Kids today. . .
It’s a common refrain uttered by countless older generations when discussing a younger, newer one. Sometimes the speaker may be complaining that these kids today don’t appreciate how good they have it. Other times, a speaker may be lamenting the loss of a past activity that no longer finds favor with the next generation.
It’s this one, lamentation over loss, that put me in mind to write about one such relic that is becoming more difficult to find as the years march forward. The other day I found myself at the local shopping mall. You know, the sort of mall that had been hugely popular during the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s. This mall, originally opened in 1969, remains an easy place to meet my shopping needs. The ownership has maintained a clean and friendly environment that welcomes customers the way it did fifty years ago.
As a teenager, I spent many hours at the mall, shopping, hanging with friends, and flirting with girls. Back in the day, there were stores unique to malls across the country. Hot Sam’s soft pretzels were always a favorite while visiting. As was Orange Julius. Spenser Gifts offered some of the coolest items. While Spencer remains at the mall here, Orange Julius and Hot Sam’s have long-ago fallen by the wayside. So too have the record stores—which is what I want to talk about today.
Kids today. . . they don’t hang out at the mall. In fact, during my recent visit, I found a handful of elderly mall-walkers and a smattering of customers wandering through the near-empty space. There is truth in the fact that kids are kids—no matter the generation. But from one era to the next, certain things may get left behind and forgotten.
Record stores are among those lost to history’s tide. Kids today get their music from the internet. They buy downloads or they stream it—and even downloads are quickly fading. They listen to music that has been compressed and depleted of its full, rich tones and sound. But if you’ve grown up with this as your only source, you haven’t a clue what other possibilities existed once upon a record store.
For those of us above a certain age, we recall fondly a multitude of record stores that once dotted city landscapes across the globe. I remember spending many hours in local record shops perusing the latest albums or listening to the opinions of others regarding this band or that guitarist or who would be touring this year. We’d meet our friends there—or bond with strangers over the latest Led Zeppelin album.
But it wasn’t just about albums. At most record stores, we could find t-shirts and posters and buttons of favorite bands. We’d line up at these stores for tickets to the concerts passing through the area. And I’m not talking about the over-priced events ordered online these days. I remember buying tickets to see Blue Oyster Cult for $8.00 back in 1980. That was the first of many concerts I’ve attended throughout my life. I paid a mere $9.50 to see Ozzy Osbourne in concert—a show that included legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads. Sadly, Rhoads died in a plane crash just six weeks after I saw him. I still carry the memory of being mesmerized by this incredible talent. As I recall, the actual ticket price for the Ozzy show had been just $9.00. I remember being upset that the record store had the nerve to tack on an extra .50 to the cost.
Many were the days when a new album dropped, and I’d be there—early—just as the clerk began stocking the record bins. With the new disc or cassette (or even 8-Track) secured, I’d hang out a little longer, snooping through the import bins or the bargain bins, hoping to mine gold by discovering an album by a great unknown band or singer. The imports were usually those late 1970s and early 1980s British heavy metal bands that I’d read about in the music magazines. This is how I discovered Iron Maiden and Saxon and Motorhead and Tygers of Pan Tang. I lived and breathed metal in those days. Still do.
Sometimes, I’d hang out in the pop music department, over with the Duran Duran or Adam and the Ants albums. Why? Because that’s where the girls were found. I didn’t care for that sort of music, but I knew enough about it to hold a conversation with a pretty girl or two.
Record stores weren’t just for the young, either. I remember many a visit including my mother or father (and even grandparents), who had their own record collections to build upon. They enjoyed country music and rock-n-roll oldies from the 1950s and 1960s. I now possess many of those same albums. I also own CDs from Duran Duran and Adam and the Ants. It all comes back to memories tied to these wonderful stores and to the people who shared this same journey. Back to a time when life didn’t feel too busy or complicated.
Kids today, they’ll never know the joys of the record store, of the people and the culture that sprang from it across many generations. They have it easier, kids today. They can get anything they want simply by pointing and clicking on their smart phone or computer or tablet. But here’s the truth: something always gets lost when life becomes too easy. For many of us, that something is the record store. Gone but never forgotten.