The first thing I plan to do on Black Friday does not involve getting in line outside of a “big box” store in hopes of snagging some super-duper deal on the first official day of the holiday shopping season. Rather, I intend to rise early, grab my dog, hop in the car, head for a coffee shop drive-thru, chug some java, and crank up Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” with the windows rolled all the way down. Then I plan to head to my favorite local record store to sample the wares on offer as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday edition.
At my age, this will have to pass for an act of rebellion. Quiet, mildly feeble rebellion, perhaps. But rebellion, nonetheless.
The Steely Dan song is an abstract, fictional first-person depiction of the original Black Friday – the one that went down back in 1869, when a few exuberant capitalists attempted to corner the gold market, in the process bankrupting a whole bunch of investors, some of whom committed suicide after losing the totality of their financial wealth. (Hence, the opening lyrics from the song: “When Black Friday comes, I’ll stand down by the door/and catch the gray men when they dive from the fourteenth floor.”)
It always has struck me as a bit sick, frankly, that we refer to the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday – a day when some folks feel quite justified in burning through money, oblivious, perhaps, to the irony inherent in doing so. A holiday celebrating unrepentant consumerism directly following a day when we’re meant to be feeling a humble sense of gratitude for things that are supposed to matter more than money? Wow. Who thinks up this stuff?
As the frenzy that is the consumer marketplace between Black Friday and Jan. 1, kicks off, a bit of quiet reflection seems in order. Maybe we should meditate on what really matters. And, of course, what really matters is vinyl. Pure, pristine, unblemished vinyl. The circular, waxen portal to worlds of untold wonder.
For me, the holidays always have been closely associated with records. The 12-inch ones that moved at 33 and 1/3 rotations per minute, came in beautiful cardboard sleeves, sometimes gate-folded, wrapped in plastic, with stickers on them letting you know that this particular artist had achieved Gold Record status, and that the album was going to cost you, say, $9.99.
My holiday wish list rarely consisted of anything other than these lovely, aesthetically perfect black circles. I used to daydream about them, picturing and anticipating the moment when I’d unwrap them, slap them on my turntable, and drop the needle down on the outermost groove. Yes, I’ve got issues, I know.
Happily, I’m far from the only one. Vinyl sales have been on the rise in this country every year since 2006. And no, it’s not simply a case of old hippies replacing their worn out, beer-stained copies of “Dark Side of the Moon,” either. Studies conducted by market research company ICM earlier this year found that most of the rise in vinyl action is due to the spending habits of 18- to 24-year-olds. These are people who weren’t even born when vinyl was first run over by the CD steamroller.
Why? It’s simple. With the exception of high-resolution digital audio such as that represented by Blu-ray, vinyl just plain sounds the best. It’s warm. It offers nuance, a broad sonic range, rich bass, highs that aren’t shrill, and an audio landscape that is not overcrowded and hyper-compressed, a la MP3s, streaming sites, and the like. Vinyl, in most instances, allows the music to breathe.
It’s in recognition of this fact – and also the desire to steer a little bit of the capitalist orgy that is Black Friday consumer activity toward independent, community-based retail stores – that the folks behind the annual Record Store Day are reprising their Black Friday activities for the third year running.
Oh, the goodies in store for you, the vinyl fetishist, on this holiest of days! But it’s about more than just grabbing loot for yourself, of course. The folks behind Record Store Day are hoping to simultaneously drive some Black Friday business toward locally owned community record stores, and offer you limited-edition items as unique gifts for loved ones.
To wit, from the RSD website: “In the past Black Friday was an American event created by large corporate retailers as a shopping day that promoted mass-produced items at super low prices in hopes of driving customers into their stores. RSD’s Black Friday subverts the model and creates pieces of art in the form of limited special editions, often numbered, from a diverse list of beloved artists. RSD’s version of Black Friday is an excuse to celebrate both the pieces themselves and the special indie record stores who carry them. Cheap, mass-produced frenzy is not the goal.”
You can find a full list of RSD Black Friday exclusives and first releases, as well as a list of participating stores – both area Record Theatres and Spiral Scratch Records are on that list – through www.recordstoreday.com.
Oh, and remember, the full-on, all-out Record Store Day takes place on the third Saturday in April. So don’t blow all your money on Friday.
And if you’re looking for a vinyl copy of Steely Dan’s “Black Friday,” it’s on the album “Katy Lied,” and it’s not hard to find.