Everybody wants to work in a record store. Kids, adults, seniors, I had applications from everybody. I had one retiree apply who had this really impressive resume. He was an engineer at one point. He taught at a university. He designed airplane tires, for passenger jets. His resume was designed for an engineering job.
At the top of the resume, for the job he was looking for, he had scratched out (in pen) “
Engineer” and written in, “CD Store Clerk”.
Back then, we had the internet, but we didn’t even have it in the store yet. We relied on pure musical knowledge. That’s the way a music shopping experience should be. For example, I walked into an HMV one time in a mischievous mood, and asked for a Led Zeppelin bootleg called Sweet Jelly Roll. That HMV guy typed and typed and typed trying to find a CD that for all intents and purposes did not exist. If the same question was asked of our people, we’d know without having to look that wasn’t the name of anything Zeppelin ever officially released.
To work in a record store in the 90’s, you had to know your shit. People would come in and ask the most obscure questions. “There was a Black Sabbath album I used to have, it had a red baby on the cover. What was it?” BAM! Born Again. Real question, real answer.
We were buying, and selling. We were like the Pawn Stars, before we had the internet, we had to know our shit. If we didn’t, somebody at one of the downtown stores, would.
So, people applying for jobs really had to know music, all kinds. We had a written test. It had different types of questions, matching names to bands, etc. Who’s this band, who’s that band, name five jazz artists, etc. It would have been hard for anybody to get 100% on it, but we weren’t looking for that. We were just looking for broad musical knowledge.
Some of the more entertaining things that were said and/or written during tests:
“This test is whack, man, I only know about rap.”
“Pink Floyd: He is a singer from the 60’s”
“Can I take this test home and bring it back tomorrow?”
“The Cranberries: crap”
“The Beatles: really, really old music”
“Classical music: Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Who, Buddy Holly”
A few kids…more than a few…ducked out of the store mid-test because they knew they were in way over their heads. Some looked it and didn’t even try, they just left. It got so bad that we actually had to make sure we spoke to everyone who applied not to worry and not to get freaked out by the test, it wasn’t the be all and end all. We had so many applicants one year, I ran out of pens in the afternoon while everyone was writing!
It’s pretty funky walking into a record store and seeing a bunch of kids writing tests on any horizontal surface available.
There was a guy who had a resume that included “super powers”. I’ll never forget that one super power he had was “the power to heat soup by looking at it.” That’s a pretty neat super power. I could use that one. I don’t know if it would help against Magneto, or the Green Goblin, but it would mean I don’t have to use the microwave when I’m hungry for some soup.
There was a guy in another store who applied, wrote the test, got an interview, got hired, and never showed up.
There was a guy who came in with his resume, tucked in his pants pocket, because he had no shirt.
There were guys that dropped off a resume, wrote the test, shopping around, and acted like total dicks the whole time. Swearing up and down, treating me like shit. Why the hell would we hire you?
But, it takes all types, I guess. A record store was a unique place in the universe. The customers are unique, so the staff had to be unique. I think, for a while in the mid 90’s, we had that. We had the girl who knew about Motown, we had Trev, who knew about Brit-pop and all the new shit coming out, we had me, specializing in metal and classic rock. And of course we had Tom, who seemed to know everything about everything that had any sort of…integrity to it. Tom wouldn’t have been bothered with Oasis, or Bon Jovi, or Puff Daddy. But ask him about Captain Beefheart. (He’d still be professional enough to know the names of every album by everybody…we all were. We had to be.)
Authentic record store folks are among the most odd, interesting, and eccentric people you’d ever meet, and I’m proud to say, for 12 years, I was one of ’em. And I’d like to think I’m still pretty eccentric.