I used to work in a (failing) record store years ago. The appreciation I had for that job and the people I worked with is very deep and, in unexpected moments, I find my thoughts drift to those people. Two things come to mind today:
1. One of my co-workers and I got into a discussion once about the following hypothetical scenario: Would it be better to be in Limp Bizkit (and please remember that this was at a time where they were playing sold-out arenas and had some cultural currency) or a band like Yo la Tengo? It was interesting because I think we both agreed on the parameters of the argument. We understood that this ‘biggest band in the world’ would not always be so and this other band was commercially limited but had the capacity to hold their position in the culture (which is to say they appeal to music geeks) for a longer period of time. I think you can guess which one I chose.
I feel like my choice was reaffirmed this year when I saw Yo la Tengo play along with Sam Green as the live soundtrack to Green’s film about Buckminster Fuller. The band was outside the theater in the Wexner Center in the lobby chatting people up before the show and, again, after the film was over. They seemed affable in the question and answer session after the film ended. When someone in the audience asked why he wanted the band to do the soundtrack live he remarked that it was because he had see them do something similar with The Sounds of Science, an underwater documentary. It occurred to me at the time that this very cool thing they just performed happened because the band has continually put themselves out in front of the public for a long period of time. There was no real flash of popularity for the band, rather a slow build to a plateau where they have remained more or less to this day (they put out another new record this year, full of totally decent songs). I wonder if they are content with this or, if somewhere around the release of I can hear the heart beating as one if they felt they would continue to grow and grow. I know what I hope: I hope they know themselves well enough that they are following some personal schedule that only makes sense to them. I think they have aspiration, but that aspiration is a little differently calibrated. As cheesy as it sounds, I think my life is more fulfilled with their music and their performances in it.
2. As I mentioned, the record store I was working in was slowly failing. This probably isn’t fair but it often seemed like music was more important to the people who worked behind the register than the owner. To say more would get complicated and I want to leave that to the side right now. What I really want to say is that my life was richer for being with those people who were so enthusiastic about what they listened to. I think about people like Billy, Jer, Tim and others who just got so much pleasure out of hearing a sound, sometimes very specific sounds, pour out of those speakers. Enthusiasm is a contagious thing; at its best moments it can hold the darker stuff at bay for a while. I think working there is where I first learned that. As music plays through my headphones right now (King Krule, if you’re interested) I picture my former coworkers, scattered in a variety of locales, and I hope they still carry that enthusiasm with them. We all know that you can still be so enthusiastic about sailing, even when that ship is sinking. Those moments, in retrospect, were glorious.