Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Last Days Of The Record Store AKA If You Want To Buy A Sam Cooke Album Where Do You Go? Part 2

I was given a manager position at Tower Records & Video on December 31st, 1998. I was to earn $7.00 an hour (migrant workers made more!). On average I was working between 100-120 hours every two weeks (keep in mind that there are 168 hours in a week). In addition to the responsibilities that I already had, I had more because I was already cleaning up the messes of some of my brain dead co-workers. Now I was responsible for the coordination of all of the first floor’s employees and everything involved with the first floor. That meant that I was to be working with the head of the books department, the girls in charge of magazines, the guys in charge of video rental accounts and the Ticketmaster booth. I began training on January 1st, 1999 for my new position. I later find out that one of my co managers has transferred to a Seattle store and the other had transferred to a New Orleans store. I was going to become 2nd senior manager after only 3 more days and the senior 1st floor manager in two short weeks. It was a lot of pressure.

I was told by the senior manager Mike that he felt that the store was getting too weird for him. “At fist the job used to be fun, now it’s getting like a police state around here!” We started having these weird bulletins sent out and we were all handed stuff like sexual harassment reading materials and given seminars in the basement about looking out for things like trip hazards or anything that could cause us to get sued by customers. Employees began to worry that something was wrong with MTS Inc...after all, why is all of this shit happening now?

It turned out that the brass were banking a lot on the final sales reports from the holiday season. They fell way short of expectations for the store and region as a whole. Also they were hemmoraging money due to the fact that they invested in too many new stores too quickly. Our key supervisor explained that stores like Newbury Comics were kicking our ass and online stores with lower prices like and were doing it as well. We finally started renting out DVD’s on the video floor...Blockbuster Video down the street had been doing it for a while now so we were again behind the curve. Just then, our old workers began returning from home. When they returned they were all told to reapply and they would be rehired, they reapplied but very few of them were rehired sticking me with the same ol’ wack squad of employees. To make matters worse, is was easier to get a home loan than it was to get any of these knuckleheads fired. I sat down with every manager and supervisor to find out the proper ways to go about seeking to terminate someone.

I had to give them verbal warnings , write a report on paper and then have them sign them and put them in a folder. After three warnings they can be brought in for a hearing and then face possible termination....oddly enough, this isn’t the process that they went through to terminate Jen. She was a good worker and the 1st floor’s resident training supervisor for more than a year and all it took was one phone call. I had motherfuckers coming to work and acid and mushrooms. I had this hippie in the video room tagging sales items and she was so high that she began twirling around in the middle of the room until she eventually passed out. I couldn’t get her fired to save my life. She eventually quit on her own because the job was “becoming a drag”. “Get your patchouli stink outta my store!” was all I could think of but I instead said “Sorry to hear that, good luck in the future.” Now I only needed to pray that at least 6 other of my employees would quit.

I asked Joe why he wasn’t allowed to hire anymore. When he hired employees he made great judgement calls and they usually stuck. He told me that what was happening was when the 3rd floor supervisor was hiring he took all of the candidates he hated for his floor, hired them and sent them to me...I of course confronted him on it and told him if he sent me anymore trouble employees I wasn’t going to my Key Supervisor or the Store Manager or the Regional Manager...I was going directly to HIM. I never received another bad employee after that and Joe was once again in charge of hiring our 1st floor workers. After I had trained a new co-manager and received about 3 new good hires through Joe things began to look up.

DVD’s began severely outselling the VHS rentals and we were looking at the daunting task of possibly having to get rid of all of our videocassettes in the next year. Between Bella freezing peoples accounts for being a day late with returns and customers complaining over the stiff return penalties (the rental price for each day it was late which was 2.99 per VHS and 3.99 per DVD). A student that returned a tape 3 days late would have to pay about $13 dollars after taxes. I was given the managers option of “settling” these accounts for cheaper because so many regular customers began threatening to not return due to the fact every fourth or fifth rental or return had a blocked account. If accounts are blocked then we don’t make any money and our regular accounts guy worked from 8 AM to 5 PM every weekday. I was given his authority from 5PM until on weeknights and the weekends.

I was also called on to work closely with the loss prevention agent so I was given loss prevention training as well. I used to help them catch, arrest and detain thieves and people who started shit in the store. So not only was I asked to do everything on the 1st floor but I was senior 1st floor supervisor within a three week span of being promoted. Since I worked mostly at night (all of the bigwigs work until 5PM or 6PM) that left myself, the 2nd and 3rd floor managers and the Key Supervisor in the store at night. Whenever the Key Supervisor was called away from the store he put ME in charge of the entire store. This started happening one short month after I was promoted. I had to handle voids on the 3rd floor, issues with the trash compactor in the basement, blocked accounts in the video department and refunds at the Ticketmaster booth all at the same time. Meanwhile, the store itself seemed to be having it’s soul sucked out as memo after memo began being posted up in regards to new rules being instituted at the store.

There was a non fraternization policy in place at Tower Records...the thing is that no one enforced it. Managers dated employees, employees dated other employees and there was no problem with it...that is unless someone form the California corporate office showed up to the store then NO ONE was dating. The thing was that corporate types started showing up at the store a lot more and the decree came down that they’d be actively enforcing the non fraternization policy at work. It was official, something was definitely wrong. A week later I was told that I wasn’t going to be senior 1st floor manager anymore because Mike was transferring BACK from Seattle. Once he got back he told me that things were bad across the board but the Seattle store was “dead, devoid of any life”. He told me that if he was going to work at Tower he might as well come back to the Boston store. Another week later we got a call from our other former co manager Tai from New Orleans, she said the the Tower Records in New Orleans “sucked donkeyballs” and that the new rules made it dead out here and that she would be returning to the Boston store in the coming weeks. What the fuck was going on with the company?

Music was still selling but the CD burner had affected the music industry in a way they completely didn’t expect. There was a tremendous spike in CD-R sales at all of the stores and while albums were selling fine then. It wouldn’t be until later that year that file sharing programs like Napster and Kazaa would be developed, further twisting the knife into the failing boxstore format. Since the bottom line was making money, our Tower Records stores began hiring anybody with a pulse. The store’s overall customer service took a nosedive and it was often evident on employee’s faces that they weren’t enjoying their jobs too much.

Due to the low wages and overwork (like asking 90 pound girls to carry mics to the stage for an in store) we couldn’t keep any employees with common sense or self respect. The only way to survrive was to wait until a cushy 8AM to 5PM job opened up, apply for it and chill. Everyone else was putting themselves up to either be fired or burn out one day. Guess which path I was on? In order to avoid doing something one night that would put me in the same boat as Jen, I decided to apply for a job in the Books and Magazines department. A good job that ran from 8 AM to 8 PM at the latest, with Mike back from Seattle and Tai back from New Orleans all they’d have to do is promote one of 3 candidates that I pre selected to replace me. At the same time they were finally going to announce the Employee Of The Month winners from December, January and February at the same time. Everyone was under the impression that they’d announce who the winner was for all three months at the same time because it was the same person...everyone thought it was gonna be me. Who ELSE could it possibly be?

The day came when they posted the announcements for the filled store positions and winners of the Employee Of The Month for the last three months in the intrastore mail system. I didn’t get the Books & Magazines job even though I was far and away the one with the most experience in it and I didn’t get Employee Of The Month for ANY of the three preceding months. They instead gave them to people who put in those index cards how they saved the store between $100-$200 each (they were also the only people that went through with that cornball idea as the rest of us just laughed it off). I had reached the end of my rope. I got up and went to the basement to the store managers office and told him that I had to talk to him at 1:00 after I did my first register shift. Later on, I came back and told him EXACTLY how I felt.

I told him about all of the bad employees we were stuck with and how when our good employees came back they weren’t getting hired back. I told him about the repeated offences that some of our bad eggs were written for rarely lead to them being fired but if Bella had a grudge against them they were gone in a heartbeat. I told him about how the entire staff and managers alike were being hamstrung and how the new stricter rules and policies sucked the life right out of the store. I also told him that there was NO WAY IN HELL anyone else deserved to be Employee Of The Month besides me and I also told him that I was officially giving him my two weeks notice. I fuckin’ quit right to his face. His jaw dropped, he was stunned. All he could come up with was “I’m sorry to hear that, (Dart’s government name). You’ll be missed. You’re the best worker we’ve had here in years.” “If I was so goddamn good then why didn’t I get EOM?” I thought to myself. But I said nothing and went back to the sales floor.

Once there I had to gather up everyone and announce to them that I just put in my two weeks notice. My boy Mike Penta said “After you leave, there’s gonna be a lot of people following you right out the door, buddy.” Those words turned out to be pretty prophetic. Word spread throughout the store about me telling off the store manager right to his face. It was something that every other manager wished they could’ve done. Best thing was that I had two weeks of completely stress free work ahead of me. Everybody was treating me like a hero, too. This didn’t sit too well with Bella.

One night, the store got slammed after a crazy midnight sale. The first floor was a mess and there was a counting problem on the 2nd floor that required myself, the 1st floor senior supervisor and the Key Supervisor to stay late to fix...we must’ve been there until 2 AM trying to fix the issue. After we were done we came downstairs and agreed that we did all thatwe can do at to leave it for the opening manager on the schedule. It was the early morning of March 17th, 1999, St. Patrick’s Day. We all said “Fuck it!” and went home. The Key Supervisor (his name was Gardner Key..weird, huh?) said to me “What do you have left, a week? It’s not like they can fire ya!”.

I came back to work at 3pm, an hour early to help clean up some the mess before I had to punch in and get to work. The second I step in the door I saw the head of Loss Prevention, Tim. I’m like “What’s up?”. Tim said “Bella wants you to see her in her office” I say “Okay” figuring that it had to do with the state of the sales floor after last night’s midnight sale. The Tim tells me to go straight into her office and not to bother punching in yet.

Lawdamercy! © Bounty Killer

When I get into her office she tells me that she’s noticed that since I put in my two weeks notice, I haven’t been working as hard as I used to. She said that In the last week I’d been a distraction in the store (read: she’s sick of everyone treating me like a sports hero doing his farewell tour). She printed out all of my intra store e-mails ever since January and said that I used “inappropriate language” in them (every “questionable” word was a derivation of the word “ass” like punkass, jackass, or bitch ass. The other words that were red flagged when taken out of the context of the sentence they were in were usually parts of album titles, song names or movie titles. She also brought up my storewide e-mails saying goodbye to all of my follow co-workers where I left them this long ass will (I had A LOT of friends at the store) and said that “employees have been saving them and it’s clogging the store databases memory”.

After going on for ten more minutes about some ol’ bullshit she finally told me that they were letting me go a week early. Not only were they letting me go a week early but they were going to pay me for this week AND 55 hours for next week and refund me my last $100 advance in one final paycheck . She then told me that in addition I would get a $200 severance check in the mail next week (The Employee Of The Month got a $200 bonus check). I was to follow the Key Supervisor up to the 2nd floor to the only register that held that amount of cash and turn this check into a cash payout. From there I was to be escorted out of the building by the head of Loss Prevention. She extended her hand and said “It was nice working with you”. I then realized when Jen called her the C word and I shook her hand and got up. How could I get mad then? I was gonna get PAID.

Gardner came into the office and wrote out the full cash payout order, to get the total he had to use a pocket calculator. It ended up coming out to $906.17. We headed upstairs in the elevator to avoid anyone seeing us. While in the elevator Gardner told me “We all fought her on this all afternoon, this is some bullshit.” I told him. “Hey, I wanted freedom and I got it. Besides, this can buy me a home studio.” We got out of the elevator and went straight to a register that was brimming with cash. I received my $906.17 in big bills and Gardner shook my hand and said “See ya later.” I was then lead back to the elevator by Tim and straight to the front door. Before I left Tim told me “They just fucked up. No one’s ever gonna do all the shit that you did.” I said “They’ll figure it out soon enough.” I then shook his hand, smiled and left the store.

It was right at that moment I understood what Jen felt like. I had spent only about 8 months employed at Tower Records but it felt like I’d worked there for 2 full years. Shortly after I left they instituted a new rule that no one could write ANY intrastore e-mails of a personal nature of ANY kind (it became known as the “*insert my government name here* Rule”). I wasn’t home for more than 10 minutes before I started getting all types of phone calls from people asking me what happened, a mini rebellion broke out in the store and between 10-15 of my closest friends at the store ended up leaving altogether or they were fired by Bella for petty reasons (one girl who was a friend of mine was let go for selling a fashion magazine for the Canadian price when there was no price tag on it!). The word was out that Tower Records had officially gone to shit.The store was dead and sterile all of a sudden. It went from a place that you could spend hours in to a fuckin’ hospital in less than a year. No one was having fun...It wasn’t allowed by corporate.

It turned out that Tower Records high prices, their unwillingness to change with the times and them expanding too quickly and at the wrong damn time (right when P2P file sharing programs became increasingly popular) contributed to the downfall of Tower Records. At the end, they tried to tighten things up rather than allow the employees to enjoy the freedoms that they did before things got bleak. The Tower Records at the corner of Mass Ave and Newbury St. closed for good in 2002 and moved over next to Fenway Park. A Virgin Megastore replaced the Tower Records and ended up vacating the premises less than 4 years later. That place was like going into a mausoleum. None of the employees knew a goddamn thing! They just looked everything up in the store database. I could’ve done that shit at home with Google!

I ended up jumping around from doing shipping and receiving at Hip Zepi to managing at a Loews movie theatre to working at a Newbury Comics and CD Spins before the Bush Administration took over and my run of quitting a job and getting another one in two weeks was up. My experiences at record stores have been somewhere between “Empire Records” and “High Fidelity”. I’ll write a script about the good ‘ol days soon enough.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Last Days Of The Record Store AKA If You Want To Buy A Sam Cooke Album Where Do You Go?

This topic has been done to death in recent years. It’s been exhaustively researched and veterans in all aspects and fields of the music business have been interviewed at length. Artists have made their feelings on the subjects known as have those who owned the box stores and chain stores that have bit the dust. I’ll explore the one aspect that none of them have done yet...what it was like to work at a box store/chain record store just when they were on their way down and how I jumped ship before the end finally came.

As a kid, I used to go to the neighborhood record store, Skippy White’s (when it was still on Mass. Ave in the South End) in order to get the newest Rap tapes. The tradition was started by my older brother Dave when we were coming home from school every Friday (he bought tapes on Fridays so he could rock them all weekend long). We’d go in and check The Source (back when it was a yellow two sided sheet of paper, mind you) real quick and then tell dude behind the counter which tapes we wanted. Tapes ran from $8 to $10 dollars a piece and from 1986 to 1988 when we wanted to cop a new tape, all we did was trek those 1 1/2 blocks down the street to Skippy White’s...until we realized that the Tower Records on the corners of Mass Ave. and Newbury Street had a much bigger store, much wider selection and last but not least, the big draw....they’d put new releases on SALE!

My brother was pissed when he saw Ice T’s “Power” on sale at the new Tower Records store for $6.99 when he just paid $8.99 for it at Skippy White’s. “I’m gonna have to start hikin’ down here and see what’s on sale first” Dave said as he simultaneously scanned the store for scattered ass (that was the other draw). Once my big brother and financial backer graduated from high school and moved out to go to Northeastern University (which was a 15 minute walk from our house), the burden fell on me to support my own burgeoning Hip Hop addiction. How in fuck was I supposed to cop all of the Sources, Rap Pages, Electronic Gaming Monthly’s and pay for my Nintendo Power subscription? The answer was clear...Sell pause mixtapes that I made on my radio at home.

I had this ill radio that all of my family members bought me as a present when I did really well on the entrance exam that allows students to enter one of the exam schools in Boston. I was accepted for admittance into Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America and one of the most racist (I meant “prestigious”). Needless to say, the only good things that came out of my 5 years in that hell hole were some lifelong friends, enough material for several books and movies and me learning every aspect of how to be a bootlegger/mixtape personality without ever talking over a track. My school was for grades 7-12 and damn near everybody in school would come to me to make tapes. I knew release dates and liner notes better than what they were teaching in class...While I had some classmates that dreamed of getting doctorates and had aspirations of writing for the Harvard Lampoon one day, I had aspirations of writing rhymes like the ones that would bang in my Walkman on the iron horse ride home.

My friends and I would take the train to the Symphony (dint da dint dint din!) stop on the Green Line and walk down Mass Ave until we got to Tower Records. There we’d browse the magazines, and spend mad time just going through all thetapes and the vinyl section. If you asked the employees a question, they knew the answer. If they didn’t the managers knew every goddamn thing else you needed to know. Customer service was a priority and the customer usually went home satisfied. About five years later I became one of those people. I was working overnight at a Super Star Market at the time back in the summer of 1998 and I went to Tower Records to cop a graf magazine and the Soundbombing CD.

I was standing next to a girl who asked an employee a question that he didn’t know the answer to. I answered her question, found what she was looking for and told her where to find the artist’s older work under a different name (I think it was Tricky/Nearly God or Bjork/Sugarcubes/Kukl or some shit). She went away happy and 30 seconds later that same employee just handed me an application and said “We have openings coming up because all of the college students are going home for the summer”. That was great for me because I was sick of stocking mountains of baby food and spending hours in an empty 18 wheeler breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling purposes. I filled that application out that day and dropped it off, picked up my last check from Star Market that Friday and left my two washed shirts, nametag and pricing guns in the break room with a note that said simply “I Quit” and crossed my name off the work schedule.

Back in those days the economy was so good that you could quit a job and get another one that same week! I haven’t been able to do that shit since George W. Bush got into office. One day after I cashed my last check , I got an interview from Tower Records for the video floor. I said “Fuck it, a job is a job” and went. I was interviewed by this huge dude named Joe who seemed like he stepped right out of the Big Lebowski. After about 5 questions he said “How soon can you start?” I said “How EARLY can I start?”. He told me that right after I processed my information I could start training. I had all my info on me so I went down to the basement to begin processing. I also noticed that on my way downstairs I saw a bunch of the people that I recognized from working there signing stuff, recieving checks and saying shit like “Bye!” and “It’s been real!”. I didn’t realize THAT many people would be gone, then I walked into an office and saw about 8 other people signing stuff already. Apparently we were all new employees that had been hired that day.

After my ID’s were copied and all of my information was processed and I had my sign in name and Employee Number (my store Social Security number) I could begin training. I was trained that same night by a girl named Jen. That same night right before we closed, this woman wanted preferential treatment for some reason or another and Jen told her “Miss, there are six people in line ahead you. Please be patient.” The woman claimed to know the owner and some big people at MTS Inc. and she’d have her job. Jen said “Well if you DO know someone at MTS Inc. then tell them that they need to have their asses kicked for paying their employees such low wages!”. The next day I came to work at 4 to work until closing and Jen came in right behind me. They asked her to go into office as soon as she came in the door, I mean the second she entered the store. They told me to wait outside before I came in to sign in.

About 5 minutes later Jen ran out the front door pissed off screaming “Those motherfuckers just fired me!” Apparently that woman from last night DID know the store’s general manager as well as the regional manager. She complained to them both and Jen was promptly fired. That should've served as a foreshadow of the shady shit to come in the future. I didn't care at the time, I finally had a job where I could actually apply all of the knowledge I'd acquired over the I get a free video rental account (3 at a time, 3 day limit) and an employee discount at a place where I didn't have to wear a wack ass bright blue company shirt to work.

When I went to sign in for the day I began to wonder what I got myself into. I didn't want to pop off at anyone and do anything to cause me to get fired so I tried to stay under the radar as much as possible. It was an exercise in futility and eventually everyone realized that I wasn't the average employee. I also found out that our floor manager (a woman named Bella) had a grudge running against Jen for a year because she called her the C word repeatedly for about 30 seconds in public after she denied her a smoke break (I heard the full story and it was warranted...I realized that it was REALLY warranted after my time at the store was done).

The store was doing well on all floors. We were selling a fair amount of DVD movies but we weren't renting them out yet. I was one of the proponents of renting them out because they were selling so briskly (we still had a Laserdisc section and we still carried the Laserdisc fanzine for God's sake!). In the summer of 1998, Pop music was back with a fuckin’ vengeance as the Spice Girls were moving a scary number of records. The age of Grunge Rock and Underground Hip Hop were done and now boy bands like the Backstreet Boys, NSync, 98ยบ and Hanson were hot.

Not only that, but albums by Snoop Dogg, DMX, Lauryn Hill and Jay-Z all topped the charts as well as albums by Marilyn Manson, Alanis Morrisette, Jewel, Madonna, Ricky Martin, Lenny Kravitz, Usher, Master P (and everybody on No Limit), Brandy, Monica, Korn, A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, OutKast, Goodie Mobb, Wyclef Jean, Canibus, Destiny’s Child, KCi & Jojo, Natalie Imbruglia, Jon B, Cappadonna, Natalie Merchant, Timbaland & Magoo, 8Ball & MJG, Dave Matthews Band, Hole, Cher, R. Kelly, Everlast, Garbage, Dru Hill, Mya, Busta Rhymes, Flipmode Squad. Sheryl Crow, Jagged Edge, X Scape, Keith Sweat, Fat Joe, etc. all ended the year with RIAA plaques on their walls. The point I’m making is that people were still coming to the record store to buy CD’s and they wer coming out in droves to our video floor to rent VHS tapes. Little did we all know that in less than 2 years the end of both the box store and video store was looming around the corner like a hangman’s noose swinging slowly back and forth over the gallows.

I was getting paid $5.50 an hour but I got paid time and a half for Sundays and holidays (from Thanksgiving until January 2nd every employee made time and a half). To make matters worse, I only got paid every two weeks so I had to come up with ways to make that work for me. For my first four months working at Tower Records I was scheduled to work on the book s/magazines and video floor from 4PM to closing (midnight) every weekday for a full 40 hours a week. The thing was that every weekend my friends from the music floor that went to Berklee College Of Music always had a project to finish or someone had a student film to make or a show to do...I would cover all of their shifts on the weekend. It was then that I eventually learned all the ins and outs of the store and the managers all found out that I not only knew a shitload about films and movies but music as well.

The crazy part was that during the weekend people always had to leave and they were always shortstaffed. This meant that I could come in for someone that opened on Saturday at 8 AM and end up there until closing covering for other people and filling holes all weekend. I often ended up working between 100-120 hours every two weeks (especially during inventory). They also allowed you to get an $100 dollar advance on your next weeks check and they just subtracted it from your next check. I’d do this every week because that $100 dollars always ended up being my Sunday pay anyways.

We had these midnight sales every time there were big releases, it was then that you saw the corporate side of the record store as opposed to the fun side illustrated in movies like “Empire Records” (a movie that Joe hated). When Titanic was going to come out the following Tuesday, we received a truck full of promo standups and materials for it. We had CASES of the VHS in regular and widescreen (you’d be surprised at just how few widescreen VHS tapes were sold and the subsequent arguments that happened at the point of sale between movie buffs and regular consumers over them) versions all in these cardboard Titanics....We were ordered to play the movie NONSTOP on the video floor from Monday until midnight on Wednesday. We ended moving damn near all of the regular versions and we sent back about 80% of the initial widescreen order for credit towards future rental purchases.It was clear to the employees that it was all about making that money hand over fist while you could and striking while the iron was hot.

We were used as impromptu roadies for in store performances and in some cases crowd control and security for whoever did an in store. I was security for Jay-Z during his in store for “Hard Knock Life Vol. 2”, I was also security for Black Sabbath when they did their instore (I was put in charge of Ozzy Ozzborn and the guitarist...Ozzy took two puke breaks, he was trashed). I was made crowd control for Cher (which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone as a fulltime job), I had to be security for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones once (their lead single is an asshole), and once I was asked to be crowd control for Joey McIntyre during a photo shoot...I have been trying to erase that day from my memory since to no avail.

While the job did have obvious perks, such as some semblance of celebrity status amongst all of the people that visited the place (which was a LOT of people) regularly, we were getting EXPLOITED. The amount of work and the type of work we were often asked to do (like giving some poor schmo the resealer and sending them to the basement with no ventilation to re shrinkwrap a pile full of returns with no defects so they could be resold on the sales floor). I was able to get over because I worked all the goddamn time and I was caking had over fist. The one thing that irked me more than everything that Newbury Comics down the street ALWAYS had the CD’s that we couldn’t order for whatever reason...even with my 35% employee discount, CD’s ended up costing me 20¢ MORE than Newbury Comics’ sales prices for new releases. The discount worked much better for video tapes and vinyl. We were also allowed free magazines provided we subjected them to cover tears and signage by the person in charge of magazines....since I was really in for Hip Hop magazines (especially grafitti mags) I either had to buy my magazines or just become extremely friendly with the girls that worked in that department...needless to say I still have shoeboxes full of magazines from 1998 to 2001 and they ALL came from Tower and they all have covers on them.

At first, the store was into hiring competent, knowledgeable employees that prided themselves on good customer service. We all got along pretty well and they was a diverse group of kids and young adults working there. We had Goths working next to Hippies. We had Korn fans working next to Hole fans. We had Kevin Smith fanatics working next to Terry Gilliam fanatics. Company Flow supporters would file returns alongside Puff Daddy fans. Prince fans would alphabetize the porn wall right next to Michael Jackson fans. Nobody was wasting nobody. It was a miracle, and miracles are the way things ought to be.

I slowly noticed that things were changing in our little utopia because we kept being called in for these store meetings in the basement and management types kept showing up for spot checks periodically. Our managers told us to be on our "best behavior" when they were around. We were all like "We work in a fuckin' record store!". We couldn't wrap our brains around that concept considering that all we did was act up and wild out all day long. Then we were all asked to reign it in and focus on something serious.

We were huddled together in these huge rooms with no ventilation where the store art department usually worked and all of the shipping & receiving was done. The meetings usually started with a sign up sheet for a 401 K program which we all laughed at. Our store had such a high turnover rate that the average employee lasted only about 3 months (it was a mix between the overwork and the low pay that usually ran them off in the end). Then they began having these weird seminars about how to prevent loss. It involved stuff like moving boxes on the sales floor when someone leaves them behind and other petty shit like that. Then they wanted to start a program where instead of the Employee Of the Month being based on the person who did the best job and received the most praise from customers and commendations from managers and co-workers, it would switch to the person who prevented the most loss from happening in the store. I began sensing that something was wrong then.

Working at a record store is probably one of best experiences any music, film or pop culture lover can have. We experienced a level of freedom that you just couldn’t have at an office job. When I was ever in a office it often meant that a CD player was blaring some music that everyone in the office was singing along to. It was nothing to see 8 folks signing exactly like Bjork while “Joga” was playing. That usually lead to discussions such as “What song could you sing at a Karaoke bar that would make everyone in there uneasy or weirded out immediately?” (After careful deliberation we determined that a man singing “Total Eclipse Of Heart”, or Christopher Cross' "Think Of Laura" followed by a bout of intense crying would do the trick across the board).

It was the only place where D Nice could show up to buy a CD and everyone would recognize him and ask him for an autograph. T Ray would show up and an employee would recognize him and ask him to sign his White Boys album cover. Joe Strummer would show up out of the blue and start signing shit for people (R.I.P.). Once Steven Tyler showed up at the Skechers store down the street singing like he did in his Gap ad. When I worked at Tower I used to have these long ass movie talks with Rob Zombie whenever he came by with Sherrie (his brother Spider from Powerman 5000 used to work there years ago). To other people it was “Oh shit! That’s Rob Zombie!”. To me, it was just Thursday.

People began calling the store and showing up to the store looking for me specifically. It got around that I was doing an excellent job on both floors (that and some story about me memorizing SKU numbers from faded rentals where the barcode wouldn’t scan) and I was offered a promotion. I decided not to take it because at the time I would’ve made LESS money managing then I did working 7 days a week. Before I knew it, it became the holiday season and many of the regular employees asked for two week leaves so that they could go home but come back after winter vacation. I was offered yet ANOTHER promotion and a raise...this time with the general managers permission to continue working on BOTH the music and magazine/book/video floor and I could continue working 7 days a week. I thought I was in Paradise....little did I know that the shit was about to hit the fan.

Part One Of Two

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

100 Posts Later...

I'm currently working on a big post entitled "The Last Days Of The Record Store" about my experiences working in record stores focusing on my time spent managing a Tower Records/Video from 1998-1999. Tower Records was owned by MTS Inc., the same company that owned Tweeter (we got a 15% discount at Tweeter as well as a 30% at Tower stores). The box stores were becoming dinosaurs as the specialized stores, internet and several other factors eventually contributed to the demise of Tower Records. Eventually, in Boston not only would the Tower Records store be history, but so would the HMV Records, Strawberries, and the Virgin Megastore that also replaced the Tower Records at 360 Newbury St. (It's going to be a Best Buy next). I'll try to get this done by tomorrow and post it for all of you that have been waiting for me to finish it.

Rest In Eternal Peace, Marquise Hill #91 of the LSU Tigers and New England Patriots.


Friday, May 25, 2007

The Same Ol' Rebellion With A Different Name AKA A Bostonian Sneaker Fiends Dream

I often visit the different drops that bloggers make showcasing new custom kicks, but most of the time I can't really get into them because I, like so many other Bostonians only rock Adidas. You may be thinking to yourself, how the hell can a whole city adopt a sneaker brand? Hey, I didn't start the shit...I merely adopted the custom myself when I became of age. While not everyone in Boston subscribes to it, there is NO doubt that Boston is an Adidas town...ask anyone who lives there or is from there if you think I'm exaggerating. They even admit to it in the local Hip Zepi stores (ad above), continuing the tradition started by my old (now defunct) South End sneaker spot, Harry The Greeks (keep in mind that it was also a custom to smack Yankees caps off of people's heads in public back in the days..that was before everybody started carrying guns, though).

Recently, Adidas launched a line of custom kicks (Celtics Superstars seen above) for each NBA team (after the Adidas/AG Salomon Group bought Reebok, they allowed Reebok to outfit the NFL but took over as the official apparel maker/supplier of the NBA) and later on a custom line of kicks designed by well known graf artists from all over the world called "End To End" (as shown below the Celtics kicks). While they're both nice, they don't even come close to the creations made by the heads over at Rebellion Customs (formerly known as the Dassler Rebellion). They've made custom joints for some of your favorite artists as well as everyday folks. They usually customize the classic Stan Smiths and Rod Lavers, but they're extremely versatile and keep on coming up with type ill designs that fuck your head up every time. Check out some examples here (all pictures courtesy of Dassler Rebellion/Rebellion Customs):

JDilla customs by Dassler Rebellion/Rebellion Customs

Nas exclusives by Dassler Rebellion/Rebellion Customs

Marvin Gaye Version 3 and Trashy To Classy (Oscar & Grungetta The Grouch) customs by Rebellion Customs For more information about Rebellion Customs or availability and pricing please visit the following sites:

If you're looking for some ill Adidas to rock this summer check out the following spots:

For any other spots, just use Google or Yahoo. One.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Everything Is Everything AKA Dartflix Edition #16

I was going to write a big post in praise of Grindhouse and as fate would have it, my boy Dallas Penn beat me to it . For some this means that they should just come up with something else to write about...for me it just means I have to step my pen/keyboard game up. The reason I called this post “Everything Is Everything” is not just because it looks cool or it sounds good or even because it’s the name of two of my favorite albums (Donny Hathaway and Brand Nubian). It’s because I believe that everything is nature and the physical world is connected by invisible threads that the naked eye can’t see. I also believe that different kinds of art and entertainment that most people might think are dissimilar may be more alike than you think.

Take for instance the filmmaking tandem of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Ever since they were children they both knew what they wanted to do with their lives, make movies. They also both loved studying people and music. They both shared the belief that without understanding the basic dynamics of human interaction and how music can either set the mood of a scene or a film as a filmmaker you are doomed from the beginning. As they got older they also noticed that editing was also a crucial part of cinema as well and they looked for any and every film of any genre to watch and ingest. They were like sponges, watching scenes that worked over and over again as well as ones that didn’t to avoid those same mistakes in their future films.

They took jobs that allowed them to pursue their chosen path in life. They did everything possible to see that their dream of becoming filmmakers would come true. Quentin dropped out of school at 16 in order to get the money to make his dream happen and Robert Rodriguez spent every dime he had on making small films. He even subjected his own body to scientific studies and experiments in order to earn the money to make his first feature film, “El Mariachi”. When the two met, they instantly bonded. Soon, they began discussing film and music. Then, they began sharing ideas and working together. The reason that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s films work so well is because they respect the art of filmmaking and study it incessantly. To them it is the ultimate way to communicate with the world around them. They want every frame, every single inch of film to relay a message because they take it seriously. What they make is where bloody body parts fly around on the screen but art nonetheless.
Grindhouse is an homage to the exploitation films of the late 50’s to late 70’ know, the kind of movies film geeks go to campus theaters and arthouses to watch regularly. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would sit in their home theaters and watch classic westerns, Kung Fu movies, horror flicks and international films with their other musician, actor and filmmaker fiends like RZA, Paul Thomas Andersen, Jim Jarmisch, Sophia Coppolla, Samuel L. Jackson, Fiona Apple, Laurence Bender, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, etc. After watching a few of these films in one of their afternoon film screenings at Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas the guys decided to make a film that was an homage to the exploitation film double features they went to as kids and adolescents.

The double feature bills Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” alongside Tarantino’s “Death Proof”. Not only did they both write and direct their own features, they both scored them as well. When was the last time you saw a film that the director had his hand in every facet of it’s creation? How about two of them back to back? Tarantino and Rodriguez’s films are all about their close circle of friends and family. Robert Rodriguez’s ex wife is a producer and his children and family often appear in his films (his nieces are the Crazy Babysitter Twins in “Planet Terror”). These movies are in the vein of previous great films by both directors as Rodriguez has made classics like “El Mariachi”, Four Rooms” , “Desperado”, “Once Upon A Time In Mexico” and “Sin City” in the past and Quentin Tarantino has made classics like “Reservior Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Four Rooms”, “From Dusk Til Dawn”, “Kill Bill 1 & 2” and “Sin City”. Not only are they filmmakers and tastemakers, but they have produced other films and advocated the import and releases of foreign films that audiences in America weren’t aware of before (such as "Black Mask", "Iron Monkey", and "Battle Royale").

Not only did they make a another great film that will go largely ignored by the general public in favor of lighter, more family friendly fare. Not only did they make another film that the public at large wouldn’t appreciate nearly as much as it should have (again) due to content, concept and running time. Not only did they ignore the studios marketing advice and come up with their own marketing strategies, but they succeeding in getting the final product (for the most part...wait until the DVD drops) THEY wanted on those screens...something that very few directors ever get to do. Instead, they allow commerce to ruin their art. Not Quentin and Robert. They’re proactive as opposed to reactionary in regards to the studio and it’s censors and their directives, which is why they usually win and concede when necessary (just to add the footage to the DVD later). Shit, movie studios are fighting over the rights to make Grindhouse 2 based on the trailers I included above...what does that tell you about their collective marketing sense?

Just imagine if more rappers on the market now had the same passion, drive and creativity that Rodriguez and Tarantino did for their films in regards to their music. Imagine if they studied the masters and were more determined not to put out wack material because it disrespected the art of Hip Hop. What if more rappers paid homage to the greats and originators? What if more rappers today had it in their heads that making half ass watered down material in order to gain favor with commercial interest and gain mainstream appeal isn’t the way to go (What if people didn't consider rappers/emcees "too old" once they hit many actors,screenwriters and directors don't even get their careers off the ground until then!) Then again, record labels are only interested in the bottom line and they wouldn’t sign anyone that’s looking to make art (unless they are among the rare breed of artists that have mainstream success and devote themselves to their art like a Kanye West or Just Blaze does).

These men continue the legacy that Melvin Van Peebles, John Cassavetes, Brian DePalma, Martin Scorsese, Jamaa Fanaka, Francis Ford Coppola, Terry Gilliam and Spike Lee began by not letting Hollywood or the powers that be contaminate their art and make film into a cookie cutter version of what it’s supposed to be (like commerce has done to mainstream rap music). Go see this movie now!

What the future holds for comic book cinema:


The Dark Knight

Iron Man


Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Dart’s Top Fives Trailers Of The Rest Of May (5/16/07-5/31/07):

Brooklyn Rules


The Last Legion

Shoot ‘Em Up

Hostel: Part 2

Dart’s Top Three International Late Film Trailers (5/16/07-5/31/07):

The Tournament (UK)

Crows Zero (JP)

Small Town Folk (UK)

Dart’s Pick- Indie Film Of The Month Bonus Trailer:

Props to the director, Florian Gaag. Add the films MySpace page as well here:

Top new sites to see flim clips & trailers:

Movies you should consider seeing now available to rent through Netflix:
How To Eat Your Watermelon In White Company And Enjoy It
Harsh Times
Duane Hopwood
The Maid (Kelvin Tong)
The Good Shepherd
10th& Wolf
Amongst Friends
Hell’s Kitchen
Street Mobster
Ride With The Devil
American Psycho
Pray (Ryuichi Sato)
Three Burials Of Melquis Estrada
Who Killed The Electric Car?
Little Athens
Huricane Streets
Girls Town
Doom Generation (Gregg Araki)
Nowhere (Gregg Araki)
Ghost Rider
The Visitation
10 Items Or Less
The Office (series/BBC & NBC)
Starhunter 2300 (best Canadian sci fi series EVAR . Don’t fuck with Starhunter...just 2300)
Made In Sheffield
State Of Grace
Slaughter Night
Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways
Hustle-Seasons 1 & 2 (series)
Werewolf Hunter: Romasanta
Reno 911! Miami
The One Armed Swordsman
Baian The Assassin Vols.1-4
Strangers With Candy: The Movie
Blood Guts Bullets & Octane
Find Me Guilty
American Pastime
The Nativity Story
Blood & Chocolate
The Bow (Ki Duk Kim)
A Tale Of Two Sisters
Mixtape Inc.
The Breed
Blind Woman’s Curse (classic!)
Black, White & Red All Over
Bluehill Avenue
Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers
The Weight Of Water
The Tesseract
Shinjuku Triad Society (Takashi Miike)
Rainy Dog (Takashi Miike)
Ley Lines (Takashi Miike)
The Fountain
Fast Food Nation
Afro Samurai

Dart’s Picks:
Grind House- Uh...Duh! If You haven’t seen it yet, do it soon...Then buy the DVD when it drops.

Spiderman 3-Yeah this one, too. Ithink this movie did a lot of things most comic book movies completely fuck up on as far as story and being true to the source material goes. I’m copping this when it drops on DVD most definitely.

Hard Luck-Yeah, it’s a straight to video release. Sure, it stars Wesley Snipes , Cybill Shepherd and Mario Van Peebles (who also directed). Trust me, it’s definitely worth renting and watching. Stop sleeping on it.

Afro Samurai-Remember a few Dartflix ago I was bitching about the lack of Hip Hop themed animated projects and releases? Well, if consumers go out and buy this it may convince a studio that maybe they need to make one of these (Afro Samurai or The Boondocks) into a feature film one day. Every journey starts with one step towards the desired destination, people.

Dart’s WTF/Watch This Bullshit At Your Own Risk Award:
Epic Movie-Scary Movie has sucked since the Wayans sold the franchise (the Wayans have since made hits, but they sucked as well), Not Another Teen Movie sucked, Date Movie sucked worse than all the others and now we have Epic Movie...I’m gonna go out on a lmb here and say that more than’s gonna suck .

The Complete Matrix Trilogy (HD Version)-Why would I want this? So I can get progressively more dissapointed as the trilogy goes on? To remind myself at how confused and pissed off I was as the final credits rolled follwing Matrix: Revolutions when I realized that they STILL didn’t answer the questions I had from Matrix: Reloaded? Well, now you get to see it all in high definition!


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Dream Shatterer AKA It's Deja Vu All Over Again All Over Again

It's the moment I feared...It's officially time for the people at Sporting News to make up a new cover and draft lottery story. These two poems by two legendary poets best describe my state of mind the day after the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?-Langston Hughes

Ay yo, I shatter dreams like Jordan, assault and batter your team
Your squadron'll be barred from rap like Adam & Eve from the garden
I'm carvin' my initials on your forehead
So every night before bed you see the "BP" shine off the board head
Reverse that, I curse at the first wack nigga with the worst rap
Cuz he ain't worth jack
Hit 'em with a thousand pounds of pressure per slap
Make his whole body jerk back, watch the earth crack
Then hand him his purse back
I'm the first Latin rapper to baffle your skull
Master the flow, niggaz be swearin' I'm blacker than coal
Like Nat King, I be rapping and tounges packing
The ones, magnums, cannons and gatling guns
It's Big Pun! The one and only son of Tony...Montana
You ain't promised manana in the rotten manzana
C'mon pana! We need more rhymers
Feel the marijuana snake bite anaconda
A man of honor wouldn't wanna try to match my persona
Sometimes when rhymin' I blow my own mind like Nirvana
Comma, and go the whole nine like Madonna
Go try to find another rhymer with my kinda grammar-Christopher “Big Punisher” Rios

This look on this dudes face for the first 10 seconds of the clip says it all for me:

Last night as 8:30 approached, I was doing what damn near every other Bostonian sports fan was doing, switching back and forth from the Red Sox game on NESN to the Draft Lottery coverage on ESPN (Thank God for the Last button on Comcast Digital Cable remotes). Julian Tavarez was in a jam in the 4th inning, and they had just begun the lottery on ESPN. Right around 8:30, he got out of the jam and only gave up one run so I switched to ESPN, in anticipation of what could be the #1 or #2 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the Boston Celtics instant return to relevance. Five teams in total had the best chance to land the top pick. The Memphis Grizzlies had a 25% percent chance, the Boston Celtics had a 20% chance, the Atlanta Hawks had a 12% chance, Seattle had slightly less than a 9% chance and the Portland Trailblazers had slightly more than a 5% chance to land the #1 pick. There was a post on that warned NBA Draft Lottery viewers that some teams jump during the 14-4 drawing and if a team jumps, it will kill the Celtics chances at the #1 or #2 pick. The festivities were taking long as hell to jump off so I switched back to the Sox game...great, Tavarez was in another jam in the 5th. I began switching back and forth between pitches and picks. Everything was all good up until I saw the Bucks appear at #6. “Aw shit” was the first thing that came out of my mouth. I switch back to the Sox game and Tavarez is out of the jam. I switch back to the lottery. Then they picked up the #5 envelope and pulled out the square with the Celtics logo on it. All of the air left the room at that very moment. I fuckin’ lost it right then and there.

The VCR remote got spiked into the bed (no DVR yet, thank you very much!) and I let out a loud ass holler from the depths of my tortured Celtics fan soul “FUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!” My primal scream of pain was drowned out by “Fuck!”’s and “Bullshit!”’s screamed in all of the different languages that are spoken by the denizens of Boston all around me at that same time. Spanish, Cantonese,Mandarin, Cape Verdean Kreyole, Portuguese, French, Italian, Gaelic, Greek, Polish, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Amharic, Tigrinya, Somali, and good ‘ol American English. We were all united in our grief at that very moment despite our differences...the Celtics would have to languish in mediocrity for at least another year and there would be NO savior forthcoming (or a draft pick that could immediately be packaged with existing players on our roster and traded for a savior).

It turned out that the #4, 5 and 6 teams in the lottery all leapfrogged the Celtics and Grizzlies to attain the top 3 pick in this draft. Some say it was karmic payback for Memphis and the Celtics (who at one stretch lost 18 straight games last season) who “tanked” last year in hopes of landing either Oden or Durant. Now these players will more than likely be playing in the Pacific Northwest as opposed to one of the media centers and biggest markets in the United States. Fantastic. Since when does karma trump bad luck? I mean DEAD PLAYERS bad luck. After a stunned audience turned back to the Red Sox game and watched the Sox stretch their lead out to 7-2, they still couldn’t believe what had just happened. They did the math and figured out that the odds were 1 in 555 that those three teams would all win the lottery and leapfrog the Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics.

1 in 555. Those are the same odds that an American woman has in having any multiple birth higher than triplets. 1 in 555. The average American has a better chance in dying after being assaulted by a firearm (unless they’re named Curtis Jackson) since those odds are 1 in 325. 1 in 555. The rate of passage of HIV/AIDS through a random sex act to the average American citizen is 1 in 200. 1 in 555. The odds of having your identity stolen in America is 1 in 200. 1 in 555. The odds of the average American suffering a severe stroke this year are 1 in 550. 1 in 555. The odds of catching a baseball in a Major League ballpark during a game is 1 in 563. The Celtics had a 40% chance to grab one of the two top picks in the 2007 NBA Draft and were instead trumped by a 1 in 555 occurrence. Are the Boston Celtics cursed?

There’s no way they can be! Why would I even think that? What the hell is wrong with us Bostonians? We think we’re so goddamn important that whatever higher power is out there actually cares enough about our sports teams to CURSE THEM? Damn, we're an arrogant bunch! We thought the Red Sox and Patriots were cursed too, remember? It just turned out that they both needed new ownership, better management, a solid infrastructure and people with deep pockets and a commitment to excellence. The formerly cursed New England Patriots have now won 3 Super Bowls since 2002 and were within 1 game of going back last year. Since 2003 the Red Sox have been in the postseason 3 times, in the ALCS twice and won the 2004 World Series.The Celtics won 16 of the first 40 championships in league history and even the bench players from those championship teams are in the Hall Of Fame! We need to stop crying and realize how lucky we are to have such a storied franchise in our backyard in the first place.

Look at all of the other cities that have NEVER won shit. Some cities have never had a winning team...shit, mad cities don’t even have teams! They gotta drive to another city or state just to see a game. So what, the Celtics have the #5 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. This draft is a crap shoot from #3 on down to #20, anything can happen. The Patriots got Randy Moss for a 4th rounder in the NFL Draft so ANYTHING is possible. Besides, Junior Seau resigned with the Patriots, and the Red Sox spanked the Yankees again. That’s all that really matters anyways...right?