Pickle’s Record Store Reboot

We spent a couple of days in my hometown of Union City, Tennessee, doing Christmas with my parents and brother and his family. On the way to visit my aunt yesterday afternoon, I took an indirect path through Graham Park. I spent many childhood and teenage hours in that park, from collecting tadpoles and playing tee-ball to skateboarding and meeting girlfriends (my first real kiss came on one of those playgrounds, and it was the awkwardest thing imaginable). Every corner of Union City seems to hold some kind of memory. No matter where I drive, memories come at me with unexpected, bittersweet clarity. This onslaught of memories got me thinking about a part of my thesis where I mention Pickle’s Record Store. Many may remember Pickle’s, but I suspect just as many have never heard of it, especially those of younger generations. So here’s an excerpt in which I’m writing about the poet Rilke’s idea that we have an obligation to create meaning in the world by “saying” things. In other words, by writing about Pickle’s, I give it more life than it would have otherwise had–immortalizing it, in a sense. Poets “say” with words, painters “say” with paint, musicians “say” with their instruments, et cetera. Here goes:

“Rilke makes a compelling case for the world’s need of us: like us, it is perishing, but it has no voice with which to proclaim its existence. A thing’s existence soon ceases, and if we don’t “say” it, there will be no record it ever was here: “More than ever / the Things that we might experience are vanishing,” and they vanish because whatever resides within a thing “outgrows it and seeks new limits” (DE 9.44-5, 48). Nature lets few things outlive their usefulness. Today’s strip mall is tomorrow’s weedy outcrop. But what if people congregated inside one of that strip mall’s shops, like they used to do at Pickle’s Record Store in Union City, Tennessee, twenty-five years ago, listening to reggae, partaking in a certain substance associated with reggae (so go the rumors), and generally being the kind of scandalous cool that only kids in their late teens can be? At that time, the store’s owner was something of an icon among a contingent of Union City High School’s juniors and seniors—possibly not the kind of man many parents would want their kids hanging around, but that only fueled his anti-hero status in their kids’ eyes. The shop is no longer there. The space is not a weedy outcrop yet, but Pickle’s has been replaced. Generations of kids are growing up in Union City with no memory of the old record store. It was a unique place in a city not known for such subcultural enclaves. But it met its end, as all things must do. Nevertheless, I have performed it a great service. Here, in this same paragraph, I have transformed Pickles Record Store by giving meaning to what would otherwise be a forgotten rectangle of retail space. I’m not saying that whatever replaced Pickles has no meaning, but that Pickles has had its life extended a few years by my inclusion of it in this essay. It may not be immortality, but it is more life than it had before.

“Sharing memories of defunct record stores is a base form of transformation, I admit; the meaning created is sparse. No great contribution to the arts has been achieved. But what matters here is that the memory has been “said” at all. Pickle’s may not achieve immortality from my effort, but I know of at least three who will read this essay, and they will know that Pickle’s existed, which is more life than the store could ever have expected.”

Phases

It seems like most people go through phases—periods in life when you’re really into something and then you’re not. I’ve had many, and I was thinking about them this morning and decided to make a list.

Annotated List of Phases:
(in mostly chronological order)

1. Monster trucks

They were big, loud, flashy, and powerful. What’s not for a little boy to love? My friend Bobby and I once begged my dad to take us to a truck pull, and when he finally agreed, we celebrated like we’d just won the lottery.

2. Karate

Inspired by the original Karate Kid, I made it all the way to . . . green belt. So it was short-lived. (I had no idea that crane technique wasn’t legit.)

3. WWF Pro Wrestling (and sometimes NWA Pro Wrestling)

My friend Jonathan and I would binge-watch past series of Wrestlemania on VHS. And my friend Matt and I spent a lot of time playing with these rubber wrestlers:

—highlight: seeing the Road Warriors wrestle when the NWA came to Jackson, TN.

4. BMX

Fun, but soon replaced by #5.

5. Skateboarding*

This one really resonated. It was when I first became aware of subcultures—those little enclaves of activity outside the mainstream. I was in the sixth grade, and I realized skaters were my kind of people.

6. Hair bands

And the crushes that went with them.

7. Rap

Anything at all that can be traced back to Dr. Dre still turns me up.

8. Basketball

Michael Jordan was active and winning championships with the Bulls, so it was a good time to be a fan. I played a lot with my friends, but it all went sour when I didn’t make the team in tenth grade. Even now, I get jealous when I see a really tall male.

9. Grunge/alternative rock*

It was a glorious thing to be in high school when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit. It was the perfect intersection of adolescent angst and early-90s apathy; a generation of teenagers pretending to be dead inside. It was great!

—my uniform: flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and green Doc Martens; also, a general shagginess
—sub-phase: reggae (complete with a Bob Marley sticker on my Honda Accord)
—sub-phase: The Doors (who hasn’t communed with the spirit of Jim Morrison?)

10. Painting*

I had always drawn pictures, but in 11th grade I began to realize that art was about way more than just pencil drawings of random things. It was (and is) a way of living, one that grew exponentially more important in college. However, the various painting phases of my artistic life apparently have their limits.

11. Hunting/fishing

My dad took me hunting and fishing several times when I was little, and at the end of undergraduate school, I found myself wanting to do it again (plus it lined up with a sub-phase: obsession with the movie Legends of the Fall, in which Tristan is a hunter). Yet I was never a successful outdoorsman, and I think it’s because, at my core, I’m not the hunting/fishing type; this phase was more about being in the woods or on a lake with my dad and brother.

12. Being in a band*

I’ve been in three bands (four if you count the rap group in junior high). Each was fun in its own way. The most special, though, was the one I moved to Nashville with, because we were really trying to do something with it, artistically speaking—trying to “make it.” Oh well, oh well.

13. Golf

It’s amazing how one good golf shot will make you forget a hundred bad ones. Eventually, though, you get tired of spending money on something that makes you angry.

14. LEGO

One of the triumphs of fatherhood is that now I have a justification for playing with LEGOs. This phase is ongoing.

*The asterisks denote a recurring phase.

Looks like my list will end here. I’ve had more interests than these, but many of them lasted hardly long enough to be considered phases. Also, things have grown out of certain phases that have evolved into something bigger—something more aptly called a lifestyle, like writing, which I trace back to my painting days, falling, as it does, under that greater realization of what it means to be an artist. Further still, some things are too monumental to be thought of as a phase, even though their relative duration was short, like graduate school. And finally, as I noted with asterisks, some phases never truly leave. In fact, there’s a skateboard in the back of my car right now.

What are your phases? Make a list!

 

The Sideshow Influence (Part Two)

Clockwise from top left: Amy Winehouse; Donna Reed; Jesse James; Tom Hanks.
Clockwise from top left: Amy Winehouse; Donna Reed; Jesse James; Tom Hanks.

The sideshow influence is highly visible in the realm of celebrity, and in the category of celebrities that appear to share common lineage with freak show performers, there is an unwashed yet attractive quality.  To say unwashed in this sense is not necessarily to say unbathed, though that may be the case.  Here, rather, the description of “unwashed” has to do with a socially subversive quality, the opposite of which is clean-cut and polite.  It is Amy Winehouse versus Donna Reed.  It deals with the adoption of an appearance or persona with roots in subculture instead of mainstream culture.  Take as example the outlaw motorcycle fabricator, Jesse James (not to be confused with outlaw robber Jesse James, though there may be striking parallels).  He is more infamous than famous, a designation that was always somewhat in place but was made concrete by his public headlong plunge into marital infidelity, the victim of which was a perceived “nice” girl, casting James even more solidly as a villain.  Yet we watch him anyway.  There he is, on a television rerun, with his tattoos, muscle shirts, slicked-back hair, and bad attitude, cracking wise and insulting everyone within tongue’s reach.  And the entire time, though amidst a swirl of antagonism and snarkiness, James emits a dark charisma, negativity notwithstanding.  There is something electrifying about his presence.  There is a feeling that, if any time was to be spent around this guy, I would need him to approve of me, for reasons known only to a therapist.  His reference would not look good on a job application, but his acquaintanceship would sure be exciting.

 

Now consider the much-maligned carnival worker, i.e., the carny.  The image that comes to mind will vary from person to person, but it is safe to assume it will be a marginal character, probably dirty and evil-looking (whatever that means, “evil-looking” being a fluid concept that changes from era to era and among the classes).  In spite of the sweat-stained seediness of the soiled-jean-and-undershirt-clad, greasy-haired vagabond that I imagine, it must be admitted that, beyond the revulsion, there is a sense of freedom that is very attractive.  It may be a thing projected onto the carny from my imagination, but it is there, and the reason why is unclear.  Is it attractive precisely because it would be out of character to espouse such a lifestyle?  Is it the vicarious thrill of glimpsing a freedom only hitherto imagined?  It matters less whether the carny actually feels free.  It is the perception of freedom that matters.  Like many of us, these scandalites tend to wallow in the grip of one vice or another.  The difference is, their shortcomings are on display in a way ours are not.  The carny inspires an odd mix of curiosity and disdain that enthralls.  So it goes with notorious celebrities, like Winehouse and James (whose names put together that way make them sound like an indie-rock duo).  Some accept these marginal figures, some reject them, but they are never fully embraced by the general public in the same way as someone safe, like Tom Hanks, is.  Their names tend to come with a caveat:  “She’s a good singer, but…”, or “He builds good motorcycles, but…”  Whereas a celebrity of Hanks’s status may get an unqualified “He’s such a good actor.  I just love him.”  Then everyone piles into the minivan and heads home from the movie theater.

 

By definition, a sideshow happens outside the main tent.  The sideshow influence is the observable phenomenon that takes place when the denizens of the freak show begin to surface inside the tent.  It is not necessarily a bad thing; the main tent could use some variety.  Expand this freak show metaphor to the culture-at-large.  In the vast seas of clean-cut, conservatively dressed men and women expanding and contracting according to the rhythms of the workweek, it is becoming more common to spot a figure of James’s or Winehouse’s ilk, and our collective visual palate may be all the better for it.  These people remind us that life has a gritty side, which is as integral to the whole enterprise as the urbanity for which so many strive.  Chaos is just around the corner, waiting to encroach upon our neatly groomed exteriors and carefully appointed schedules.  We can resist it, accept it, or embrace it, but we cannot make it go away.  Hardly a character from popular media has expressed this notion better than radio deejay Chris Stevens (played by John Corbett) from television’s Northern Exposure.  Upon being asked why he had done something illegal, Stevens replies, “People need to be reminded that the world is unsafe and unpredictable.  And at the drop of a hat, they can lose everything, just like that…chaos is out there, and he’s lurking, beyond the horizon…sometimes you just gotta do something bad, just to know you’re alive”(“Spring Break”).  Maybe the adopted outsider status and anti-conformist posturing of certain groups of people are the very ways in which those people realize they are alive.  Whether it is bad or not, who are we to judge?

 

 

Works Cited

 

Amy Winehouse.  Digital image.  People.  2007.  Web.  11 March 2013.  <www.people.com/people/amy_winehouse/0,,,00.html>

 

Donna Reed.  Digital image.  Women large jaw.  N.d.  Web.  11 March 2013.  <www.womenlargejaw.com/node/2154>.

 

Reality star Jesse James.  Digital image.  San Marcos Mercury.  14 Sept. 2012.  Web.  11 March 2013.  <snmercury.com/2012/09/14/reality-star-jesse-james-to-appear-at-thunderhill-races/>.

 

“Spring Break.”  Northern Exposure:  The Complete Second Season.  Writ. Joshua Brand, John Falsey, and David Assael.  Dir. Rob Thompson.  Universal Studios, 2006.  DVD.

 

Tom Hanks On HBO Pics.  Digital image.  Your Stuff Work.  2011.  Web.  11 March 2013.  <yourstuffwork.blogspot.com/2011/11/tom-hanks-on-hbo-pics.html>.