Long before I had aspirations to take my writing to the next level, I was merely a writer hiding his writing under a bushel. Back then, records and record stores kept me going. Actually, it was less about record stores, and more about the music that record stores carried.
In the late 1980s, I returned with my young family to the place where my roots were the deepest, which also happened to be close enough to the WBOR radio tower to pull-in its meager radio signal, which emanated out from Brunswick for a 15-20 mile radius, barely reaching Durham, where we were living with my in-laws. The signal was slightly stronger on the Lisbon Falls side of the river where we moved waiting for our house to be built, occupying the downtown side of a duplex at 16 ½ Oak Street, one of Marcel Doyon’s many rental properties in my former hometown. This connected me to late 1980s college rock and the likes of They Might Be Giants, Lois Maffeo, The Fall, and The Replacements. A few years later, I became deeply affected by something called alt-country and the band Uncle Tupelo, as well as a host of bands on the long defunct Faye Records label out of another college town, Columbia, Missouri.
A student named Brett Wickard had a radio show I listened to every week. While still working on his Bowdoin degree, Wickard started a tiny little record store on Middle Street—I think it was next to an Army recruiting center. Brunswick had been lacking a store like this one ever since Manassas, Ltd. closed up shop a few years before. Wickard called his store, Bull Moose.
It might seem overly dramatic to say that “music saved my life,” but it was one of the few positives keeping me running during a difficult period for me during my 30s. Lost in a series of soul-sucking jobs I hated, full of ideas that never came to fruition, the music of this time period spoke to me like nothing else at the time. Later, books and then writing became default options for me, helping me to make sense of the world. Music still remains a positive force in my life.
I’ve always wondered what it is about music that manages to forge such an intimate connection with humans—are we wired for music and melody and when we hear the right combination of notes, is that what moves us deep within our souls? Of course, this deep experience with music isn’t universal. My lovely wife doesn’t have anything like my own deep connection to music, but she certainly knows how much music means to me.
Saturday was Record Store Day. Record Store Day is a national event that began in 2007. It was a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1,000 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally. This year, the number of participating stores ballooned to 1,600.
Bull Moose was celebrating RSD 2014 at all its 11 locations. Since the Brunswick store was closer, I opted to head over to Joshua Chamberlain’s hometown, rather than the Scarborough location, where REM bassist Mike Mills was in-store signing autographs and offering a special release of acoustic REM tracks. The band’s “Fables of the Reconstruction” cassette was the first item sold at the original store in Brunswick back in 1989.
I ended up going home with two pieces of vinyl and a Judy Garland CD (I also adore torch singers like Garland). One of my records was a reissue of Songs Ohia’s “Magnolia Electric Co.”, the band/project of the late Jason Molina. If you are a fan of heartfelt, genuine songwriting and the grittier side of music best enjoyed late at night with a glass of Jim Beam, and have never heard the name Jason Molina, you need to check his stuff out. Molina is just one more example of an artist no longer with us, but who left a huge musical legacy behind.