Working music

©2023 michael raven

Those coupla years working at a used record shop was quite the experience back when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I didn’t do it for the pay, oh hell no. I did it for the records, the discounts, and the interesting people who dropped by.

At first it was located above another new and used record shop across the parking lot from what was, then, one of the few places in either of the Cities could be openly gay or lesbian. It was called Loring Park, and is still the main focus of Pride Day gatherings. In the same building was The Amazon Feminist Bookstore, not affiliated at all with the online Jeff Bezos operation, which came several years later. The Amazon had books, sure, but they also had women’s toys in a back room, so there were always an interesting slice of society walking by — along with the draw of the European-style Café at the end of the block that sold high-end multi-course meals and decadent deserts — and the head shop around the corner.

At the time, the used record store was a great place to pick up vinyl. As everyone shifted over to CDs, Diane would purchase records off of the people looking to finance their upgrades. And she was picky as hell about what she would take. While most used record stores would take everything and anything you brought to them, Diane would inspect every single disk with an eagle eye for scratches and wear. Only very rarely did she overlook a bad disk, which is why she could both charge and pay more for every record that passed through her hands. It was all about quality, and those in the know appreciated it.

The record store, being located as it was in one of the few gay/lesbian hotspots, it was no surprise that Diane was part of that community as well. She was lesbian and didn’t keep mute about it.

We had more than a few local celebs come through from the music scene. Well-known hardcore punkers buying classical and jazz, C/W guitarists buying death metal. Always a riot (well, except for one guy, but I’ll leave off my tale about a nationally famous musician who was a big jerk.

I ended up helping her move to her new shop in what is known as the Uptown neighborhood in exchange for a handful of quality bootlegs I had my eye on. “Unofficial Live Recordings” was the keyword needed to see what was behind the counter. So I got sore as hell hauling lots of vinyl first down two flights of stairs, then dodging cars on Lagoon Street, which was always busy AF, even at three in the morning. I think she got off with the bargain price of six bootlegs, but I didn’t care — I saved myself over a hundred dollars (which was a lot in the 80s).

A week or two later, she found she couldn’t leave the shop to go grab lunch or anything else she liked to do when she flipped the sign over to “be back in 15 mins” — too many lost sales opportunities and rent was higher when you weren’t subletting from another retailer. She saw me in her store one day and offered me a job. Fifteen minutes later, I was working the counter and she was off to run her errands. Cash money or free vinyl. And, a week or two after that, I was offered each weekend to pick up cash and tunes as she decided she really needed more breaks.

Occasionally, though, I’d just swing by and check on her. One summer’s day, we sat out in front of the shop, smoking and drinking iced tea. It was too nice of a day to shop for records and she didn’t get many customers on days like that. So we just watched women in their fashionable clothes, or in their swimsuits, walking to the lake and beach a few blocks away. We compared notes as I listened to an advance release copy she’d managed to get of the “Fascination Street” single by the Cure.

“Eh,” she said, halfway through the extended version of the 12″ single. “Too dark for me. Don’t know why you like this morose stuff.”

“Well,” I replied. “You’re in luck because it is winding up. And yes, I’ll buy it. What would you prefer to listen to?”

“Play that Mel Torme by the counter. That, or the Ramones.”

I could tell that she was more in the mood for Torme, so I put it on the turn table under the counter and set it playing.

And Diane smiled. Until Mel couldn’t quite get out “New York”. Then she cussed and put a new price sticker on the cover to reflect the flaw in the vinyl. She’d overpaid for the record, thinking it was in better shape than it ended up being, and was going to get close to zero return for her failure to notice the flaw.

Then the Ramones got their turn and it was all good. We watched the pretty people walk by and she started asking which was my type. And she agreed with almost all. “You’ve got good taste,” she told me. “But strange taste. You don’t seem interested in a few that I really thought you’d go for.”

“I don’t much care for plastic.”

She nodded, and sipped her iced tea with a grin.

“As I said, you’ve got taste.”

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