Old Fogey

All the talk yesterday about KMFDM and Ministry (and ultra-jag Trent Reznor) has made me nostalgic for Wax Trax, a brilliant Chicago record store on Lincoln Avenue associated with Wax Trax! Records, which was the hub of Chicago’s industrial scene in the 80s and 90s. Aside from being one-stop shopping for all my music, magazine, black stockings, and Doc Marten needs, you never knew who might be hanging out when you popped in—Sascha Konietzko, Lucia Cifarelli, Al Jourgensen, Groovie Mann, Buzz McCoy, Chris Connelly (member of Revco, not the MTV News wanker), Jack Dangers, Ian Mackaye. (If these names mean anything to you, you understand why I spent inordinate amounts of time hanging out at Wax Trax during my college years.)

Wax Trax closed its doors many years ago, from which I’ve never fully recovered (sob), but equally heart-wrenching was the closing of a place in Northwest Indiana that provided the very air which kept Mr. Furious and I alive during high school—Hegewisch Records. It was at Hegewisch Records that I bought my first issue of Select, my first issue of NME—magazines that delivered not only important news, but mailing addresses for faraway shops that would, in exchange for a completed order form and $12 check, return a cotton-blend orgasm. I still have in my closet a bag full of pristine t-shirts bearing pictures of Smiths’ singles covers that I wore once, but never washed for fear of ruining.

It was in the dusty bins of Hegewisch Records that I bought my first bootleg, my first import single. Long-awaited releases compelled anxious and light-headed pilgrimages to Hegewisch Records, and we’d see the same faces over and over—other angsty shoegazers there for the same purpose, clad in their own mail-order t-shirts and trench-coats bedecked with round buttons bearing images of the gods, or black leather jackets with graffiti of the deities painted on. I still have that, too—Morrissey’s mug in shadow painted on the back; James’ white daisy on one shoulder.

Sometimes it was tough to find everything—every import-only single, every bootleg, every poster, every t-shirt, every magazine with a cover story—for every artist we wanted. When I was old enough to get my driver’s license, we made regular escapes into the city, which made it a bit easier. In Wax Trax’s aisles, we’d meet the other kids who we regularly saw in line at concerts, shivering against the Chicago wind hours before the doors open, jostling for the most coveted space, right against the stage. We’d give each other tips on where we’d found this or that, and what we’d heard about upcoming shows and releases. We’d make fun of the girl who had the chance to ask Morrissey one question, and botched the opportunity with a real stinker: “What was it like making the Suedehead video?” What a loser.

The internet has made this kind of fandom immeasurably easier. A couple clicks of a mouse, and the same t-shirt for which I waited 6-8 weeks is on order and on its way. A hard-to-find peel session CD doesn’t mean months of mooning over finally getting it in one’s grubby little hands, but putting in the right search term on eBay.

At the time, I would have given anything to get that which I wanted—needed!—so easily, but, in retrospect, the elusive single was what made life wonderful. Listening to Hand in Glove over and over and desperately wondering if I would ever hear Sandie Shaw’s cover, convinced down to my very bones I would die before I ever got a listen. (I now own two different copies of the single.) My heart broke a thousand times with the thought I would never get this, never hear that, never get tickets, omigod the desire is going to kill me; I know it, and a thousand times it was healed as I finally found the grail, or walked out of the nearest TicketMaster outlet with tickets in my hand after a night of sleeping on the sidewalk outside.

Hearing that your favorite artist has covered a song in concert and downloading it instantly from the internet can’t possibly be as good as finally hearing that one track you’ve been chasing for months, or years. Locating a rare vinyl cut on eBay can’t possibly be as good as trekking all over creation from one moldy old shop to the next until you finally find it in a London street market, three years after your search began. Joining an eGroup can’t possibly recreate the experience of seeing the same people time and again, each of you part of an informal society, wondering by what nickname Blond Spiky Hair and Too-Small T-Shirts refer to you.

In fact, I know it’s not the same—because I’m still a fan, and I miss it all.

I know I sound like a bit of an old grump—you kids have it so much easier these days; you don’t know how much harder it was when I was your age. But I don’t begrudge them that ease. I mourn for the experiences they’ll never have because of it.

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