Showing posts with label the '80s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the '80s. Show all posts

January 20, 2013

2. Moooooose! : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast



I attended Wandell Elementary in Saddle River, New Jersey. I was among the tallest girls in my grade and had earned the unfortunate nickname of Moose because of it. The irony is that to this day I am only 5 feet 3 but when you reach nearly that height at light speed before the rest of your class, you are a circus freak in a training bra. Throughout all of grade school I bordered on preppy (Hey, it was the ‘80s and there were whole handbooks dedicated to us) but also a total jock. Like so many kids at this crossroads age between grade school and high school, I could have easily gone in a couple of different directions (See the Breakfast Club for character references).



I could have remained an athlete who wore docksiders and popped collars off the field but once I discovered punk rock, that part of me was erased. For those of you who have seen the movie Valley Girl, I went through a transition much like the lead Julie was heading towards thanks to Randy. Only my Nicholas Cage gateway drug to counter culture was a slender Goth behind a record store counter. If we want to talk true confessions of a music obsessed woman, the movie Valley Girl made me fall even more deeply in love with being an outsider during a a time where I when I was easily influenced. I mean this "Melt With You" montage is teenage girl catnip on par with flavored lip gloss and folded notes that say "Do you like me? Circle yes or no". If I had to pick a side, Randy and Fred win. 


Our story moves to Crazy Eddie, a popular consumer electronics chain in the Northeast that also happened to stock music. The closest location to my home growing up was on Rt. 17 in Paramus and it was there that I purchased my very first LPs, cassettes, and various stereo gear*. It was this one store among the chain with an absurd ad campaign led by a man in a turtleneck no matter what season, and two very thoughtful employees, that accidentally directed me down a path of a lifetime obsession with music.  




Picking up where I left off in my last short story, I had stumbled across the band Midnight Oil via a late night TV show. I didn't know where one would find a band that wasn't played on the radio so I coyly asked the two offbeat looking characters behind the store counter to help me. One of them was an incredibly tall and lanky goth with a hypnotic bird's nest of black hair. His name was Athan and at the time he played in a band called Fahrenheit 451. Every time my Mom or Dad drove me to Crazy Eddie, I prayed that Athan might be working so I could bask in his beautiful, new romantic, Bahausian shadow.

My recollection of the second employee is much less vivid but this can be attributed to the fact that my focus was entirely on Athan who had become my adorable grade school crush. Unfortunately gentleman number 2 has been pushed to a sidekick roll in my memory. My imagination has painted him as Pretty in Pink’s Duckie so while I was mostly star struck by the tall glass of doom and gloom, he was still charming and important to this story line.

During the middle part of this decade I had yet to fully understand what alternative meant or that it carried a distinct wardrobe / ethos / soundtrack. If we agree that the world can be broken down into two sports teams, the normal people verse the not so normal, these two Crazy Eddie employees were captains on the freak side. I approached them with my desperate need to own a Midnight Oil record and they didn't cringe or laugh. Instead they leaned in a little closer to me and inquired further. “You like this kind of music?” I confessed that I didn't know anything about this style of music, but was VERY interested. I felt like a tourist in a foreign country meeting two people who finally spoke my language. We shared an interest in something I had yet to comprehend but there was a bond between us that they not only recognized, but took the time to develop. I believe this is why so many of us on the planet have a deeply personal attachment to record stores and their employees. I know I am not alone in this experience and for those record store clerks who wonder if getting paid minimum wage has any sort of pay off, it does. You help shape young ears who in turn discover who they are through the music you direct them towards. 

Athan and store clerk #2 found me the album 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 by Midnight Oil but then they went one step further. They turned over a bright yellow Crazy Eddie bag and with a magic marker in hand, they wrote down a list of bands they thought in their humble opinion I should check out. Before the internet this handwritten list meant really only one thing. In order for me to take any of the bands on their list for a test drive, I would have to purchase them one at a time. And purchase them all I did. Approximately once a month my Mom or Dad would drive me to the store (about 15 minutes from our home), and I would cross another band off their handwritten list. 



While exploring the record racks on my own, there was little I recognized. I didn't really know what “light wave” or “heavier wave” meant but I was instantly compelled or repelled over the album art and the names of songs. I would pick a record or tape that best appealed to me through the tactile / visual experience. This technique of judging a record by the cover is one I know most people my age once relied upon. Our early record collecting ways depended on it. Pre-internet or access to music magazines and fanzines, cover art was the bait that lured a potential listener like me in. Colors, images, patterns, fonts, band photos, song titles, and credits were more important than the music itself because if the record failed to interest someone on the visual level, people were less likely to buy it. Unless the band toured and you had seen them to know what they sounded like, their album art was as important as the music itself. It’s entire purpose is to sell a listener on a band before even one note is heard. Once you spent your hard earned allowance on a record and brought it into your home, your were more likely to give it as many chances as it took to grow on you. Again, this is not an experience unique to me and because I still work at a record store and see this happen first hand. Even with all the bells and whistles that a band can use via modern technology to sell themselves, great cover art or packaging can still lure a person towards making a purchase without a customer having a clue as to what the artist sounds like. 

My favorite part of this story isn't however about the music these two guys exposed me to or how it led me to a lifetime love of underground, underdog music. It is the fact that one of these two people has reappeared in my life multiple times. The Duckie character is someone I will never forget however I still don’t know his name nor did I ever get a chance to thank him for this small gesture that has a long lasting, massive effect on me. Athan and I however have crossed paths many times since Crazy Eddie shuttered its doors in the late ‘80s

The first time we reconnected was when I illegally drove into NYC with my very new driver’s license to buy records. Buying records was that important to me and at the time I didn't know where else to find the kind of music I had decided I liked. I drove 40 minutes to the Tower Record’s in the Village (The Broadway location near where Other Music still stands) with my tattered Crazy Eddie bag in my jacket pocket. I was still buying records off the list. I selected an Elvis Costello LP and carried it proudly to the counter. The man behind the register without looking up at me replied that the record was I was about to purchase was brilliant. I replied that I should hope so because he was the one who picked it out for me. He looked up in shock. The little girl he once knew was now in her late teens and still buying his recommendations. My heart nearly exploded. I never knew what happened to Athan when the store in Paramus closed down but there he was. We caught up briefly and then parted ways. He still confined by a counter and I still being a dedicated kid customer. I was too young to get how important his list was to me at the time so I stupidly never thanked him for what has turned out to be a relief effort on par with emergency rescue. I had been a lost teen and he and his cohort not only supplied me with a map but highlighted which roads to follow.

I still aspire to write at least one song as lyrically poignant as this one by Elvis Costello.


A decade later I was working at Caroline Distribution as an entry level sales rep. One of our exclusive record labels Cleopatra Records was in the office for a meeting and in walked Athan to represent the label. It is funny how nearly all this time later, he still managed to make my heart explode with nervous energy. He wasn't just a handsome, well dressed man, he was my musical guru. It hit me like a hammer as I sat in a conference room listening to him speak about the label’s upcoming priorities in 1997. I wouldn't even be in that room working for one of the best independent music distributors (at the time) if it weren't for Athan. My passion for non top 40 music took off with the help of  those two guys at Crazy Eddie and I have spent every day of the rest of my life expanding on that original list they fed me. After the meeting we caught up on the fire escape out the office’s back door as he smoked a cigarette. I reminded him of who I was and he didn't seem all that surprised that we had found each other again. The music business is filled with many people but it often behaves like a small, private community defined by just a handful of people. The joke is you will work with the same person at least twice during your career and I still find this to be very true of the music industry. 

This time I took the time to thank Athan. I tried my best to explain to him how he helped shape me as a person but there really isn't a cool, articulate way to explain that to the catalyst in person. We have worked together for many years after that day and we are still loosely in contact. We may be middle aged now but when I think back to the first albums I purchased, the neon yellow bag I now have framed, or Athan and the other record store employee, I am still a confused teen looking for members of a tribe I had yet to define. 

Athan has gone on to play in many bands over the decades but here is a look at his most recent band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl. 


This post is a humble dedication to those who take the time to share their knowledge in a thoughtful way to strangers. I have lived my life trying to give back to others in a way that has shaped me for the better. For every action, there truly is a reaction. 




*My scores at this Crazy Eddie also included this super ridiculous Sony turntable. It was vaguely portable and I recall dragging this thing on a plane with me and trying to play records on the fold down table in front of me in the late '80s. This is just further proof that my obsession with vinyl started young.