I hate the eyeball roll. I recognize the signs of a customer about to walk out so I stroll over to see if I can help. Turns out, Mark was looking for something like Chris Botti. Now for those who don't know, Chris Botti doesn't play the most despicable form of smooth jazz, but he flirts with it. Right, I'm not a fan at all.
I might not like Chris Botti, or even really want to deal with a guy who counts himself as a fan, but I helped Mark out. I turned him onto Stan Getz, who is a fantastic bossa nova and samba sax player and worked throughout his career with some of the biggest names in jazz. I didn't push him off on whatever top selling crap was there, I listened and I learned, I took the time to meet Mark.
In the three years that he was my customer, he blossomed. By the time I left Tower, he was listening to Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Smith, Michael Brecker and a host of other influential jazz players as well as getting him out to local shows from our jazz scene. I snuck some post-rock in there as well. A touch of Sigur Rós to whet the appetite. So the question here is this: Is it better to turn someone on to good music for the rest of their life or feel smugly superior for your incredible taste for a moment?
No. It is a far better thing that has a lasting effect on the world to open up to people, be patient and understanding and really talk to them about music. If we all really want to support independent musicians, local culture, and editorial independence then it must be a culture of inclusion. There is no way to support yourself as an artist without selling your work to people you might not like. The same is true of those who follow and enjoy these artists. Sometimes they suck, they're narrow minded, they don't know anything. I always remember my first day at Tower, wandering around lost in those huge stacks of music. I am those guys.
Thanks for reading,
And Assorted Ramblings here: The Temple Of The Forbidden Beat