There aren't many music stores around and that hurts a bit.
I notice it by the very fact that I still buy CDs. I can get any album online in moments. I have a subscription account to binge-listen to almost whatever I can dream of.
But I went to a store hoping to get a CD.
I went to a Walmart because the only two that are within 20 minutes are in a mall and I was on a lunch break. One of the two was downsized from what felt like a quarter-acre of space and is now a boutique store, basically. They're both corporate, the same broken, clueless corporation that I used to work for. My store eroded and vacated its fading strip mall.
To make matters worse, I wanted a Bob Dylan album.
A new one.
A covers album of Frank Sinatra songs...
..that is a sequel to a similar one that came out last year.
If I wasn't already embarrassed enough to listen to such anemic music, I had to go into a Walmart to find it.
But it wasn't enough to simply go in and find it. I had to ask for it. And when that didn't work I almost had to beg for it.
What was once carefully curated sections, or even automated-yet-comprehensive Soundscan aggregates, are now a slop bucket and some barren wired shelving, begging for the rest of the recall to put the entire section of its misery.
Why do they even bother letting all of that music suffer? Are they hedging their bets that somehow that part of the music business that still supports the physical medium is going to come around? They are like a company that tries to restructure after declaring bankruptcy. Maybe they can survive, but not with whatever bit of tin starred prestige they had managed to hold on to.
I spent a few minutes flipping through a strange mix of edited recent hip hop releases and both budget and deluxe editions of classic albums. The older artists had multiple greatest hits albums with terrible covers, likely the victims of bad contracts and/or being too dead to protest. The albums themselves might still be profound but in this section, and in this thoughtless selection, they had all been reduced to banality. Everything was out of order. It was terribly neglected.
Still no luck. I have always hated asking for help in a music store. I know the alphabet and I know how to spell. I've done whatever research is necessary to act on the motivation that brought me into the store. Asking for help was a sign of weakness, like admitting that I couldn't read. Even if help was necessary, it came at a price.
I asked the woman at the grey monolith where she and a coworker were congregating. Their jobs were not specialized and none of us were under the illusion that this was a music store. I thought I understood the system enough to have hope that this sad album, this sign of loneliness and loss of a pioneering spirit, could maybe be someplace in this glorified electronics section.
"Hi, I know this might sound weird...", something I normally preface to a request that, in truth, sounds perfectly reasonable to me. "...but I was wondering if you could check to see if you have the most recent Bob Dylan album." The moment these words left my mouth I felt like I had truly vacated whatever marketable demographic I had hoped to still inhabit. I'm 35 but I might as well be 50. Balding, almost completely greyed hair and, now, asking for a Bob Dylan album. A Bob Dylan album of Frank Sinatra songs. I'm no different than a 75 year old baby boomer icon. A man born just a year after my own father. Except they were both brilliant and I'm just someone skating between ice ages.
The cashier looks at me weird and edges towards her computer/register to check before she too realizes something. It's clear that that she doesn't get people asking for CDs very often.
"We can't check stock on CDs. They don't come in through the normal stock. Someone comes in and does it from the outside. You'd have to ask him. He's actually here now. He has a green shirt on."
I then realize that Walmart gets music in precisely the same way that truck stops and supermarkets get their bargain DVDs in. It's a vender charged with bringing in...stuff.
I approach the man with the green shirt, who is pushing a shopping cart that contain 5 cardboard boxes.
"Hi...um...I was told that maybe you can help me. I'm looking for a new release. It definitely just came out. It's the new Bob Dylan album?"
I end on a question. I'm humbled. This is how low it gets. It's not like the day I confidently asked for the new Slayer album, knowing that it's there and that it's good and, at that point, not made by old men who are just prolonging a lifestyle in spite of their bad backs and desire to have more quality time with their families. Buying that album made you a part of something. Today is like getting the last ticket on the last day of a nearly-abandoned rail line.
He thinks for a second but comes back abrupt. "I haven't seen that."
Such an air of authority, not of taste but of a truly limited pool of stock on hand. He opens a box and rifles around while I peer in. It was the kind of box that would come in on a Monday from a label whose newest release was modest but had been the product of many months of writing, recording, mixing, mastering, art production, merchandise preparation, promotional preparation, and tour planning. It was often a catalyst of the next year of a band's life.
"It's not here. There's only one big release for this Friday, it's...yeah, it's the new Dierks Bently."
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