A few weeks ago, I travelled to San Fransisco for spring break; I had been there before, but it was years ago when I was still in high school, an almost entirely different person than I am today. This time, the city seemed as if it had so much more to offer, teeming with culture and vibrancy that I was too young to recognize when I first visited years ago. This trip was spent wandering off-the-wall neighborhoods and avoiding the few tourist traps that are scattered around the city (though a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge is necessary to enter SF, so I don’t really count it as a wholly tourist destination). My favorite of these neighborhoods is an art district called The Haight, and in that neighborhood, I found a rare sight in the modern age: a record store.
Amoeba Music’s glowing neon sign is intriguing enough to make almost anyone want to stop in and take a peek at the treasures it holds inside. With floor to ceiling walls decorated with concert posters, and endless tabled with row upon row upon row of cassettes, CDs, and vinyl LPs, it kinda felt like walking into a Blockbuster, outdated and nostalgia-inducing in the best way. But unlike the once-industry-leading but now-bankrupt movie rental store chain (may she rest in peace), this store was packed with people. There were those who were flipping through boxes of vinyl records with shredded sleeves, their focus narrowed so as not to miss a diamond in the rough, a sought-after rare 7″ single that somehow found its way to this very box 50 years after it was originally pressed. Then, there were those who stood crowded around a massive CD deck, which supplied multiple pairs of headphones to allow for in-store listening to the catalog of CDs, from platinum-selling album to even a Disney Channel original movie soundtrack or two. In a glass case behind the cashier was rare, first edition pressings of records by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, a small yet impressive collection that is probably worth more than a whole year of rent here in Chicago. Tucked in a corner were stacks of backdated music magazine publications, from 90s Rolling Stone editions with Pearl Jam gracing the cover, to newer issues from Alt Press and UK favorite NME. I myself got more than a little caught up in reminiscing about the music history that these magazines documented, much of which happened before I was even born. I spent some time rifling through the stacks, and left with a 2003 and 2007 issue of SPIN, which featured Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance, respectively.
Though I left the store with a few magazines, some vinyls from The Killers, The Districts, and a few other of my alt-rock favorites, I also left with a greater sense of what the record store means to music. Though my life has never seen record stores as the sole source to obtain music and music culture, the short amount of time that I spent in Amoeba allowed me to picture a time when that was the case. A time when a store could become a cultural hub, totally dedicated to the music industry and those of us that consume it, providing all forms of media that could further our knowledge of the art that is music. I’ll most definitely stop back in next time I’m in San Francisco, with my ears and mind (…and wallet) open to the music.