Last year, George Gelestino, the owner of the late, great Vinyl Ink record store in Silver Spring, Maryland, passed away. When I was a teenage indie kid in suburban Maryland, I only knew of a few choices for where to go to get that Harriet 7” all the zines were raving about: Soundgarden in Baltimore, Vinyl Ink, and later Go! in Arlington. The local chain, Kemp Mill, wasn’t going to cut it. Musicland was a joke. Tower was a distant urban dream; I mostly went when I was in visiting relatives in Cambridge, Mass. Until I got a car, I did most of my record purchasing through the mail, buying from distributors like Parasol and a million and one tiny labels with ads in the back of Option and Punk Planet and Caught in Flux. But it was still good to go to Vinyl Ink, even I perceived it as the sort of collector scum-dominated store that knew people existed who would pay four hundred bucks for a rare Stereolab single on clear vinyl. As a deeply insecure 15-year-old, I always found it slightly dizzying to shop there; Vinyl Ink seemed cool, cool in a way that I was not. People worked there who were in bands I liked, bands that went on national tours and got reviewed in Sassy. Slumberland Records, which put out hipster music like Stereolab (before you had heard of them) and Tiger Trap, the best twee band in America, and the Velocity Girl/Pam Berry side project Black Tamborine. Belle & Sebastien eventually named a song after Pam’s zine, Chickfactor. Chickfactor was cool. Pam Berry was cool. Velocity Girl was cool. Slumberland was cool. Vinyl Ink was cool. I was a 15-year-old from Howard County.
There were a million little labels out there. I read the Indie-List and wrote my zine and ordered candy-colored singles at $4 a pop. It seemed so hard to stay on top of things, and it was important to me in a way that today I don’t fully understand. Everything was tinged with inaccessibility. Today that inaccessibility is gone. On my lunch hour this afternoon, I wandered over to a strip mall and went to a Best Buy; there, nestled amongst the Limp Bizkit and Missy Elliot CDs (I had stopped in looking for Missy’s new one) were the sorts of albums that would have required a special trip for me to acquire in 1992: Yo La Tengo, the Apples in Stereo, Sleater-Kinney.
The web has done a number on zine culture (although some people are still out there, keeping hope alive; I see that Emily of Muffin Bones, one of my occasional penpals back in the day, is still doing what I assume is top-notch work in the medium). I can’t imagine that anyone finds it difficult to score Bis records any more; one of the factors that shuttered Vinyl Ink was the growing spread of the Internet, which enabled anyone with mad money to spend to get their own limited edition Heavenly single on swirlie vinyl. And it’s all about the music; it’s all for the best that a 15-year-old in a not-terribly-interesting town can go find herself an Eels or Quasi album, just like its for the best that she can find herself a copy of Giant Robot or Bitch. But the culture has changed, as culture tends to do. When I was fifteen and sidling up to the counter at Vinyl Ink, I just wanted to listen to some music I liked and be part of something exclusive. I think I still do.
Today, a bunch of emo bands I don’t care for are huge today, and I don’t begrudge them their success, quite. I begrudge them something else, something that happened when knowing the words to "My Forgotten Favorite" stopped being keys to a secret clubhouse (if in fact they ever were). I’m too old to admit this, but a piece of me wants want my subculture back.