July 19, 2006



What Mike Barthel says below about musical instrument stores is not news, but it is relevant. (One major exception in New York: 30th Street Guitars, where Matt and his brother are nice to everybody, even people who act like titanic babies.) It would be nice to hear from a) women; b) people who love record stores and lament their passing (and there is a confused part of me that is one of those people); c) people so young they've never been into a record store; and d) people who, for any reason, have only ever bought music in stores and don't get music online.

Andy Kellman: "Recently, while in the adjoined room of a Portland shop, I walked toward a nearby counter with a stack of CDs. It's possible I didn't notice a sign stating 'PAY IN THE OTHER ROOM,' but I saw a counter, a person standing behind it, and a monitor: I assumed I could pay there. The clerk behind the counter looked at me like a solicitor who had come to his doorstep on a Saturday morning: 'Would you like to listen to all of those?' I said, 'No, I'd like to buy them.' He gestured toward the other room and huffed, 'You pay over THERE.' I politely said thanks. He said nothing.

Maybe he, like a surly former manager I once worked under, is supporting two autistic kids and a wife on $20,000 and restricted health insurance, working 55-65 hours weekly, commuting an hour every day, and handling a mostly lazy staff. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, even though it's more likely that a co-worker had just pulled rank and snagged a promo he wanted.

Music retail was easily the most stressful job I've ever had, especially when I was a manager, and my shyness has been misinterpreted since forever, so I'm certain that a few customers throughout the years thought I was a jerk. But if I ever acted like that toward ANY customer—particularly one who intended to purchase the equivalent of my day's pay pre-tax—I deserved to clean public restrooms for at least a week.

It had been a while since I last shopped at a record store. I was missing it a whole lot, yet it didn't take long to remember how bizarrely demeaning and fucking tedious it can be. That said, I'd like to one day give my son the same thrill my Dad gave me when he'd take me to record stores and let me pick out something. Surprising my son with a new folder on his hard drive does not have the same appeal."

Davin: "There is something fundamentally disorienting about being asked to pull a thin veneer of friendliness over an avalanche of corporate indifference and greed. 'We don't care about the customers, but you need to try to convince them we do. And they won't believe you, and they will hate you for that. Also, clean the toilet.' That being said, it's almost refreshing to be directly shat upon by someone rather than the indirect contempt one gets used to. It seems more honest. But, of course, it's not—the Asshole Record Clerk is as much a performance these days as anything else, thankyouverymuchNickHornby. What's that tourist restaurant in Chicago where the schtick is the wait staff are mean to you?"

Mike Barthel: "All of my record store interactions have been good ones; the people in Kim's have even been friendly and supportive. I've had lots of bad video-store interactions, though, which I think fits in with the 'frustrated artists' thing. Recent history indicates that many directors work at video stores at some point, so your renting something that does not fit within their aesthetic values system indicates that their films, once they actually come out, will not receive your support, since presumably said films will fit within their aesthetics value system. I don't think it's that explicit, but it's probably at the root. A clerk at Kim's Underground was once so rude to me I burst out laughing.

What I'm interested in is why people who work at musical instrument stores are such unabashed dicks. Every band I've been in since high school has been with girls, and inevitably they will ask me to come to Sam Ash or Guitar Center with them so they can get what they need without being condescended to or ignored. It's pretty bad. (The major exception being that one guy at First Flight, who's always real nice.) I remember what it was like when I started walking into instrument stores and getting paid attention to, and it was very weird. It was like they could sense that I now 'bought gear' rather than being a broke-ass kid who just wanted to play some guitars for a while. But the sexism is so blatant. I assume it's because guys who work in guitar stores tend toward the metal/'RAWK!' end of the spectrum and the attitude toward women just sort of carries over, but man, I don't know."

Posted by Sasha at July 19, 2006 01:48 PM | TrackBack