As I sit at home on this chilly Monday afternoon, I'm grateful that I had the foresight to take this, the Monday after Christmas, as a vacation day from my day job. I figured I'd be dragging and still recovering from all the holiday chaos of get-togethers with a very large extended family and an enormous group of close, life-long friends. My intention was to lounge around all day and let the house be filled with music.
As I explore the awesome new Donny Hathaway box set I received as a gift this Christmas, I have to be awed by life's ironies. Although I'm an avid Hathaway fan (I consider him one of the very best and most expressive soul singers of all time) I always listen to him with a heavy heart. I always hear the melancholy side of Donny's soaring voice. I always wander into the sadness and depression he was living with throughout his all- t00- short career that sadly ended with his suicide at the tender age of 33 in 1979. And now, I'll have yet another layer of sadness to associate with my love of Mr. Hathaway's music: for it was while I was listening to the sweet yet somber sound of Donny Hathaway's voice emerging from my stereo speakers that the news I'd been hit with last night really affected me.
I was sent a series of text messages from Vinyl Fever staff members who'd just left a mandatory store meeting on Sunday night while I was attending my annual Christmas party with all my closest friends. I was alerted that the announcement had been made by store owner, Lee Wolfson, that the store would be shutting its doors for good in February 2011.
Call it disbelief mixed with sadness and denial...I don't know what it was, but I was feeling more emotions at one time than one person should have to sift through. I went to bed with a lot on my mind. I woke this morning to a barrage of Facebook posts including links to news stories relating to the news. The word was out to the public; Vinyl Fever, independent record store and Tampa staple since 1981, was going to be closing.
And as Donny belted "Someday We'll All Be Free," one of the most inspirational and uplifting songs of all time, I wept. I starting rifling through all the memories I have from my 18 years as a Vinyl Fever employee. I started in 1991 as a part-time night clerk and within six months was promoted to assistant manager, which allowed me to gladly quit the full-time job I dreaded at an insurance company. I don't know if Lee had ever seen anyone so giddy and enthusiastic to be given that opportunity.
See, as cliched as it sounds, music has always been the sole factor that's inspired me and driven me. My only inspiration for getting a job at a corporate insurance firm fresh out of high school was to have enough money in my pocket every Friday to supplement my record-buying habit.
Music was all I cared about. Music was all I read about. All the hours when I should have been doing my homework in high school were spent listening to and being inspired by Lou Reed and Richard Hell. All the novels and great works of literature I should have read took a back seat to reading the poetry of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. All the projects I should have worked on were shelved in place of painstaking hours spent trying to concoct THE perfect mix tape.
I was promoted to store manager within three years, and with the help of the close-knit staff who also breathed and ate music, I, along with the help of Assistant Managers Carl Webb, Chris Temple and Kelly Cochran, turned Vinyl Fever into a lean, mean fighting machine. The four of us instantly became best friends and, unlike many co-workers, spent a lot of time hanging out together after store hours. While it was never stated, we knew that the bond we'd formed would last a lifetime. The four of us, along with Lee, all shared a vision and a desire to turn this, our habit and obsession, into the best damn record store we knew how to run. And I can proudly say that for a long time, we did just that. I am again grateful for all the memories and the good times we all shared within those hallowed halls.
And while it's easy to blame the store's closing on a variety of different factors, it's not to say that the internet (and the downloading of music per se) is entirely to blame. Life goes on...changes occur...shit happens. It would be no more fair of me to blame iTunes than it would be to blame the guy who used to come in every new release Tuesday in, say, 1996 with a wad of cash in his hand to buy that week's releases who now can't because he has three teenage kids and an unemployed wife. While there's not one defining factor that's to blame for the long-standing store's closing, there needs to be a sense of pride and elation associated with all the years that it was going strong.
Obviously, I'm saddened. My "dream job" was ALWAYS to be able to work in a record store. I consider myself very lucky to be one of the select few who can obviously say my dream came true. And while we all share in the bad news, the best thing you can do and the highest compliment you can pay me or any of the Vinyl Fever veterans is to keep music in your heart and keep it alive. While you may no longer have the time to track down every R.E.M. import 7" single or every Cure CD single, never forget the joy and happiness you felt when you got your hands on them. That is the true joy and pleasant memory that we'd all like you to hold onto forever.
Rather than mourning, pull out that Iggy Pop record I recommended...or the Massive Attack one Carl recommended...or the Jim Lauderdale CD Kelly recommended...or the PJ Harvey EP Chris recommended...or the O.V. Wright live album Lee recommended...and dance your ass off.
The store may be closing but the joy the music has brought to your life and, hopefully, the welcoming atmosphere that me and my compadres provided you with for so long, will never die.
So long, Vinyl Fever. I will miss you more than you'll ever know.