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Record times 

We’ve heard lots of reaction to Brian Smith’s “Last of the independents” (MT, May 10), which traced the sad decline of record stores in Detroit and across the nation. The rise of big box stores and Amazon for CD sales, the rise of downloads, which make the CD irrelevant … those are just some of the factors.

The stores matter not just as places of commerce. You can buy and sell just fine over the Internet, thank you. Instead record stores are social institutions, hangouts, places to linger and learn; they’re where you can connect the dots of the musical universe. The best of them are places where, as Detroit reader John Krzyston reminded us, you can walk in, mention a scrap of a lyric, mangle a bit of the melody, and be told what you’re looking for. "No, my friends, not even the radio station that played the song will provide you as much song identity information as your typical indie record store associate," Krzyston wrote.

And it goes deeper than that. Here’re some of Smith’s personal reflections on his youth in Tucson, Ariz.:

My life as kid was delineated in many ways by the dull gleam of record bins and counters often manned by hungover clerks whose rock-star disposition was based equally in unwarranted condescension and fanatical musical knowledge. It was as if what they had in their heads — this musical zeal and obsession— elevated them above me, and they knew it. But I loved them, and in many ways they were my teachers.

The record store tethered me to a place larger, shinier and freer than my own, an existence available mostly in the imagination but rooted in some truth, generated by the recorded song and the contextualization of its packaging, the LP and the CD. Each recording led me down paths that seemed unending: The Rolling Stones led to Gram Parsons led to Buck Owens led to the Louvin Brothers led to the Monroe Brothers and on and on. Every week it was a new fascination. Oh, Johnny Rotten dug Alice Cooper? Hence Frank Zappa, the Yardbirds, and then Muddy Waters. Each week I’d ride the bus to the store and dig a new linage, getting all new goosebumps. And it never ended; it should never end. I still spend a good portion of my income at local record stores.

Does some part of that describe you? Have record stores shaped some part of your life — musical or otherwise? Are they doing that today? Share your record store memories with us at, and we’ll post them here. It’ll be sort of like one of those conversations you strike up while flipping through discs in the bins.

W. Kim Heron,


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