The first time a record store person had any impact on me was actually well after high school. Until then, I never spent much time interacting with them. I always knew how to find what I wanted, and I never special-ordered anything because the stuff I wanted, they couldn’t get anyway. I had to order my rare albums from magazines.
In 1990, Peter and I got heavily into Faith No More. Peter got Introduce Yourself before I did, but I found We Care A Lot first. I found it at Sam The Record Man, generally considered the best store in town at the time. Angel Dust had just came out on CD, but I hadn’t got it yet. We Care A Lot was a rarity; therefore a priority in my spending budget.
It was there, on cassette. $14.99. Not cheap.
Al King was behind the counter. Al King was the undisputed music guru in town. Undisputed. I strived to be what he represented. Heck he even had a feature spot on a weekly local TV program — The Metal Mike Show — which I watched many times.
“Do you have the new Faith No More yet?” Al asked me as he took the security tag off my purchase.
“No, not yet. I saw this and I had to get it because I’ve never seen it before,” I answered.
“The new one is…pretty different. Have you heard Mr. Bungle?” he inquired.
Al was engaging me. He had just seen Bungle live. He liked Bungle, but the new Faith No More was still growing on him. He explained to me that you could really hear the Bungle influece on it. The next time I came in, he told me he had just seen Faith No More. He told me everything about the show.
Years later, things cycle around, and I found myself in Al’s shoes. Kids were coming up to me and asking my opinion on things. I tried my best to be honest and treat them with respect. I had my bad days — we all do — but I certainly didn’t want to recommend music that I didn’t think was any good.
When I saw a young guy or girl come in buying Kiss, that was an instant obvious coversation starter. Tall One and Short One, who I talked about several chapters ago, started getting into bands like Kiss and Oasis, so I tried to steer them into the albums I was into.
I made a lot of friends that way. Shane Schedler, who I’ve talked about twice before was one guy who trusted my opinion implicity. There was another guy, Italian Tony, who always wanted to know what I was into. I sold him Slash Puppet that way, I knew he would be into that band. And then there’s my buddy Statham. Some found me on Facebook, some I just run into randomly.
Of course I had just as many failures. Sometimes you expect someone to be into a new Maiden album just because they liked the old Maiden, for example. Then they don’t trust you anymore.
I don’t think I appreciated my position back then. I don’t think I saw myself as Al King. I think I saw myself as still trying but not quite succeeding at being that guy. It’s only now that I talk to people and get it. Somebody will say to me, “You told me to buy this album, and I did, and it’s in my top ten of all time now.” That’s a cool feeling. I wish I appreciated it back then.
The truth is, it was a job just like any other. You were a business and businesses were supposed to make money. Stores have to be cleaned, books balance, shelves stocked. Sometimes it felt like conversation was keeping you from your job. And spend too much time with a single customer, and you got dirty looks from people with the authority to give you dirty looks.
I appreciate now though, that conversation was the job. Conversations that I don’t even remember have turned out to have huge impacts on people’s musical lives. Al King was a trusted musical guru to me. It’s weird to think that I might be that to other people. But if that truly is the case, I have to say thanks, because that’s all I ever really wanted anyway.
Well…that and a staff discount.
Yeah. Slash Puppet, baby.