In this installment, Cormac Duffy ponders how record stores hold such appeal despite having numerous flaws
The recent passing of the great Steve Jobs saw his deserved canonisation as the man who changed our relationship with music. Jobs did for digital music what Henry Ford did for the car, perfecting it and producing it for the whole world to use. For all the change that the iRevolution brought to music, I still found myself in two brand new, distinctly old-fashioned record shops the week of Jobs’ passing. Dublin’s E3 Music and Elastic Witch have both defied common logic and are confidently setting up on the deck of the supposed Titanic of the physical music business (with Apple as the iceberg of this poor metaphor, of course).
It seems that in the digital age, record stores still hold some sway in the hearts of fans, myself included. When I step back and think about how many flaws they have however, I’m not sure why.
Think of it like this. Imagine trying to explain a record store to someone who knows only the Internet. So you tell them it’s like iTunes, if iTunes was in 3D and cost twice as much. And instead of simple files that can fit in your pocket in their millions, music comes on discs of arbitrary capacity and size. The best part is that they’ll slowly turn your favourite songs into screeching scratches and jittery skips (unless you listen to Aphex Twin, in which case the difference is negligible). This is all assuming the shop has the album in question, which is like assuming nothing goes faster than the speed of light. It might be perfectly logical, but stock buyers, like cheeky Swiss neutrinos, love to defy expectations to mess up your day.
So why bother? Maybe it’s the mythology. It’s where bands are formed, and lost classics are unearthed. It’s the one place you can find your soul mate when your hands meet reaching to grab the same Astral Weeks 180 gram gatefold vinyl. It’s the Promised Land for music lovers who want to show their support for a band and argue with the supposed oracles of the staff about which Can album is the least overrated.
I fear my love for record shops can be traced all too easily to seeing High Fidelity at an impressionable age. The idea of working with such large quantities of music, having access to whatever you want was a dream in my pre-broadband life. Today, that unlimited quantity of music is available to music fans everywhere, thanks, in part, to Jobs. And for all its benefits, I take comfort in the fact that when this world of excess music gets too intense, I can always retreat to the warm glow of the record shop.