By Alan O'Connor
With National Record Store Day fast approaching, I was reminded when I first stumbled across punk about 1984. As usual it was through friends because by that time the scene had mostly disappeared underground. Some roommates, who actually wanted nothing to do with me because I went to school, dressed in faded colors and played strange music on the house record-player. It was a real mix from New Order and the Smiths to local punk bands that were scared of Ronald Reagan’s joke about starting a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. “We begin bombing in five minutes...”
So I took myself off to the punk record store in Toronto. It was called the Record Pedlar. Of course I had the usual problem of bins full of records by bands with strange names. On the first trip I came home with twelve-inch records by the Dicks and Dead Kennedys. Sex and politics. And soon after that The Clash, Sandinista! triple album because I was a huge supporter of the revolution in Nicaragua that President Reagan hated so much.
The Record Pedlar moved around a few times, but today it no longer exists.
Independent record stores have always been important in punk scenes. They’re places to hang out, to learn, to sell used records when you’re desperate and to buy them when you’re not. There’s posters for shows, fliers to take away, and notices for “band with recording needs drummer must be willing to tour”. Record stores often have fanzines that you can’t find in magazine outlets. I bought my copy of Smash the State: A Discography of Canadian Punk (the book came with a 7") in a record store.
I traveled all around the USA in the Summer of 2006. My fifteen year-old Honda Civic died in the Arizona desert and a marvelous Mexican-American mechanic put new life into it. I went from Long Island to Florida, Austin, San Diego and Portland. And in every city, I stopped off in the independent record store to flip through vinyl, pick up flyers for shows, and most likely find the coolest part of town and somewhere to eat. It would be impossible to list them all and unfair to mention a only few. But the death of the indie and punk record store has been somewhat exaggerated. It is sad that the Record Pedlar and other like it are no longer with us. But most places still have a record store that sells music on independent record labels. You’ve just got to find it.
Alan O'Connor is associate professor in the cultural studies program at Trent University in Canada. He is the author of Punk Record Labels and the Struggle for Autonomy: The Emergence of DIY.