Thursday, September 8, 2011

So Long, Old Friend

As some of you may know, a few months ago I posted about Borders going out of business, an excursion I took with JT to one of their locations and three cheap(ish) purchases I made as a result of their unfortunate (but understandable) demise.

Well, it now seems that the last local Borders standing, the one that I once frequented often, sometimes daily, is in its sunset days. This past Saturday, with music now at 60% off, it seemed like the right time to make a final and farewell visit in order to pay my respects. So we loaded up the kids, headed into “downtown” Brentwood and within five minutes Karla had to take the kids back out to the car because Fox was running around like a whirling dervish on crack. Anyway, some really incredible bargains were to be had…while at the same time, some stuff was still so overpriced that while it was a better deal, the principle wouldn’t let me make the purchase. So it goes.

The closing of Borders though is more than just the end of a business; it marks the near end of an era. With music and books being digitized and/or hard copies made so readily available at our fingertips either at home or on the go, “old fashioned” retailers just can’t compete with the cheapness and convenience of it all. And while there are still plenty of folks like me who like the touch and feel of a CD or book in hand, there just aren’t enough of us to float a big company like Borders…especially when I can get a Beatles album cheaper at Target than I can for the discounted price at Borders (I mean duh, people).

But, as I said previously, Borders is where I discovered a lot of new music, fattened up my back catalog and just in general enjoyed killing 30 minutes to an hour perusing their (once) surprisingly diverse shelves, seeing what was the what at the listening stations. (I remember how annoyed I would get when a more obscure disc wasn’t in their database…but the man’s voice was really sincere in his apology.) Honestly, there was no better way to spend a lunch break without involving nudity and/or the Spivey of your choice.

I remember finding the Go-Betweens best of, Bellavista Terrace, listening to snippets of the first three songs, and heading straight for the register. I remember finding Death Cab for Cutie’s Forbidden Love EP, studying the cover, checking the back for the song titles, and tucking it up under my arm, feeling as if I’d found a secret treasure. I remember when I picked up Love’s Forever Changes, Old 97’s Early Tracks and X’s Under the Big Black Sun, and all the reasons why I sought those artists out. I remember, with a giggle, some guy in his early 50s at one of the listening stations going nuts as he jammed out on the headphones, looking over at a woman and her young son, complete strangers, and saying (in a headphones voice), “Abraxas! I love it. You know? They don’t make music like this anymore. Abraxas!” The woman smiled, nodded and walked off, while he kept rockin’. I remember $5.00 surplus sales (Neil Young’s Harvest), $12.99 for new releases the first week (Strokes’ Is This It) and openly cussing a Magnetic Fields CD because there was no way I was gonna pay $18.99 for The Charm of the Highway Strip. It was all glorious.

My time spent in this manner was effectively brought to a close around 2006 when I started working from home and really had no reason to get away from the office for a bit to clear my head with a rewarding distraction and remind myself that there are some things that make putting up with the humdrum of the daily grind worthwhile. Music basically does that for me, and a lot of the artists I discovered at Borders (or at least picked up there) have inspired me in more ways than I can say.

It was really eerie being there this past Saturday, thumbing through the disarray of well rummaged CDs, like looting corpses after a battle for watches and loose change (you know, not that I’ve done that). I found a couple of “Oh yeahs!!,” and a few “Hmmm, maybes…,” and smirked at the ridiculous surplus of certain artists (I’m laughing directly at you, Sufjan Stevens). It was the most crowded I’d ever seen the place save for the midnight purchases of a new Harry Potter book (yes, I am an uber dork). And while that saddened me, it was mostly because I accepted so well the inevitability of it all. Maybe it’s because I’m older and (even) more jaded, and maybe it’s because Borders sorta had it coming ($31.99 for the Damn the Torpedoes reissue? Really??), but I think also because there’s a certain understanding with life that all things, especially good things, eventually come to an end, all chapters close, and all eras fade away and blend into the next. When I look back, I realize that my Borders years were basically two lifetimes ago.

Borders represents a big part of my “free wheelin’” youth (and yes, I bought the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan there) because I have always identified personally with the music I listen to, and so it’s only natural that the place where I purchased it would maintain a heavy import (as a kid in PC it’s Camelot music, which is also long gone). But with personal retrospect I realize my youth ended quite some time ago, and while I often wallow in nostalgia, those days are truly gone and the closing of Borders is a bit of a symbolic last nail in the coffin. And I accept that, even if I don’t really like it.

Now as for the music I found, I was lucky to get some good deals on some newer releases by favorite artists that I’d not had a chance to pick up. And I also scored some back catalog stuff that I’d either once owned and lost or heard a lot via other folks but never owned myself. Overall, it was a good haul and a satisfying final Borders expedition.

Let’s dive in…


Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (2010): Superchunk was a huge part of my early college years. I can’t stress that enough. But I jumped off the wagon by the mid 90s, not happy with the less “punk” more “indie” pop approach they took with albums like Foolish and Here’s Where the Strings Come In, even though I realize such a move was both obvious and inevitable. By the end of the 90s, I wasn’t even aware when they came out with a new album. So sad, and stupid too. These guys are real innovators, and proof that indie rock can be anything it wants to be. Anyway, they had been silent for nearly a decade before The Leaves in the Gutter EP proved that they were not only back, but that they had returned to the more “old school” pop punk they were initially known (and loved by me) for. Majesty Shredding is more of the same, yet still splashes liberally in the sounds of the aforementioned efforts, touching on just about everything but the more experimental edges most prominent on 1999’s Come Pick Me Up. The results are quite pleasing, and while it’s not as immediately endearing as No Pocky for Kitty or On the Mouth, it (as msp put it) feels like a grower, and with each spin of these bouncy, amped up tunes, that becomes more obvious. I’m sure I’ll have more to say in the future when it all clicks.

My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991): I got this one for a steal, and it was even a bargain before the discount. This album is basically universally considered the best of the shoegaze genre, a flawless masterpiece and so absolutely “the it” that 20 years on, Kevin Shields and Co have yet dared to attempt a follow up. Such is the wonder and danger of music. Sonic, lush, ethereal, deeply melodic and so haunting it has you jumping at shadows, this is music that allows you to do anything, be anywhere, feel everything, enhancing or changing current moods, a canvas of emotion through music. I mean some guy at FSU wrote a thesis on it, so…let him tell you.

Natalie Merchant

Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep (2010): I’m not sure if Natalie Merchant has hit a bit of writer’s block the past ten years, or just gotten lazy, or really has a legit vision, but Leave Your Sleep is the second release of “songs she didn’t write.” To be fair, that’s just the lyrics in this case, which are all poems by well known poets (Robert Graves, E. E. Cummings, etc) relating to childhood. All teasing aside, this is a solid outing, picking up nicely where 2003’s folk standards, The House Carpenter’s Daughter, left off and moving further away from the alt-pop stylings that made her an alterno superstar, and deeper into a more eclectic, world/ethnic/folk/Americana vibe that in 20 years will sound more relevant than Blind Man’s Zoo does now and is ultimately more rewarding at present. And I’ll just stop there before I really do get mean. (Yes, Natalie, Karla and I are still miffed at you.)


Oasis – The Masterplan (1998): B-sides collections can be hit or miss, but when you’re Noel Gallagher in the mid 90s and pretty much everything coming off your guitar strings is either brilliant or crunkin’ brilliant, every song is vital. Morning Glory will, to me, always be their shining masterpiece, and since a good chunk of these songs come from that era, this is a collection that is nearly as essential. Acquiesce, Talk Tonight, Rockin’ Chair and the title track are just four standouts among many that not only make this a great catch all, but just a great album period.


Spoon – Girls Can Tell (2001): I had a burned copy of this album that I got from Paul Spivey (you know…) along with Kill the Moonlight, and this one not only squashed the other like a grape, it might be one of the greatest albums ever. Why? Because it’s good. Seriously, it’s that simple. This is rock…indie, alternative, pop, bossa nova, whatever, brands don’t matter, ‘cos at the heart, bones and guts of it all, these tunes are catchy, peppy, angsty, fresh and infectious. If this album was a disease, I’d catch it. If this album was a girl, I’d get it pregnant behind the high school gymnasium. Basically, if it were your mom, I’d be your daddy. But really, it’s great. Get it. Now.

PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011): I love Polly. But sometimes I gotta treat her like a sister and say, “Look babe, that one sorta stunk.” That’s my feeling (if you’ll remember) on her last effort, an official collaboration with John Parrish, 2009’s A Man a Woman Walked By. And that’s Polly for you, sometimes so out there she polarizes even the biggest fans. And that’s a good thing, ‘cos she’s pushing boundaries and likely one day I’ll get it (and maybe Rid of Me too, which I also hate). Let England Shake, in addition to having the running theme of war and specifically English wars, which is awesome, sheds all but her “signature weird” and musically sounds almost classic 80s New Wave/alternative, which means extremely accessible in a retro/nostalgic way, and yet at the same time completely overhauled and updated for tomorrow’s modern ear as only Polly can. And, being the chameleon that she is, what enhances this even more is that her voice, so unique, so capable, is here often so subdued (though not in a White Chalk way) that it sounds unlike her at all, and more like a wounded Kate Bush, lilting, wandering, and yet set with purpose. It’s the kind of album that approaches differently with each listen, and lingers afterward because the melodies never let up and never leave. If White Chalk isn’t careful, Let England Shake just might take the top spot in my heart.

And that’s it. I will likely never have another Borders experience, at least not at the one where I picked up dozens, maybe even hundreds of albums by nearly as many brilliant, wonderful, life altering artists. So thanks again, Borders, for all the good tunes and for sending me out on a high note. Literally.

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