Randy Plaster was far too tall. 6’9″ or 10″. At least six inches past the kind of tall that you wanted, if you were a man. It was an encumbrance, that kind of tall, especially if you were terminally uncoordinated, which Randy was. He had tried basketball. “Just stand under the net,” the coach at Paul Bunyan (Go Blue Oxen!) High told him, but he could barely manage that; he fell a lot, or fouled out on purpose so he could sit down and stop playing. He didn’t see the point of sports, anyway. Did you do the thing with the ball? Did you run to the place? Was there plentiful scoring? Good for you, I don’t give a shit, he thought.
Randy Plaster liked records.
Randy’s Record Barn was on the Main Drag of Little Aleppo, and its wares extended out onto the sidewalk: tables groaning under milk crates full of albums, and two oversized speakers mounted left and right of the door pumping out music all day, and above that was the sign in blue-and-white that read RANDY’S RECORD BARN – BUY & SELL. An awkward man in a tee-shirt flipped through the records; if you put enough used LPs together, an awkward man in a tee-shirt will spontaneously generate to flip through them. This is a form of magick.
The speakers were pulsating in uneven shapes. Neurasthenia by Plug; the double-album that made their record label drop them and the Church of England declare them “naughty and rotten.” Plug played Grammar Rock: some chords were verbs, and others were nouns, and pre-choruses were all adjectivial by default. It sounded similar to, but not quite like, the first Black Sabbath album having a series of mild strokes. The songs were 19 minutes long and not really songs at all, just pieces of music forced to wear names by lawyers; there were a couple of flute solos and some yodeling.
“This is terrible.”
“It’s challenging, Randy. Accept the music for what it is, and deal with it on its own terms.”
“I am: it’s crap.”
“You’re a melodist,” Zorro Chan said. Her parents were only recently immigrated when she was born, and they almost understood American naming conventions. She was wearing a short skirt and a Kinks tee-shirt.
“What the hell is that?”
“You privilege the singalong. You value the catchy over the abrasive.”
There were records everywhere. Hanging on the walls out of reach with price-marked stickers, and in rows alongside all four sides of the store, and in three rows going back in the middle. In the glass case that served as the counter, that Randy Plaster sat behind. Where there weren’t records, there was bullshit: signed promotional photos, and pinned-up magazine articles, and a framed picture of Randy with The Snug. The cash register was a cigar box. Zorro had a pile of newly-arrived albums; some went where they belonged, others she kept back for herself. She had been trying and failing not to take all of her pay in trade.
He was standing behind the counter with the Cenotaph open in front of him; she was walking around alphabetizing.
“Why does music have to sound good?”
“Because otherwise, it’s not music. It’s noise.”
“You discount intentionality,” Zorro said.
“I would never.”
“But yet you do.”
“Go change your shirt.”
Randy had also worn his Kinks tee-shirt (which, just saying, was way older than hers and he had gotten at the gig when they played the Absalom) that day, and he was rather annoyed at Zorro.
“I’m the boss.”
“You’re not the boss of my body.”
“Don’t turn this into a feminist thing.”
“Now it’s a feminist thing. How dare you, patriarch? Will you shackle me into a corset next, and then be-scarf my head?”
“We can’t both wear Kinks shirts. It looks weird.”
“What if I put all the Kinks records up front and mark them down ten percent and we say it’s Kinks Day?”
“I like that, but don’t mark them down.”
There was silence, and Randy grinned, clapped, spun around behind him to where the shop’s record player was. He lifted the silver arm, replaced it on the cradle, and took up the vinyl by the edges. About face, and there on the counter sitting in a metal cradle was the cover for Neurasthania; it was black with dark-pink accents in the shape of a sink, and he slid the disc into the waxy paper within the cardboard, and placed the album in a milk crate at his feet. Came back up with a yellow sleeve, bright and cheerful, with red bubble letters across the top Cinnamon Grove by the Strandeds. They were a girl group from Philadelphia who moved to California, started taking drugs, dating skinny white boys, living in canyons. It was a concept album, sort of, about an alien society composed of pure funkiness who come to earth and spread their booty-shaking nature with humanity, much to the displeasure of President Whiteman. Killers played on it–Bernard Purdie on drums, and Jerome Hoffs on guitar–and the girls wailed above the nimble soul in harmony so tight you couldn’t slip a playing card in between their voices.
What’s up in the sky?
Is that love up in the sky?
I don’t know what’s in the sky.
That is love up in the sky.
That was The Abovening (Part I), which was the first song on the record, and all the other songs were named like that, which may have contributed to the poor sales. The art did not help, either: it depicted the alien spaceships (which were also composed of pure funkiness) arriving over Los Angeles, except the ships looked just like toilets and so it looked like someone in the San Fernando Valley with a trebuchet was chucking commodes over the Hollywood Hills. Cinnamon Grove hit #122 on the album charts, and did not receive a bullet. The label dropped them; they signed with another, smaller, company; one more release to paltry reception, and that was it for the Strandeds. There were three of them. One had a happy ending, and one didn’t, and one disappeared. The album was a Rock Nerd treasure, as it was perfect: it was the record that should have been a hit, and nothing inspires a Rock Nerd like alternate chart histories. If only the public had any taste.
If they had taste, then they wouldn’t be the public.
Randy’s Record Barn looked like it had been there forever, but it was only five years old. Little Aleppo used to get its records at the Boogie Bug, which was also on the Main Drag, right where Tower Tower stands now. Billy “Boogie” Downes opened the place in ’68, and never took a vacation except for the several months a year when he went on tour with the Grateful Dead. Boogie was squat and did not own a pair of proper shoes: if he could not attend an event in his flippity-flops, then he would not attend that event at all. He had a pair of Bierkenstocks for formal occasions, but that was as far as he was prepared to encase his feet.
The Boogie Bug was not quite a Head Shop, but it was heady: one could buy apparati with which to smoke tobacco that no human being had ever used to smoke tobacco, and incense of varying stinkinesses, and bitchin’ posters, and tickets to the rock and roll shows at the Absalom and the Davidian. Mr. California Number One Donuts was next door, and the teenagers would hang out after school. Coffee and crullers and flirting and shoplifting, and once in a while a guy would get to second base in the Jazz section. Boogie was also selling weed, so he didn’t mind the shoplifting so much, but he was old and cranky by the time Tower Gildersleeve offered to buy the store, and he took the first offer.
“Selling the place.”
“What? You can’t,” Randy Plaster said.
“Sure, I can. I own it,” Boogie said.
“But then there won’t be a record store in the neighborhood.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“We went over this.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Move to Florida and fuck old ladies.”
Randy did not want to move to Florida, and he did not want to fuck old ladies. He wanted to flip through stacks of records in a shop where everyone knew him. He wanted to read through the credits on the back cover, noting producers and studios and putting a story together about the history of rock and roll and whatnot just from gleaned tidbits squeezed from the small print. He wanted to make his pile and take it to the counter and bullshit with Boogie for a half-hour, and talk him down a couple bucks. Most other customers liked to chat up the Record Store Girl. Boogie always had a Record Store Girl, and all the Rock Nerds were in love with her. They came and went over the years, but 90% of them had Betty Page bangs and cat’s-eye glasses. A proper Record Store Girl could increase your take by 20%, Boogie thought.
So when Randy bought all of the inventory and opened up the Record Barn across the Main Drag, Boogie had only one piece of advice.
“Find the hottest employee you can.”
“I’m gonna hire people who know what they’re talking about.”
“Fuck that. Hire a chick with big tits.”
And then Boogie went to Florida, where he did indeed fuck many old ladies.
Randy did not hire anyone for several years, though, mostly because no one had passed the test. Four pages, single-spaced. Questions were both fact and opinion-based, and one of the sections required an essay. Zorro was the first one to pass, even though she misspelled the drummer of Can’s name.
“It’s Kinks Day,” she said.
“Sure, why not?”
“Shouldn’t we play the Kinks?’
“Give the people what they want.”
“The one about England.”
Zorro Chan came behind the counter with a record, laid it on the player, set the needle, and there it was: scruffy Anglicism and a Vox amplifier and filial friction, all coming through the speakers in Randy’s Record Barn on the Main Drag in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.