Photography by Mike Spitz
Interviews by Rebecca Villaneda
Text Edited by Ashley Ratcliff
“Mike Spitz’ magnum photo-opus rests on the fault lines of So Cal, as our Earth is shaking off the old physical world of sound and entering its virtual reality. Here’s a book that reveals a romantic vision of Los Angeles, its musical legacy, and those whose careful curative efforts created California dreaming” (Van Dyke Parks, 2013).
Record stores are the mecca where music, records, CDs, tapes, memorabilia and human interaction collide. Upon entering, right away you are mesmerized by rock posters on the wall, vinyl in the bins, and jazz, blues, hip-hop, reggae, punk and all other kinds of music oozing out of the speakers that surround the faithful followers of the neighborhood record store. An unstoppable revival is in full swing around the globe these days – vinyl records and an increasing number of record stores coming back to life after a long decline. And yet, there are no published photography books which visually aim to re-create the stimulating experience of being inside these brick-and-mortar storefronts nor which focus on the small business owners who created these spaces – until now.
Mike Spitz’s The Record Store Book is the first photography and interview book about independent record stores. For the past two years, beginning in 2011, photographer Mike Spitz has been capturing – on color film – the unique culture and stimulating experiencing of being in a record store and how it cultivates a communal place for human interaction, exploration, and discovery. Journalist Rebecca Villaneda and Spitz include individual portraits and personal interviews with the store owners to give an in-depth look at store history, facts and distinctive points of view regarding the constant changes in how people search for, find, and appreciate music. The book features over forty record stores in and around the greater Los Angeles area.
The Record Store Book takes the viewer inside these dynamic stores, emphasizing the visual experience of discovering that rare vinyl record, cassettes, CD’s, memorabilia, old concert posters, turntables and other collectibles. Going in chronological order from the oldest existing stores in the greater Los Angeles area to the most recently opened stores, the book respectfully marks the “changing of the guard” from the older to the newer generation of stores and owners. Though many record stores have suffered, gone out of business or converted to just online sales, Spitz found a plethora of brick-and-mortar stores still in existence or new ones just opening up their doors during the shooting of this project. Many of these new stores are featured in the book.
Mike Spitz also brings in another artistic medium that has undergone rapid developments in recent years by choosing film and older cameras instead of digital to photograph stores that specialize in vinyl records. “I found that color film, not digital, accentuates the nostalgic visual journey and emotional experience of being in a record store”, Spitz said.
“My aim was to show how each record store has its own life and vibe that inspires and fosters an inviting ‘watering hole’ of human interaction around the love of music. It’s not just about the song or the band. It’s also about the sense of community that one finds at a record store. That connection with other music enthusiasts and with the vinyl records, the CD’s, and other tangible memorabilia gets lost the more one gets used to downloading songs. People want to get out of cyberspace now,” Spitz said. “They are leaving behind their computers and going down to the local record store where they can tap into a community of like-minded music lovers – in the flesh”.
PUBLISHED BY RARE BIRD BOOKS
RELEASE DATE – April 14, 2015
Available at Urban Outfitters, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powells Books, Skylight Books, Book Soup, Arcana Books, Stories Café & Books, Hennessey & Ingalls, Amoeba Records, and many independent record stores and bookstores in the US & Europe.
When he was eleven years old, Mike Spitz got his first drum set – a 1960s red sparkle Ludwig. He played the drums in a jazz big band and a funk and rock group throughout high school. When Mike was a teenager, radio station WVXU in Cincinnati gave him an opportunity to DJ a jazz show. As a freshman at Tulane University in New Orleans, he hosted a late-night alternative rock show.
When Mike transferred to New York University to major in acting, he had already inherited his older brother’s acoustic guitar and had begun writing songs. He recorded an album of ten songs, and although music seemed to be in his blood, his passion for theater, filmmaking and photography soon took a stronger hold.
After a few years acting in plays and independent movies, he wrote and directed his own short films that went on to appear in film festivals worldwide and have since found distribution on international cable and television.
After making films, Mike found his artistic home in still photography, where he has stayed. He has self-published several photography books and exhibited his work in galleries. Lenswork Magazine (Issue No. 100) featured his portrait series about people living with chronic mental illness. With his most current photo book project, For The Record, which is about independent record stores, Spitz has been able to revisit his musical roots by merging his interests of photography and music.
Spitz also has a full-time career as a licensed clinical therapist working with behaviorally and emotionally challenged children. He has also taught photography to troubled teenagers, using it as a therapeutic means for self-expression and creativity.
Spitz is a founding member of F9 Gallery in Los Angeles, where he has exhibited. Other galleries that have shown his work include Artists Haven Gallery in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in New York City, Infusion Gallery in Los Angeles and Groundwork Café in Hollywood, California.
His most recent exhibitions include the Julia Dean Photo Center Gallery in Los Angeles, the 2012 International Juried Show at the North Valley Art League in Redding, California, the Los Angeles Brewery Spring Art Walk, and the ADC Contemporary Art Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, California.
Rebecca Villaneda is a Los Angeles-born writer educated in southern and northern California. She now lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., and writes for the national online magazine, HispanicBusiness.com. She received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism hoping that the profession would allow her to interview amazing individuals – it has. Her first book was a collaboration with three other writers, “Stories 4 Women,” which is a collection of true short stories. Rebecca also is the assistant director at Casa Dolores, a Mexican folk art museum and nonprofit, and a place she is able to study and research her heritage.
VAN DYKE PARKS
“Mike Spitz’ magnum photo-opus rests on the fault lines of So Cal, as our Earth is shaking off the old physical world of sound and entering its virtual reality. Yet, there is a hunger for sound that’s packaged, visually decorated and framed with sleeve art to represent the world within. Like a good joke, Spitz’ delivery is a matter of timing. Yet, there’s nothing to laugh at, as he reveals the characters in our community, and their shingled shops emblazoned with the magnetic promise of records for sale. Here’s a book that reveals a romantic vision of Los Angeles its musical legacy, and those whose careful curative efforts created California dreaming.
Such record stores are a legacy of the ’50s, by and large, when vinyl LPs and the promise of high fidelity lured a new generation into the sound system. They rose up, like the Capital Tower, to bring a signature power to pop music and had their heyday with the advent of Tower Records and like chain-store operators. They served the continuum of neighborhood retailing through that transformation and the CD era. All it took to bring them to the decline was the collapse of the recording industry as we knew it, through the key-punch of downloads. Yet, in its decline from that Golden Age, many record stores still hold on, through the curiosity of the nostalgia market, and a niche market that’s resurrecting vinyl itself. Why that resurrection? The appeal of high fidelity. Evidently, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Record stores still signal “a sense of place,” informing through liner notes, visible logos, with tangible goods that unite our optic community.
I can relate! As I entered my teens, on my first trip to California in ’55, I sat in preview booths at Sam Goody’s on Sunset Strip. There, I put on the earphones in the glassed-in sound booths, and made my hop from “serious” classical to be-bop music, and got serious about classic rock. Sam Goody brought his stores a bi-coastal sense of place, and people gathered at record stores for all the news that was fit to sing. Goody, like late-great L.A. collector Music Man Murray, epitomized this new era of libraries that invented genre hopping. Epic!
Goody’s – like Aron’s and Rhino, and other similar vintage stores I’ve visited that are now defunct – has set a foundation for a whole new set of stores for the modern age and distal generation. This cements L.A. (as much as do the footprints at the Chinese Theatre) as prime real estate in the history and transformation of the music business itself.
Celebrate this legacy, through the photography that captures So Cal and its audio embrace, when surface noise became a fond memory, and music became something to groove on. This story is one for the books. Hold on to it”.
Van Dyke Parks is a LA based musician, composer, and music historian, having collaborated with T-Bone Burnett, Randy Newman, and many others. He is most known for his work as lyricist and collaborator on Smile with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.
“The best job I ever had was working at the Rhino Records store in Los Angeles, from 1973 through 1981. I was the first regular employee and my boss was the great Richard Foos, who opened the store in the front half of a Zenith Electronics warranty-repair shop. The owner didn’t have much business, so he leased Richard the front half of the store. In the beginning, Richard used to seed the bins with valuable records for 99 cents, just to get people excited about what they might find. When Wildman Fischer, a local hero of ours who’d made an album with Frank Zappa, showed up with a song he’d written about the store, I recorded him in our back room on my Panasonic cassette deck. Richard pressed a single up and the Rhino label was born.
I remember when Richard contacted Warner Special Products about his desire to reissue an Alan Sherman record. They thought he was crazy. Nobody would buy that. It was out of print ! But they leased him the masters, and Richard basically invented the modern record reissue business with that release.
Rhino was a record collector’s paradise and the cultural hub of Los Angelino record geeks. I got paid—paid !—to hang out, talk about records, play records, order records, opine about records, get free concert tickets and promo records. And best of all, I got first pick of the stuff that was traded in. It didn’t get better than that. I met many of my closest friends at Rhino, and bought many of the records I still play regularly. It was paradise.
In 1981 I left Rhino for a job at A&M Records, and was fortunate to have a long career there and at Warner Bros. Records working with some incredible artists. But I never enjoyed myself as much as I did working at a record store”.
Jeff Gold is author of “101 Essential Rock Records”, a former Executive VP/General Manager at Warner Bros. Records, and an avid record historian and collector.
“My life revolved around the record store since I first became obsessed with music, which was around 1966. As boys of around 11 years old, my twin brother Alex and I would pour over records wherever we saw them – in those days one could find them in department stores and drug stores as well as in record stores – because they contained everything we were fascinated with: sounds, rhythms and images of coolness and mystery, of infectious electrical energies. It took us each two weeks’ allowance to buy a record, so unless we were wanting a double album such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland or Canned Heat’s Livin’ the Blues, we could get an album every two weeks. Until the advent of “underground” FM radio the Los Angeles area where we grew up (KPPC), often these purchases were based on images or package design and the name of the band alone, so much pondering was done while standing around in the record store. A few years later, when I was 19 or so, I started working at the one store in West L.A. that was smaller, dirtier and weirder, more fun to hang around in than any we had previously experienced: Rhino Records.
This was, I believe, late 1976, when our friend, Lee Kaplan (then known as Leigh Kaplan), had started working there, and somehow got me added to the staff – my first real job (selling Christmas trees hardly qualifies as a real job)! This was the portal to a kaleidoscopic barrage of wondrous and bizarre experiences. This store, I was to discover later in life, was unique, yes. But in many other ways it was similar to other so-called “independent” stores around the country in that it not only flaunted a “screw you, record industry” ideology of selling bootleg and promotional records along with those new and used, but it also was a meeting place for all sorts of miscreants and self-appointed scholars of the arcane: musicians (punk rockers, jazz geniuses, folk purists), writers (novelists, screenwriters, music journalists, cartoonists), and all sorts of collector nerds and other forms of obsessive, barely socialized humanity. In other words, it felt like the place to be. It was during the almost 10 years of working at Rhino (I took a few months away from it as I managed an import record company’s warehouse behind Zed Records, Long Beach’s punk rock music emporium) that I was exposed to so much and met so many people who would alter the course of my life, alter my consciousness. I could name drop (this was, after all, the late 70s, mid-80s in Los Angeles), but celebrity is beside the point.
The point is that people who frequented the record store were often insanely passionate individuals from who one could learn – sometimes just by observing them, and that this retail dump was a place to exchange ideas and opinions, to feel a part of life rather than apart from life. One could browse the stacks randomly and discover any manner of unexpected wonders without knowing or caring where it was leading or what you were really looking for. Seeking out obscurities without the aid of a database was – and is – fun! And all the while one is doing this browsing, eventually blackening one’s hands with second-hand grunge, one can either focus laser-like on these potentially magical discs and the sleeves they are packaged it, or casually chat with one’s fellow social failures and/or obsessives.
I am a total music geek, and not a young one, either. Thus, I cannot help but mourn the gradual extinction of the record store – particularly the so-called independent one, the one with all the annoying snobs, nervous obscurants, anal-retentive collectors. The one with all those potentially life-changing sounds, images and individuals”.
Nels Cline is a multi-talented musician and composer, and has played lead guitar for Wilco.
“My father took me to Music Man Murray’s in 1978 on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. It was my first record store experience. It was a used record store so the smell was like an old book store to me. My father showed me the Fats Domino Blueberry Hill LP and I had to have it because I was huge fan of the show “Happy Days,” [where] that song is referenced many times. Just recently Murray passed away and I had frequented his store throughout the years and its second location on Exposition Boulevard in Mid City. It was the experience that got me hooked on records. The touch, the smell, the sight, the sound – it had all my senses in overload at age 6.
I think records are important because it affects the senses, which develop into attachment. You can’t touch or become attached to a wave file on the computer. We need things to touch and a record has been music history’s best example of that”.
Cut Chemist (aka Lucas MacFadden) is a LA-based DJ, musician and composer.