They say that Christmas comes just once each year. Maybe this is true. But I urge my reader not to be boxed in by Decemberistic definitions of that magical gift-giving day. For once every April, there comes a glorious day for audiophilic vinyl junkies and music snobs alike. I speak, of course, of National Record Store Day. It’s exactly what it sounds like, folks. A celebration of that obscure, hole-in-the-wall record store in your hometown that you’ve probably heard of but never actually seen, much less ventured into. On this day, the best of indie acts and classic rock figureheads put out exclusive vinyl releases and other novelties priced too high, yet seemingly so valuable in the right hands. On this day, devoted fans line up outside their favorite local record store, sometimes camped out all night, to get their hands on that ever-elusive RSD-only release. I can only liken it to the sort of crazed Star Wars fans of the 70’s lining up outside the movie theater, some decked out in full costume waiting for the premiere of the next movie. Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville represents the ultimate Mecca for many record lovers, with such Willy Wonka-esque creations as the liquid-filled record and the record-within-a-record. But for those who can’t travel to Nashville every April 21st, there’s always some bud of hope popping up just north of campus this time of year.
For those of you who think that this article, and Record Store Day itself, belong only to those whose favorite book and movie is High Fidelity, I implore you to consider the weight that Record Store Day carries with it. In so many ways, RSD represents the national celebration of the underdog. A gathering of perhaps otherwise unrelated Average Joe’s championing the small business, homegrown, close-to-the-heart sort of tradition that runs like a vein somewhere through American cultural consciousness. In this most perfectly timed spring awakening, we get to be like kids in a candy store yet again, celebrating the thrill of the chase with complete strangers, the grabbing of that elusive record and blowing your allowance in one morning. There is no trampling of fellow patrons like Black Friday. No, instead there is a sense of sanctity, respect, and just plain fun that culminates in the happenings of National Record Store Day.
I myself looked forward greatly to participating in this year’s Record Store Day, in a new environment with new places and faces. I had spoken briefly to Princeton Record Exchange general manager Jon Lambert about the “big day,” and there was nothing short of sheer enthusiasm and excitement in the conversation between the two of us. He of course spoke of “the big day” with a sort of business owner’s professional excitement that can only come when fandom and work intersect. He added in one email, “The [release] I am most interested in is the Flaming Lips double LP The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends featuring Nick Cave, Erykah Badu, and a slew of others.” With all this anticipation in mind, I ventured over to the Princeton Record Exchange on Saturday afternoon and found the very familiar sight of a long line snaking through the stacks of CDs and records. Outside sat other devoted representatives, such as the great WPRB, and the ever-popular “free stuff” table. The general hustle and bustle surrounding PRex was clearly a very welcome sort of heavy traffic for a Saturday.
I waited in line with my girlfriend, pointing out various albums that I enjoyed and cool album artwork that we saw, all the while hoping to convey to her, an eager rookie to the magic that is Record Store Day, the excitement that surrounds this glorious occasion. With an excited thumb-twiddling anticipation, I awaited my turn to pick through the coveted RSD-only releases, everything from elusive box sets to crazy vinyl collaborations to otherwise unattainable B-sides from everyone’s favorite bands. When I got my chance to look into the great trove that PRex held, a lot had already been picked through, presumably by those truly devoted vinyl-heads who camped out at 6:00am, but the search was nonetheless rewarding. To use yet another Willy Wonka analogy, it felt something a little like Charlie Bucket ripping open countless Wonka bars to finally find that golden ticket, a Golden Fleece kind of find that is well worth a year’s wait. I came out of there with a couple solid 7” records (one Jack White, the other Mikal Cronin) and one oldie 12” (the Byrds’ Greatest Hits), but I could have easily emptied my wallet and more in there.
With a few precious records and a couple free posters (the “free stuff” may be the best part of RSD), I headed back to campus to catch a quick nap before the fun continued that evening. Any respectable local record store usually has some live music playing as part of Record Store Day, and the Princeton Record Exchange was no exception. The plaza outside the Princeton Public Library was graced with the presence of Grammy-nominated jokesters They Might Be Giants. Sure, the stage was tiny, and the underwhelming sound system got lost in the outdoor atmosphere, but, ah, to see so many people come together, seemingly out of nowhere, to unite on this day of days for the Average Joe and his average little passions! I didn’t even know that many people lived in Princeton, but the sight of grown men, bobbing and singing along with their young daughters on their shoulders, struck a chord that really summed up the whole glorious occasion.
Record Store Day has been, is being, and will continue to be. The small business, the average Joe, and the music junkie have cause to celebrate. Because maybe, just maybe, Christmas will come again next April.