Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The King is dead! But you may be able to find him in the Q’s. Or the L's. Who knows?

My laptop is dead.

You don’t know how much you depend on your laptop until it dies. I called a tech guy and he couldn’t get it to wake up from sleep mode even after I bought a new battery for it. Here comes the nighttime. Right now I’m borrowing one from Chris’s brother until I can get a new one, but you know, my stuff just isn’t there.

Case in point: Reflektor.

Reflektor is the new Arcade Fire album that came out today. Normally, I’d just download it from iTunes and be done with it, but I no longer have access to iTunes thanks to cheap parts from China, at least that’s what I’m going to blame it on since someone must be responsible for my woes! Still, I wanted the album. So I did what we did back in the nineties – I sought what we used to call a “compact disc.”

Back in the nineties you had these things called “record stores” where you went to buy round or square objects that held recorded music data on them. They used to be big, black, and plastic and you called them “vinyl.” Then they were little strips of magnetic material contained in square plastic containers. Next they were smaller discs; these are to what I referred earlier. I had a lot of these things called “compact discs” but over time found the convenience of MP3s too much to resist. Thus, I am part of the problem. I helped close the record stores.

The thing is, I loved record stores. I loved flipping through the discs looking for buried sonic treasures, loved to look at the covers and the funny names of bands and the displays of what we called “new releases,” which came out on Tuesdays in the United States and Mondays in the United Kingdom. I’d dig through the bargain bins to pick up older music for a few bucks, and I rarely left without a handful of new discs. Even when I was downloading music, I still visited the stores. It was a payday ritual – I’d reward myself for getting through another two weeks of work with some new music.

But the stores disappeared. Sure, people blame online music, but that’s only part of the explanation. The music stores started to disappear before MP3s existed, when big box stores started selling CDs for lower prices. Walmart began to hoard a larger share of the market until a quarter of all CD sales came from its stores. Like in so other many industries, Walmart succeeded in shutting down the independent guys. They weren’t the only ones – chains like Best Buy and Borders are also guilty.

Which is why I feel so dirty about what I did today. No record stores stand in my neighborhood. Melody Records in Dupont Circle, where I had purchased countless CDs, no longer exists. But I wanted that record. There are only a handful of bands these days that I make an effort to purchase on the day of release – U2, The National, and Arcade Fire are pretty much it. So I went to Target.

I hate the box stores, but what can you do when the indie stores have dried up? I go to Target because it’s a block from my house and there isn’t anything else – aside from CVS – where you can go to purchase toiletries and household goods. The minimarts in the neighborhood were all pushed out by “development.” There’s an indie pharmacy but you can’t just go there to pick up some contact solution; it’s predominantly for medicines. I support the small businesses if I can – I am a frequent customer at the indie coffee shop instead of the chains, and well, what can I say about Lou’s except it’s practically our living room – but Target is unavoidable.

The Columbia Heights Target is a frustrating experience. A certain demographic that shops there seems to have no respect for it as a place of business, as it’s often trashed. In addition, the shelves are frequently empty of the products you want and full of junk you don’t need. The prices are pretty ridiculous, too – Target advertises that you’re getting your products “for less,” but not at this place. Perhaps that would be tolerable if the prices of things weren’t missing so much and you get up to the register (after waiting forever) to find out what you’re buying is several dollars more than what you logically expected. What’s more, the employees don’t give a shit and let you know it. Try to get one of them to help you when they’re talking to each other – you wonder how they don’t get eye strain from rolling them so hard.

I went to the meager section where they sell products they call “music.” You aren’t going to find much that isn’t pop garbage. A whole shelf full of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber and that type of stuff was labeled “New Releases.” (They did have one copy of the Paul McCartney album, so apparently someone in the supply chain knows something about music.) I moved some of the Katy Perrys aside and tried to find Reflektor, but it wasn’t in the new release section, so I went to the “rock” section, which wasn’t even in alphabetical order. In fact, it was in no order at all. I tried to dig around to see if there were any copies of Reflektor there, but I didn’t see any. I went to the section labeled “pop” and briefly considered suicide since I don’t want to live in a world where people listen to the stuff I found there.

Target didn’t have Reflektor, the new album by the band who won “Album of the Year” at the Grammies for its last album despite being on an independent record label, a band so big that it got its own post-Saturday Night Live special, a rarity that only the biggest worldwide acts like U2 get. And I wondered, is the CD really so dead that Target doesn’t carry this record, or is it just that the employees in this particular store are so bad that they didn’t put it on the shelves?

That’s when I went to Best Buy. They had more CDs, but I found it strange to navigate the shelves looking for one. Several copies of Reflektor were on the new release shelf, so I grabbed one and came home to listen to it. I feel like I’ve violated my principles. Yet, what choice did I have if I want to support this indie band? Best Buy helped kill the record stores. Best Buy won.

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