Another One Bites the Dust
August 22, 2008
And now, a moment of silence for The Compact Disc Store, the last independent, non-genre-specific-yet-thoroughly-satisfying-in-its-selections record store in Baton Rouge, my hometown.
The Compact Disc Store is not dead yet, exactly, so perhaps mourning it is a little bit premature. And I hope it is. But when my friend Jonathan and I visited it this afternoon for our semi-annual CD-splurge fiesta, a sign on the door read, “For Sale: This Store.” And, while we were in there–the entire half hour or so that it took for us to scour the store’s used section, peruse the new releases wall, flip through the extensive vinyl section, examine the boxed sets, and run around putting back non-essential purchases–only one other person came into the store.
In the end, both of us bought probably more than we should have. The air felt funereal, but if the store is on its way out, we weren’t going to be the reason.
About five years ago, I wrote about the death of the independent music store in my now-defunct webzine, Smarty Pants. Back then, we were in the early years of the digital music revolution, when Napster was the Big Bad that the majors were trying to combat. Now, it’s pretty much accepted and expected that most people simply want the convenience of getting their music online, whether its purchasing obscure out-of-print CDs from Amazon’s Marketplace, throwaway singles from iTunes, or just about anything illegally downloaded from Limewire (or Bittorent). Furthermore, CDs, unless they are the aforementioned obscure and out-of-print highly prized collectors items, are just obsolete (and pretty much second to vinyl in the obscurity category).
But the Compact Disc Store, despite its bland name, is more than just a place to buy CDs. Like other great independents, it is a place with a well grounded, well versed staff who, despite their hipster beards, probably know that a recording of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performing Schubert’s Winterreise is going to be just as good a listen as Billy Bragg’s latest release. Every time I’ve purchased music there, pretty much since high school, I’ve had an interesting exchange about music with the person behind the counter (or on the phone, when I once called them while interning at a hip indie label). No one has ever been rude or exhibited the stereotypical High Fidelity arrogant judgment.
And, like other great independent record stores, the Compact Disc Store has its own quirky character. Employees artfully collage the promo posters on the wall: Miles Davis turns into a giant alien-esque being; Barbra Streisand’s hands are altered so that she appeared to be gleefully holding a giant po-boy sandwich. A chubby cat and shaggy dog occasionally emerge from the back room to hang out with customers and subtly demand attention by rubbing up against your legs as you shopped. Far Side cartoons and Bushisms adorn the empty spots on the vinyl wall.
But the world has changed. Despite my sadness at seeing the for sale sign, I have to admit that I buy most of my music online these days, too. I hope someone buys the store, and that it can survive our current recession, but it is just one of many such stores stuck selling a product that most people don’t want anymore, and it doesn’t look good.
Ave vale atque, Compact Disc Store.