Tuesday, May 21, 2013

From Hillbilly to Hipster (A Devolution): J.T. Dockery's Remembrance of Some Nice Kentucky Record Stores Past He's Known to Benefit the Reopening of Mark Rudolph's "Closing Doors"....Part II

As part of a series of record store remembrances to help promote the Indiegogo campaign to fund a reprinting of Mark Rudolph's graphic novel "Closing Doors" (Nix Comics), American Gloam is presenting an installment by artist/musician JT Dockery. Part II continues Dockery's memories of brick-and-mortar stores in rural Kentucky, including his time spent working as a record store clerk at The Outpost in Berea. To read Part I, click here.

Mr. Dockery and Jeffrey Scott Holland in Berea, performing as Cheeseburger and Fries

Written by J. T. Dockery
I even ended up being a record store clerk, after a fashion, in my early twenties. My pal and often collaborator in all sorts of shenanigans, Jeffrey Scott Holland, opened up a record/used book store/art-performance space, the Outpost (or for those of us a few degrees up the line knew it to be the "Creeps Outpost") in the aforementioned Berea, south of Lexington, circa 1998/99. With the small college in that town, and in the early days of the internet/downloading when the physical artifact of music still sold reigned, the local community was hungry for a record store (ironically, at the time, the nearest brick and mortar record store was Recordsmith, but many of the students didn't drive...Recordsmith would hold on until May of 2003, and even had a second location in Berea towards the end, but the end did come when sans fanfare it closed its doors). To say Jeff ran his store loosely would be an understatement, even calling it a business would be stretching the point. Holland, at that time, viewed most of his forays into business more as temporary art projects, even though the upstairs location in one of the centers of Berea's shopping districts, made its rent the first month it was open without any advertising or even an external sign to the building for the shop.
My gig was mostly to go down on the weekends from Lexington and inhabit the store to give Holland, and his wife at the time (he had no other employees) a break, in exchange for gas money/lunch money, a few extra bucks here and there, and, perhaps, more importantly, barter time for records/CDs. If your average, decent independent record store was curated, then Holland's Outpost was curated on the next level. He viewed his selection of vinyl and CDs as being fit to suit his own tastes in music, not the customer's. Granted, Jeff's knowledge of music was pretty vast and his selection represented that, but it was that knowledge and cherry picking which was presented to the potential customer, not some notion of catering to a vague common denominator.
He bought used music, but the thing about Jeff is if someone brought in music to sell/trade, he'd give you more money/credit than your average store if he thought the music was good (his pricing was that used stuff of quality had a higher than average price on the shelf). But if someone brought in music he thought was crap (not popular or unpopular, but a value judgement on Holland's part) then it was purchased from the seller and resold on the shelf at a very reduced price, equal to its perceived lack of value, in general. Jeff's section for this sort of product was actually labeled "CRAP." And some customers routinely shopped the "CRAP" section, with no apparent shame. There was a local punk scene based around Eugene Records, and both Jeff and I fostered a relationship with those cats, played some house shows locally (Jeff and I performed music together in various projects). I had a well-attended art exhibition there, with lots of locals, and friends coming down to Lexington. I remember Jeff laughing that he made more money off people shopping the records during the opening than I did selling art.

Jeffrey Scott Holland, owner of The Outpost in Berea, posing with musician/writer/artist Sexton Ming
 I remember trying to impress a girl in a Danzig shirt who would more than ten years later end up being my girlfriend (only through the synchronicity of me telling an anecdote, a Misfits song on the radio in a coffee shop together invoked the memory, about the "girl in the Danzig shirt" did she put two and two together and explain she WAS the "girl in the Danzig shirt," failing to capture her attention then, I did later, at least). I remember the trio of cute high school German foreign exchange students that would come in the store and hang out with me in their free time, and the "parents" of one of the girls putting a stop to that when she actually entered the store and realized the girls were hanging out with a questionable young man chain-smoking and wearing his thrift store vintage finest in Jeff's less-than-standard Outpost. And, yes, hard to believe he not only allowed me to smoke "on the job" but there was a vintage ashtray by the register, so I could still smoke and ring up customers. Holland's store only lasted as long as his marriage. But in that time period, Holland put out an album ("Marshun Love Secrets") by the British outsider artist/musician/writer Sexton Ming who played a show with us in Lexington and visied the store in 1999 that established a friendship and collaboration that still exists today, and it was Jeff giving me money out of the register to go see Hasil Adkins for the first time in West Virginia as an emissary that began our relationship with him that resulted in his Lexington appearances and ultimately the "Night Life" LP, his last studio record. There are more stories I could tell (and some I could not) about the Outpost days, but, alas, again: gone are the days.
The previously mentioned Lexington-based Cut Corner also went out of business in the late 90s, but the actual physical space was taken over by record store upstart, CD Central, helmed by Steve Baron, so the continuity was pleasant. But even before Cut Corner's closing, I regularly stopped by Steve's original location, just a block down the road. A success story, Steve's store still inhabits that space to that day, a feather in the cap of Lexington's retail culture. I can recall, years ago now, Steve showing up to eat towards the end of the shift at my employer for several years, the independent cajun restaurant, Gumbo Ya Ya, and stepping out from the kitchen to talk to him as it was slow in the last hour before closing, Steve telling me that his reaction to people pontificating why he'd try to maintain and independent record store in the decline of the physical artifact of music that the big sellers of compact discs were either completely phasing out disc media or making it minimal and that, by surviving, he'd end up with virtually no competition. I'm glad his prophecy came true, and glad to see the certain "rebirth" of vinyl. Lexington now, in addition to Steve's CD Central, has Sami's Music aka The Album, owned by Sami Ibrahim (my original "music director" my first year as an on-air DJ at the aforementioned WRFL) which caters more to the hip-hop crowd, and the mighty thrift store with huge used only vinyl stock, Pop's Re-Sale Shop (and lots of friends have worked there, and still do, and its history was part of my own history, it just didn't inform/shape me as much, as Pops arose later in my twenties), and even a few more brick and mortars than those mighty three, and it's good to know that these stores/stories/my history are not all doom-and-gloom and that the independent record store culture still survives and thrives in Lexington, and that young people there are still being shaped by that experience.

Artist Ben Durham outside of CD Central in Lexington. Photo by Joseph Turner.

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