Becca and I don’t get out much. We both have jobs so we go to those, but when we get home we tend to stay put. Other than occasionally going to see live music or the odd night in a bar, our evenings are spent sharing a blanket on the couch and binge watching some show on her laptop. Our home may be in a vibrant part of the city, but we live like suburbanites.
This largely holds true on weekends as well. We have our coffee and bagel at Muddy’s and our weekly trip to Safeway, but most of the days are spent puttering around indoors. It’s enjoyable, but a little diversion is always welcome. When Becca said she was going to Amoeba Records and asked if I wanted to tag along, I accepted the invitation.
The Amoeba store in SF is on Haight Street, specifically the Upper Haight or Haight Ashbury, whatever you want to call it. The hippies, who put the neighborhood on the map with their nonstop acid and fucking during the Summer of Love, have since been eclipsed by gutter punks as the local vanguards of the employment-averse and unsanitary.
I was quite taken with that part of the city when I first moved up from Santa Barbara (“I love the Haight,” I would often say, feeling clever about my phrasing). The counterculture element appealed to me and to prove I was serious about it, I bought a copy of Anarchy in Action from a local bookstore. It is worth noting that I was never quite serious to bother reading the thing.
The neighborhood lost much of its charm in the intervening years. A lot of its establishments closed, including the I-Beam, a favorite music venue. I have bittersweet memories of that night Buck Naked and the Bare Bottom Boys opened for the Del Rubio Triplets. All are lost to time now. The Triplets all died of old age and poor Buck was gunned down in 1992 by an unhinged pigeon enthusiast. I don’t know what happened to the Bare Bottom Boys, but I wish them well.
Amoeba has managed to hang on. A relative newcomer, the record store opened its door on the site of a bowling alley that shuttered in 1996. I was better acquainted with the Berkeley store, which offered a wide selection and wasn’t a total corporate shit show like Tower Records or The Wherehouse. You could find a lot of music from artists you never heard of, instead of a sea of crap from those you had heard of but wish you hadn’t.
They still sell vinyl, which was why Becca wanted to go there. She bought a turntable not too long ago and has since assembled a small but treasured record collection. This trip was more of a scouting mission on her part rather than going with a specific purchase in mind. I just wanted to get out of the house.
We took BART and the N Judah to get there. It was a little pricier than the buses option, but we had convinced ourselves had a lesser chance of having to watch a fellow passenger masturbate.
The interior of the store was quite large, as one would expect in a building that used to be a bowling alley. There were some CDs in the long rows of music for sale, but most of what they had was vinyl. I heard it had been making a comeback. Darn millennials and their technology from 35 years ago.
You’d think I would be thrilled with this retro element, what with my affinity for the old-timey music of my youth. In a way I am, but my relationship with vinyl has had its issues.
I don’t have the steadiest hand and never have. It’s not Michael J. Fox shaky, but I do get an occasional tremor. It creeps in at inopportune times, like when I am trying to place a stylus between songs on an LP. One such casualty when I was in high school was “11:59” on Parallel Lines. My fumbling left a nasty skip in the beginning of the song. This was particularly painful as this was one of my favorite Blondie tunes and probably the one I liked best on the album.
I’ve learned to stay away from vinyl. I’ll leave it to Becca to buy the records. She can play them on her turntable and I’ll rock out to them at a safe distance. When I want to buy music of my own, I download it and take advantage of the technology that allows me to be as much a spazz as I please.
I still managed to have fun at Amoeba. I could flip through the records and do no damage since they were safely inside their covers. Having no intention of buying anything gave me the freedom to take it all in without the annoyance of having to make a decision.
In the end, Becca picked up records by X and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. On the way back to the Muni stop, we popped into the Kezar Pub to celebrate our excursion with a couple of beers I thought were spendy (Portland prices have spoiled me). I enjoyed our trip to Amoeba and as I sat there sucking down a $7.50 Stella, I felt glad that a record store could still survive in this day and age, no thanks to people like me.