JACKI LYDEN, host:
Now, before we sign off tonight, we wanted to mark a new holiday of sorts, today is the very first Record Store Day. Independent record store owners - the few, the proud - have been spending their Saturday thanking loyal customers with freebies, and snacks, and loads of music. Artists including Steve Earle, Metallica, and Billy Bragg are joining the festivities with free in-store performances.
And record stores could use a boost. Over the past two decades many indies have shut down, crowded up by megastores and the explosion of online downloading. But a few carry on, and to celebrate the survivors, we've invited singer-songwriter James McMurtry, son of another storyteller, Larry McMurtry, to share his memories.
Mr. JAMES MCMURTRY (Musician): And I'm sure there must've been record stores in Houston in the late '60s, but I don't remember ever being in one. I was a small child then and my father bought our records at the drug store on Bissonnet, where we also ate cheeseburgers and drank malts. The drug store carried what records we thought we needed - Johnny Cash live at San Quentin, Batman, the Beatles' Revolver.
I still have a couple of old mono LPs purchased at the Bissonnet Drug Store, including Bob Dylan's self-titled first album, on the back cover of which are the italicized words, this Columbia High Fidelity recording is scientifically designed to play with the highest quality of reproduction on the phonograph of your choice, new or old. If you are the owner of a new stereophonic system, this record will play with even more brilliant true to life fidelity. In short, you can purchase this record with no fear of its becoming obsolete.
I may have spent as much time in record stores hawking my own wears as buying music. I used to have to do in-store performances in nearly every market. The bright side of the demise of the record store is that I don't have to do so many in-stores as I used to.
Once at Albums on the Hill in Boulder, Colorado, I was told to play in front of a store. In the middle of a song, a guy came down the sidewalk, listened for a second, and threw a quarter in my case. I finally learned to insist on being allowed to stand on the counter next to the cash register. That way, my voice could project over the bins, and commerce would have to come to a halt for the short duration of the performance.
I don't miss the big chain record stores. A few of the independents are still hanging on despite the competition from downloads. And I hope they make it. We're losing all manner of stores, not just record stores. My father has been an antiquarian bookseller for over 40 years. His trade has died. The old shops, with collectors and book scouts shuffling to and fro between dusty stacks are gone. When the stores go, the community goes.
Record stores are physical locations where people actually meet face to face and interact. To remain human, we need that interaction: conversations that aren't recorded, transactions that aren't automatically entered into a database for purposes of future commerce, facial expressions that convey shades of meaning one could never express with a key stroke.
LYDEN: James McMurtry is a singer and songwriter from Houston. Today, he and more than 500 shop owners worldwide are celebrating Record Store Day.
(Soundbite of song "Storekeeper")
Mr. McMURTRY: No shoes, no shirt, no service reads the sign on the front screen door. Your friends all make me nervous, you best keep them out of my store.
LYDEN: You can hear more essays about record stores from folks like Billy Bob Thornton and Brett Netson of the band Built to Spill on our Web site NPR.org/music.