Record stores/distributors where I worked from the early 80s through the mid 90s

Lou's Records, San Diego
Rough Trade, San Franciso
Mordam Records, San Francisco
Tower Records, New Orleans
Record Ron's, New Orleans
Newberry Comics, Boston
Tower Records, Austin
Open Mind, San Francisco

ou's, the first record store I ever worked at, was the coolest underground/import music shop in San Diego. The store was small, located on the coast highway a couple of blocks from the beach in the north San Diego county town of Encinitas, and back then only seven or eight people worked there, and half of us—me, Andrew, Tammy and Anna—now live in San Francisco. Lou's had San Diego wired, and between all of the record labels, distributors, radio stations, club owners and concert promoters that Lou'sers knew, there was hardly a concert in town we couldn't get into for free. Often at shows people would point at us and yell Lou's Records!

orking in record stores was a beautiful thing before CDs were invented. You could open any vinyl album in the store, listen to it, tape it if it was any good, then shrinkwrap it and put it back in the bin. You literally had the entire inventory of the store at your disposal. After CDs came along that slowly ended, and those magic moments when you dropped the needle on some completely unknown record and were totally blown away grew fewer and fewer. Not only couldn't you open anything you felt like hearing anymore, but managers quickly figured out that the fastest way to end employee squabbles over the turntable was to buy a multi CD changer and set it to shuffle play. Although CDs weren't any more expensive to manufacture than vinyl, they cost twice as much, so competition for promo copies intensified. Still, once in a while everyone in the store would tune in to a particular album and play it to death, like Texas Funeral by Jon Wayne.

picked up on it first and by the time I had worn it out, two other girls working there—Danielle and my then girlfriend Toby—got into it and eventually Danielle tracked down the band and had them come play live at her birthday party at her house in Oceanside. Jon Wayne has since gone on to become a fairly well known cult band—Quentino Tarantino used them on the soundtrack to From Dusk Till Dawn—and Texas Funeral remains one of the most hilarious, drunken, fucked up, obnoxious psycho-country records ever. The singer sounds like an inebriated, belligerent Walter Brennan, and the band's besotten, out of tune playing is really funny. I used to think it was one of the best parodies of Texas rednecks ever, until I moved to Austin and realized it wasn't much of a parody at all.

nother record that we flipped over was an album with a beautiful letterpress printed sleeve on a label called Independent Project Records by some band no one had ever heard of called Camper Van Beethoven.

itled Telephone Free Landslide Victory, the first pressing of 1250 copies was individually numbered, and I have copy number 200. Someone at Lou's contacted the band, and when they visited San Diego they came by and crowded into one corner of the shop and did an acoustic half hour in-store appearance. Lou borrowed a video camera, and just before Camper played he handed it to me and I climbed up on the counter and taped their set. Afterward we all went across the street to a fast food joint that used to be a Sonic Burger or something, but had been transformed by some religious folks into Biblical Burger, complete with a gospel themed food menu. While we ate I told Camper about another album that had come through the store that we all really dug. It was called At The Medieval Castle Nineteen 100-Year Lifetimes Since by a local San Diego band named Departmentstore Santas.

istening to the record twenty years later, in the post-indie/DIY/digital recording era, it's a little hard to imagine how relevatory this album sounded in 1984. Although the cover photo was obviously taken at the Del Mar Fair, none of us had any idea who Departmentstore Santas or their singer/songwriter/guitarist Joseph D'Angelo were, but the low-fi aural sound of the recording, the odd, whimsical lyrics, and the beautiful multilayered guitar playing were entrancing. I read that someone once described D'Angelo as the best unknown guitar player in the country, and although that certainly overstates the case, there is a fluidity and ease to his playing that is very accomplished. The songs themselves were a bit reminiscent of Syd Barrett, but less angsty and more playful, almost childlike, veering from echoey surf jazz to fuzztone rock instrumentals to swirling psychedelia to silly samba to alternately moody then catchy folk pop. Here's the silliest—and at one minute in length the shortest—song on the album

photo album of baby.mp3

was telling a friend of mine—a writer and musician I knew at UC San Diego, and later my first roommate in San Francisco—about the album, and he told me that not only did he know Joseph D'Angelo, they grew up together as childhood friends on the same block in Chula Vista or La Mesa or one of those San Diego suburbs just north of the Mexican border. He said Joseph and his friends recorded the album in Joe's bedroom, using old reel to reel and cassette machines, which accounts for the hissy homemade quality of the album. Joe apparently was into toy instruments, and cut some of the tracks with little plastic guitars from Toys 'R' Us. Joe and his friends had another band that played live sometimes called Guy Goode and the Decentones, but Joseph wasn't the main singer or songwriter, and while I never saw them play, I listened to their album and the music was more self-consciously whimsical and less enchanted than Joseph's.

amper took the Departmentstore Santas album home to Santa Cruz, and after listening to it called Lou's and asked how to contact Joseph. We hooked them up, and Camper had Joseph send his record to their new label, Rough Trade (where I later worked, see my Rough Trade rap) for wholesale distribution. The Departmentstore Santas record creeped onto the playlists of a few college radio stations, attracting devoted adherents here and there (see this page by someone else who stumbled across the record and fell in love with it), and then faded out of sight, but after making an impression on Camper. Their manager said later that they were so enamoured of Joseph that the second Camper album overemulated the low-fi sound of the Departmentstore Santas record, and later Camper wound up remixing subsequent releases of it. I heard that Joseph and Camper circled a bit, and that Joseph might hook up with them, but as far as I know it never happened.

fter I moved to San Francisco I worked at several art movie theaters—including the Castro, the Lumiere, the Gateway, the Bridge, and the Clay—some of which were mananged by another UCSD friend of mine, who hired a girl he knew from San Diego named Darla, an incredibly good natured and naive girl who as it turned out was Joseph D'Angelo's ex-wife. Copies of At The Medieval Castle Nineteen 100-Year Lifetimes Since now sell on the Internet for between a hundred and two hundred bucks.