I was about to start studying Photography at James Watt College in Greenock, when ‘Is This It’ by The Strokes came out. I’d been primed by a boy who I had a massive crush on that it would be an amazing record and I had to buy it.
I remember hitting Rhythmic Records to pick it up. Without me having to ask, the guy behind the counter put it in a carrier bag with The Strokes logo on it, and chucked some stickers and button badges in too. Maybe there was a poster too, I’m not sure. But I was so excited.
I listened to it non-stop for ages. I was crazy about Julian Casablancas and Fab Moretti, naturally. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Fab once and well... There’s an embarrassing story about marriage proposals in there that I don’t need to go into. It sums up my wannabe-groupie youth too painfully accurately for me to divulge this publicly just yet.
I wore the pins on the strap of my satchel, proudly, pleased to be recognised as a ‘fan’. And then they got insanely popular. Which was inevitable, from the way they were plastered all over the UK music press from before they’d even so much as coughed into a microphone. And of course I was in that stage of adolescence where all it takes to turn the tide is your Mum singing along to New York City Cops on the radio in the car.
I fell out of love with them before they’d even started recorded their second album.
Which was fine. They weren’t to know how fickle I was. No one’s feelings got hurt. Although I’m sure Fab would have been devastated to discover this... Ahem.
Anyway, it was a brief dalliance with The Strokes. By the time I got to university, I felt a bit cringe about the button badges. It wasn’t cool to like them anymore. Either they fell off or I took them off, but I definitely don’t have them now.
I listened to them a lot yesterday, their newer stuff that I’d never bothered with ‘cos I’d moved onto other things like The Mountain Goats and Daniel Johnston – musicians who would always be great but never mainstream, and therefore couldn’t offend my teenage obsession with liking the things no one else did (apart from the people who did, who I wanted to like me, of course...).
I remember being in the car with El and James last year on the way to Chester Zoo. I think we were maybe listening to Angles? Or perhaps whatever came out before that. I don’t know. Either way, we ended up talking about how the first three quarters of the album was pretty good, and then after that it was like they’d assumed no one would still be listening by then, and gave up. Just chucked some decidedly mediocre material on there, and shrugged.
But even now when ‘Someday’ or ‘Hard To Explain’ comes on in a club, me and everyone I know hits the dancefloor like it’s 2001 again. The songs from that first album are brilliant. I wish my teenage self hadn’t told my brother to keep it when he asked to borrow it. That was of course one of the breaking points. When your brother, whose CD collection consists of Happy Hardcore and Stereophonics (sorry Steven, but you know this is true – that’s what you listened to back then), wants to borrow a beloved album from your collection when you’re 16 and music means EVERYTHING to you, that’s the death of your relationship with that band.
I should say – my brother and I like lots of the same music now that I’m not an elitist little brat, which is ace. But OBVIOUSLY he still smells.
I guess I still have a lot of love for that album, however brief my adoration was in my youth.
When I read yesterday that Rhythmic Records was shutting down, I felt really sad. Being given those stickers, badges and bag had been SUCH a big deal to me when I was a kid. I felt like I was being rewarded for loving music. I guess that’s what good record shops do. They say well done for shopping here and well done for liking this.
I used to get giddy when anyone in Piccadilly records would comment positively on a purchase. These people sell music for a living, they listen to pretty much everything and when someone who’s totally passionate about it full-time reckons you’ve made a good choice, it’s like a pat on the head for an eager-to-please little puppy like me.
I probably spent about 90% of my pitiful student loan in Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records when I was a student. That was partly because the boys behind the counter were sometimes quite pretty, but mostly because I knew I was guaranteed to find something new that I would love there. And occasionally, someone would chuck a fanzine or a badge or even something daft like a lollipop your way, and when you have hardly any money, this makes buying music all the more gratifying.
While I am a big advocate of Amazon and use it regularly, you don’t get that kind of experience when you’re shopping online. Now that I can afford to buy the music I want, instead of agonising over whether I buy the new Mogwai album or the new Radiohead album like I had to at university (in the end, I bought both and was given free posters for each album by Avalanche which made not eating for a week as a result of spending that money all the more worthwhile), I’d much rather go to a good record shop and possibly end up spending a bit more. And usually, I’ll come away with something I didn’t expect to buy too.
So my heart is breaking a little for Rhythmic. And for all the teenagers in Greenock who download their tunes and are missing out on the tangible, thrilling experience of buying CD’s and records that I enjoyed when I was their age (holy shit... THAT is the most depressing thing I’ve ever typed).
I can’t imagine how sad the owners must have felt when they looked at the books and realised ‘This is it’. Time to close the shutters for good.
But I’ll always be grateful to them for being the ones who made me fall in love with record shops. I really wish I’d kept those button badges. I think my inner sixteen year old self would now be very proud to wear them again today.