You wanted the best? You got the best.

For those of you whose lives don’t revolve around the revolving of a 12″ piece of vinyl, a 5″ piece of plastic, or an infinitesimally small hard drive, today is National Record Store Day. Last year, I picked up Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs, Chance Jones’ The Angels’ Share, and, uh, something else that I can’t remember. I was in Grand Rapids for the first time, attending the Festival of Faith and Music, and convinced my good friend Alex to drive me downtown. I think I also won tickets to see Lucero. Either way, it was a very nice introduction to the city that I would, four months later, begin to call–well, not “home.” Maybe “where I live.”

So, today being one of the first days that I haven’t had to wear long sleeves in six or so months, I rode my bike down to Vertigo for this year’s festivities. A quick primer: small, independent record stores are closing down at an alarming rate, putting store owners out of work, forcing us to buy the music Best Buy has to provide, and, (perhaps) most importantly, giving the counterculture one less place to congregate. Thus, why not throw big parties with bands, free food, and exclusive vinyl-only, Record Store Day-only releases?

I left my camera at home like a fool, but the store — which is one of the best record stores in the country this side of Amoeba — was packed. I’m talking can’t-squeeze-through-the-aisles packed. I’m talking waiting-in-line-to-browse-the-new-arrivals packed. I picked up seven or eight things — a Gaslight Anthem exclusive live EP! A new Magnolia Electric Co 7″! Bringing It All Back Home for $4! — and eventually put them all back, not wanting to wait in the monstrous line. A female singer-songwriter in the indie-Moog vein was playing when I got there, and a brilliant female-fronted cow-punk band started playing as I left. There were giveaways (though — a green, sleeveless Yep Roc t-shirt?) and free beer and pizza. There wasn’t a single countercultural stereotype not on display. Crust punks hung out outside next to beaten-up drums, hipsters with Timbuk2 bags clogged the aisles, aging rockers clutching vinyl copies of The Replacements’ Tim and Bonnie Prince Billy’s newest album hung out in line. I mostly kept to myself, though I did convince a guy to buy a vinyl copy of Springsteen’s 77-87 live box set.

The whole thing, though, is supposed to be a celebration of record stores and record store culture, and the Vertigo party was maybe that. But, unable to stand the idea of waiting in line for half an hour to buy records I’m interested in but not burning with desire for, I hopped back on my bike and rode to Dodd’s, a hole-in-the-wall shop about two blocks up the street that, even on a typical day, sees about 1/10th of Vertigo’s traffic.

If your dad went to college in the mid 70s, your house growing up looked like Dodd’s. The store — which has been open since the 1930s and owned by its current owner since 1951, the year my dad was born — is wood-paneled and crammed wall-to-wall with records. It’s known in GR — I remember seeing a post on G-Rad about a new shipment of used Iggy Pop LPs showing up back in the fall — but it lacks every bit of the hip cachet that Vertigo has cultivated.

Five copies of Life’s Rich Pageant aside, there’s not much at Dodd’s for the average Pitchfork reader. There are loads — loads — of classic country, gospel, and blues records, as well as a few comedy and zydeco-type things, but it is, more than anything, a testament to the confused abundance of the 1980s. The sheer amount of REO Speedwagon records is amazing, not only because I don’t know a single person who listens to REO Speedwagon, but also because I can’t name a single Speedwagon song.

But Speedwagon, along with Billy Joel and the Doobie Brothers, is easy to find used. Dodd’s most bizarre eccentricity is the sheer number of used KISS LPs it services. Nearly every single one of the classic 70s albums is there in a variety of conditions, including several mint copies of landmark live album KISS Alive! Though from New York, KISS have always seemed to be a quintessential Michigan band, perhaps based solely on the enduring popularity of “Detroit Rock City,” from 1976’s Destroyer. That said, parts of Alive! were recorded in the Motor City, and the Midwestern riffage across all four sides of vinyl are hard to deny.

KISS were one of the first bands I was ever fascinated with. I was in sixth grade when the original lineup reunited on the MTV Video Music Awards and, in the grand tradition of bored sixth graders everywhere, fell hard for the mixture of loud guitars and garish makeup. Rock music is supposed to have a bit of showmanship to it, from Bowie as Ziggy to Franz Nicolay’s mustache. And no one can deny that KISS are the consummate showmen.

That being said, I never paid much attention to KISS’ music, aside from the obvious hits and the (still great) “Hard Luck Woman.” (A minor aside — there’s a great video online of Garth Brooks, decked out in hat and tight jeans, singing “Hard Luck Woman” with a makeup-less KISS on Leno. Google it.)

The guitars here are huge. Not Tom Verlaine in Television-huge, nor Nels Cline in Wilco-huge; Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley weren’t masters of feel so much as ministers of technique. I’m talking two or three Tad Kublers stacked atop one another. Frehley was a hell of a lead player, and he rips through his solos here with a vicious confidence. Oddly, those guitar lines are reported to be the only tracks on Alive! that weren’t re-recorded in the studio, which means that only the perpetually drunk Frehley was able to rock like a genius on stage. Nevertheless, when he rips into the screaming solos of “Firehouse” while actual sirens roar through the mix and the crowd forces its way onto the album, there’s a bit of the rock magic that KISS seemed to think they were constantly churning out. “Get the fffff-ire out!” Stanley screams, and it’s not hard to imagine Roger Daltrey nodding his head in approval. Not for nothing did the All Music Guide write up reviews for all but two of the album’s tracks. Even Pitchfork gave Alive! a perfect 10.0 upon its reissue in (I believe) 2006. (Note: they’ve since removed the review from their site; take from that what you will.)

But Alive! isn’t a great album so much as it is a perfect rock ‘n’ roll album. For every thundering riff and smoky explosion, there’s a matching dumb monologue (“how many people out there like to get high!!!”) and six-minute drum solo. Filtered through a flanger, no less. In this way, Alive! functions as something of a rock ‘n’ roll Bible, the only document that really seems to be telling the truth about rock music, from the first-pumping highs to the imbecilic lows, though the Bible knows it’s doing so; KISS Alive! has no idea what it’s doing, and I’m willing to bet that they’d bristle at the thought.

Dodd’s owner is a tired man who looks to be in his late sixties or early seventies. He wears a white trucker hat on top of his head because he likes it, and he keeps the store phone around his neck on a cord. “Find any goodies?” he asked me as I walked up with Alive! and Bowie’s ChangesOneBowie under my arm. Down two blocks, the scenesters were strutting in the street, celebrating a made-up celebration of some vague concept — a concept that I adore but an ephemeral concept that has about as much to do with music as it does with supporting the economy. I tucked my LPs into my bag, unlocked my bike, and prepared to trek home, when a group of wannabe thugs walked up Division, one of them rapping poorly about something, one of them grabbing onto Dodd’s aluminum siding and pulling as hard as he could. It didn’t break.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: