Once upon a time, you could walk into a building and buy stuff. Those buildings were called stores. Some of those stores sold round discs of one sort or another that held musical content. These were known as "record stores" and were more than just outlets for what "Music Industry" people ickily called "Product," they were gathering places for musicians, music-lovers, or, like me, lovers of musicians.
One of the best of these record stores was called Rhino Records and was located for many years on Westwood Boulevard. Rhino Records was a haven for black-clad kids who would gather to hear in-store concerts, prowl used vinyl bins and peruse other adjunct product (posters, books, pop-culture gimcrackery). They would spend hours pondering and coveting records, sampling tracks at listening stations, running into other kids with whom they often played music. They would then take their purchases up to the cashier (typically a guy or gal with a bad case of bedhead), and painstakingly separate their cash from their pocket lint. This cash was usually earned in small amounts by playing gigs in clubs that no longer exist (Raji's, anyone? Al's Bar?). Divested of their meager monetary resources, the kids would grab a couple of free alternative weekly newspapers (also now mostly gone) on their way out the door, go home to their rent-controlled apartments and place these discs on contraptions housed in units built from milk crates and wood planks. These contraptions would then translate the plastic discs into sheer euphoria.
This happy ritual went on for years until music downloading killed it, and now, like everything else, Rhino Records is no longer a place, but a web address. Richard Foos, Rhino's founder, had tons of product left over, and now has to get rid of it. So he has opened a Rhino Records Pop-Up Store for two weeks, just a few doors down from his original shop. All profits are going to support Chrysalis Enterprises, a non-profit that helps LA's homeless.
I went in there the other night to hear the fantabulous Syd Straw do an "in-store" and it was like time-travelling back to Los Angeles circa 1990. All the kids were there, only now the bedhead has given way to bald spots and the guy who worked the cash register works for iTunes. But there is something inimitable about the confluence of amplified guitars and affordably-priced product that is electric, communal and downright essential. There's a lot of great stuff for sale -- from Jackie Wilson boxed CD sets to Bozo the Clown inflatable punching bags. I bought Soul Train: 1972 and a full sheet of uncut vintage Wacky Packages. Forty bucks, y'all.
The store opened May 17th and will close May 30th. I'm sorry I didn't hip you to this sooner, but it's not too late to catch LA-in-the-day-phenom Peter Case on Friday night (well, rumor has it he is playing) as well as a few other groovy events. The original Rhino Records employees are crewing the store Friday, including KCRW DJ Gary Calamar, who has a new book out, Record Store Days, which will fill in the many gaps I have left blank here. You can buy a signed copy from Gary on Friday (that's when the actual author handwrites his name in ink on a paper edition of the book) and then you can take it, and the discs you will buy for practically nothing home and put them on your sleek, Ikea bookcase. If you miss it, you'll have to buy the book online, which doesn't exactly re-Kindle the romance of reading, download the tunes and listen to them through your crappy Macintosh speakers, which if you are being honest with yourself, totally sucks. And you will completely miss the Wacky Packs, not to mention the euphoria that comes from encountering real music in the company of real human beings.