Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Fidelity

The first time I went to Stinkweeds I was 16. Despite being of age, I had yet to experience that teenage rite of passage that is obtaining a driver's license. So, a few of us convinced our otherwise ignored friend Dustin to drive us down there in his mom's Chevy Astro van. To a group of sheltered teens from Mesa, Arizona, an afternoon excursion to neighboring Tempe was more like a trip to a underdeveloped foreign land; and this trip in particular was fraught with third-world danger when Dustin decided to drive in the wrong lane of traffic through the eternal construction zone known as Apache Boulevard. Ironically the goods we sought were a product of four Mesa boys who had grown in suburbs not unlike, and not far from, our very own.

Really, for me this trip was a series of firsts: my first independent record store experience, my first outing to Tempe sans parents, and the first time I heard mention of the term "EP". The EP in question was an obscure self-titled release from Mesa's own Jimmy Eat World -- a sort of sonic appetizer, released to simultaneously tide us over and whet our appetites for their upcoming full-length album, Clarity. I can't remember who all came; most likely Jeff and Devyn (we no doubt had forgone band practice that day) and probably Erich since Dustin drove us.

Our first Stinkweeds experience was apparently a pleasant one, as we made a habit of going back frequently -- when we could find someone to drive us, that is. My second or third time there I bought How It Feels to Be Something On by Sunny Day Real Estate at the suggestion of Jeff's brother Randy. I hated it.* When finally we were able drive to Tempe on our own, we often combined our outings to Stinkweeds with a stop at Sub Factory, maybe the best bread on a sub you've tasted.

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It took a while before I understood the term "music snob" -- a person who has no desire to share music, be it by means of suggesting bands or albums, through loaning of CDs, or through the swapping of electronic media. However, it's not one's actions that make a music snob, but the motives behind the actions. This person refuses to share simply because knowing more hip bands than you will make him or her cooler than you. In other words, a music snob is a person who hoards music, to the extent that such a thing is possible.

Let me throw this out there: I am not a music snob. At least not in the general sense. Or in any sense for that matter, but I'll let you be the judge of that after you read what I have to say.

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Stinkweeds in Tempe was sandwiched between a bartending academy and Pita Jungle, one of the finest restaurants in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. In April 2006 I heard a rumor that the Tempe location would be closing and the owner would be selling Tempe's inventory to an unrelated party in Salt Lake City, Utah, where a new record store would be opening. By this time, Stinkweeds had opened a second location in Phoenix, so when I heard about the liquidation of the Tempe store I wasn't as distraught as I should have been.

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I have a hard time downloading music. Of course I am technologically savvy, and I know how to download music. Maybe it's because during the years wherein I formed my musical tastes downloading music, whether legally or illegally, wasn't really an option; cable modems and the hard drive-friendly mp3 format were technological breakthroughs and therefore rare, instead of the norm. In sum, maybe I'm a simple creature of habit when it comes to procuring new tunes.

Or maybe I like the feel a of CD spanning my middle finger and thumb, and perhaps I enjoy browsing the liner notes, deciphering unintelligible lyrics and perusing the thank you list. Better yet, maybe I enjoy delicately placing the needle on a new vinyl, and maybe I love the subtly accentuated and unparalleled sound quality of wax.

Similarly, I don't seem to appreciate music when I don't purchase it. Maybe there's something to be said for giving something up and getting something in return. Is money not our recompense when we give up a portion of our time and talents -- a piece of ourselves -- to a person or organization? When we make a monetary sacrifice, we're somewhat akin to the musicians who give up a piece of themselves in the songs they craft. If sacrifice gives meaning and appreciation to life, it certainly does to music as well.

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When I was in Salt Lake City at the beginning of April I made a point of visiting Slowtrain Records at the suggestion of Zach. I found their CD selection to be somewhat lacking but their impressive array of vinyl made up for that. We didn't have much time to spend for record shopping, so after a quick scan of the LP section I began flipping through 7 inches. It didn't take long for me to notice a round, green handwritten price tag on several of the more obscure, older-looking 7 inches. Its familiarity called for further inspection. Removing a 7 inch from the bin, I read the single word that spanned the top half of the circular price tag: "Stinkweeds." I had suspected that Slowtrain was the reincarnation of the old Tempe location of Stinkweeds, and now I had proof.

This discovery caused a subtle tearing in my heart**: at first, it was a feeling of superiority -- as if I belonged to an exclusive group. Next I felt annoyed -- annoyed that something so holy could be paraded in front those who had not experienced nor could appreciate the glory that was Stinkweeds Tempe -- my pearls thrown before the veritable swine.***

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I've since repented of my snobbish feelings. But I won't repent of my love for record stores and their produce. Music plays an important role in my life and -- for better or worse -- it helps define it. My fidelity -- it's worth the sacrifice.

* Present day, this might be my favorite of their four albums.
** Sunny Day Real Estate pun not intended.
*** The coalescence of these feelings must be how a music snob feels when he hears his favorite band on the radio (not that a music snob would be listening to the radio, but still). Oh, and I
do not think Slowtrain customers are swine, I just felt the metaphor fit my initial feelings; I love Slowtrain and I always make an effort to shop there whenever I'm in SLC.


  1. I enjoyed this Myke, I almost feel as if you were a present day Indiana Jones searching for the holy grail(stinkweeds) and you finally found it.

  2. This would make a good short movie. By "this" I mean Myke's post, not Thome's fantasy of some guy named after a state searching for a rare artifact. (talk about lame)

  3. I am at a loss for a good way.

  4. Myke this blog possibly changed my life. As much as I love Slowtrain I will never love it as much as you love StinkWeeds.
    I agree with you. The digital music revolution, not matter how convinient has devalued the music listening process. My favorite albums are the ones I've purchased and opened the new packaging, looked at the beautiful art work and followed every song by reading the lyrics in side.
    Thanks for your insight.

  5. I'm a little bit frustrated that I can't remember if I was with you on the maiden voyage of the Dustin... Honestly the first distinct Stinkweeds memory I have is riding in Jeff Arnett's grandparents' boat-car and his subsequent hit-and-park.

    I bought Mineral's Power of Failing and Knapsack's Day Three of My New Life on my first trip to Stinkweeds. Definitely far and away the best gambles of my musical life (and I'm pretty sure the only time my success rate was 100%).

    To your point, if I had never bought the physical copy of Power of Failing, I never would have known that Mineral described themselves as "Pizza boys gone rock". For me that added a whole new layer to the band.

  6. Stinkweeds!!!!! So many memories. Thanks Myke.