Why do we no longer want to collect When we can find it at our fingertips? Does it allow a level of respect When all we do is scroll through YouTube clips? I prefer to listen to scratchy sound As the needle slips into the small groove, And the motor spins the record around, Providing the room a moment to move. Each song was designed to play to the next, Building up this great epic event. We follow along with liner note text Until the forty-five minutes are spent. This digital age is a bitter pill For us who treasure our stack of vinyl.
When I first moved to Bangkok, I knew all about its nightlife and the great markets that it has. I was excited about the great food options and the variety of street stalls that sold freshly cooked delicacies all over the place. There were many things to be excited about coming here, but there was one that I was really excited about, the audiophile community.
When I used to teach in the United States, I had a turntable set up in my classroom with my collection of vinyl records in the corner that allowed me a vast variety of music to listen to. It worked great when I had my students settle down to write. I would randomly pick one of them to pick a record to listen to. They would get a little more culture while listening to something that might not listen to initially, and I would have some form of entertainment while I was given the mind-numbing task of watching students write their essay.
I missed this facet of my teaching style when I was living in South Korea, and I wanted to bring it back when I moved to Thailand. Before I did that, I needed to know that there was a vinyl culture out in Bangkok, and when I came out to visit in May, I was introduced to a record store in the neighborhood I was moving to. It wasn’t a great store, stocking mainly used records of bad 80s R&B bands, but it gave me hope that if a small record store could survive in a suburb of Bangkok then, there would have to be more record stores out there that would cater more to my style of music.
This set into motion a couple of purchases during the summer, namely a new record, and a travel case to bring out eight of my records to Thailand with me. I went on-line to find out if record player were for sale in Bangkok, and if I would be able to find better record stores. Both of these things were out here, and it made my move even more exciting.
When I finally landed, I bought a cheap turntable from Lazada, an on-line company similar to Amazon in the United States, and started to enjoy listening to two of my records. My plan was to slowly introduce more of them into my classroom so it became exciting when new music entered. What I did not expect to find was more audiophiles working on the same floor as me. Suddenly, new records appeared for me to listen to from other members of the English department, and we would bring the turntable into the break room during lunch once a week so we could listen to music. I was told about the best places to buy more vinyl, and during the first break from school, I went down to check out what it had to offer.
The place I was told about was Fortune Town, a mall outside Exit One on the Rama 9 stop on the blue line of the Metro. I was told that there are numerous record store scattered among the tech stores, and I would be able to find new records as well as used gems amongst the three floors. I was super excited about making it out there, and I finally got to go yesterday.
I was not disappointed in my find. The first record store I found was not that great because it only had mostly Thai pop music, and a couple of used soundtracks to movies that did not excite me that much. But I was told that there were various stores. I went up one more floor, and found Hall of Fame records. This was the heaven I was looking for. It was filled with a variety of music from rock to punk to pop to country to classical to jazz. There were new records mixed in with some nice used gems. I was glad that it was a week until my next pay check because I could easily have wasted the whole thing on new vinyl. Instead, I limited myself to two records. They were a little expensive, but it was nice to know that I would be able to find titles like this out here. It means that the small collection I have going out here will slowly grow, and it will be with great music that I can introduce to my students. It makes me feel like I will be a complete teacher again, not only exposing my students to great literature, but also to great music.
My only regret was I stopped to shop at this one store, and did not go further down the mall to other stores in Fortune Town. If I had I would have found a few more record stores, ones that cater more to used music that was little cheaper, but now that I know this place exists, I will make sure to make a stop down there every once in awhile to pick up a new record, and find a new record to share with my students. It is a must go place to any audiophile that makes it out to Bangkok, and I highly recommend the voyage there.
Many people will look at this post and laugh as they download another song on their Apple Music or Spotify app. They either look back on the days of Tower Records and San Goody with either fond memories and just shrug it off as something from the past that they will no longer regret the passing of, or they are not even old enough to remember how these store dominated the landscape and the culture of every young person from the 90s. But it was also the height of what I would consider the best era for music ever that these stores slowly started to disappear. At first, it wasn’t something that discouraged me because if one went out of business, there was usually another one across the street that was better and probably not a part of some huge franchise that overcharged for the music they were selling.
The stores themselves were an explosion of expression. My favorite ones were the ones that would plaster posters of the bands that loved and who had a new album to sell over ones that had passed on to obscurity. The latest record that the employee behind the counter felt like playing that day would be blaring over the speakers, and sometimes it would become you favorite new album. Random strangers would talk to each other about the albums that they were looking over. It was a community, and there were many of these places where I felt at home. I never thought that they would eventually disappear.
But like Blockbuster, they slowly disappeared until only a few remained. For me it felt like the passing of something important with music and there would be a whole generation of people who did not understand the importance of these stores or why finding the deep tracks on an album showed a true love of the genre. Music, a thing that was always meant for disposable income, had become even more disposable because the music now came at you as something easily downloadable from some service you paid a monthly fee to online. No longer did somebody have to search long and hard to hold that album in their hand. No longer did they have to collect the music, and listen to it constantly as the jewel case cracked and the artwork faded to prove to those who saw it that this was that person’s favorite album. Music no longer became something to treasure. It was now just something to quickly consume and dismiss on the tablet as it shuffled off to other songs that you might appreciate.
Even though it looks like the cd will go the same way as the cassette tape, there is hope on the horizon. Steadily, over the years, vinyl has made a comeback in this arena. It is still not at the same level that it was at during the 1960s, but more and more of the younger generation is finding out about the joy of this medium. First of all, it sounds better than any other medium, giving the music a richer, warmer sound. But more importantly, it makes the playing an album an event again. People need to gather around a turn-table and listen as the needle pops into the groove if they want to listen to the album. It will give people the opportunity to once again share music instead of hiding away behind the earphones with it. And the surviving record stores recognize this.
There aren’t many left in America, but when I find one of them, there is a joy that runs through me because I know that I am going to get an experience from my youth that I thought had died. There is Ranch Records in Downtown Bend, Oregon, Rasputin’s in San Fransisco, and Boogie’s West in Castle Rock, Colorado. The owners have added space to sell records, and it is fun flipping through them to once again see the beautiful artwork, and hold in my hands that amazing moment that I know will happen when I open it up and listen to it. My two favorite record stores are something that I look forward to every time I am in those cities. The first is East Street Records in West Seattle who has some deal with Pearl Jam and they sell a bunch of their bootlegs there. They also have a breakfast place that is always packed and helps to supplement their true love, music. And the store that still has the crowds and the love that I remember from the 90s is in downtown Denver, Twist and Shout Records. At this store, people come in to dump their old record collections, not knowing what they have, and they resell them to the public in packs of ten where you don’t know what you are going to get. It is a lot of fun, and sometimes allows you to find something new.
So even though the record store is harder to find anymore, I do not think that the last ones left will go away. I am glad that they have survived, and I hope more and more people will realize that this is a better way to enjoy music, and continue to visit them when they come across them.