Friday, October 11, 2013

Banning the Air you Exhale

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hasn't exactly been friendly to legalized marijuana. And while his opposition is antithetical to the whole crazy idea of democracy, it has somehow managed to steer clear of comical ridiculousness. Until today, that is. According to the Denver Post, our brave mayor is proposing a new ordinance that will ban the smell of marijuana should it emanate from your backyard or car. In essence, he's attempting to ban the air you exhale, should said air contain the smoke of marijuana. In the mayor's wise words, (and by wise, I mean fucking idiotic), "Your activities should not pervade others' peace and ability to enjoy. Marijuana is one of those elements that can be quite pervasive and invasive. I shouldn't have to smell your activities from your backyard."

In keeping with this bizarre logic, I hereby propose a list of other odors that severely pervade my peace and ability to enjoy, and should therefore be criminalized...

1) Cooking meat. As a vegan I cannot sit in my backyard during the summer months and not smell meat. How am I supposed to enjoy my vegetables in peace with the scent of a couple of grilled steaks assaulting my nose holes?

2) Driving cars. If automobile exhaust isn't a downright attack on my ability to enjoy clean air, then I don't know what is. If we criminalized use of all combustible engines, I could sit in my backyard without the threat of dirty air pervading my lungs.

3) Sex in bedrooms with the windows open. When I lived in an apartment building, sometimes I could smell the scent of sex coming through an open window. Now, I'm not sure if the window was open during sex, or opened afterwards, so an ordinance outlawing this practice should probably take into consideration at least the half hour after the act, unless a generous amount of Febreze is used.

4) Dogs Pooping. The smell of my neighbor's dog's poop can sometimes inhibit my ability to enjoy my vegetables as much as the smell of cooked meat. Ban it! (This shouldn't apply to my dog's poop, because to me, his shit doesn't stink.)

5) B.O. Talk about hampering my ability to enjoy! Body odor should be outright illegal, as it mercilessly offends the nostrils! In fact, the offending parties should be doused in soap (but not cologne or perfume; see #6) and rinsed immediately.

6) All Colognes and Perfumes. Sometimes I'm in my backyard, hating my neighbors for cooking meat, coughing from all the pollution that rush hour causes, getting wafts of my other neighbor's recently-had sex, catching wiffs of dog poop, and smelling a passerby's B.O. when all of the sudden the mail carrier attempts to approach me with my mail, only to be violated by his awful cologne. (To be fair, the mail carrier's cologne and perfume may have rubbed off from all the free samples from those magazines he carries. We should probably ban those too.) Can't a man sunbathe in his backyard without all of these smells violating my peace and ability to enjoy? Where's an dimwitted, overzealous mayor when you need one?

Do you have suggestions of your own? I'm sure the mayor would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ken Arkind and Denver

When I first started doing readings with Ken Arkind, I had to get used to the concept of being upstaged. Of course, I wasn’t the least bit surprised by this — after a decade of winning national competitions, becoming executive director of Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Project, and touring throughout the nation and world, Arkind has become an institution in the Denver poetry scene. So it just makes sense that his spoken word performances are less of clumsy readings through material and more of events to behold. Recently he teamed up with another venerable Mile High City poet, Charlie Fasano, to release Denver, a book including a longer poem by Arkind with linocut block print illustrations by Fasano. Arkind and I got to sit down and hash things out for the better part of an hour. Below is a transcript of this momentous conference.

A lot of people like to give the genre of slam poetry a lot of shit.
They really do. I thought it was really stupid the first time I saw it, but it’s like any art form — 98% of it is going to be shit. I think people turn it into an art form where it really should just be an event, because that’s all it is. It was a mechanism that a guy in Chicago invented to get people interested in poetry. The more theatric, the more people are willing to listen to it. So people learned techniques and styles to win slams and those end up being the same techniques and styles to putting on a good show or telling a good story. But when I first saw it, I thought it was stupid. I saw a grown man cry when he lost the poetry slam, and I’m like, ‘This is weird. I’m just going to stick with my open mic with all the old guys.’

So how did you get into slam poetry?
My friends and I went on a tour with the zine we made, which was called 90 Proof and it was just like five writers we randomly selected. And we got this idea to go on a tour. And we would just show up at a city, find the open mic, read on the open mic, and try to sell copies of the zine. Basically we were doing what slam poets do anyway. We kept going by places and hearing about slam and this whole network and this national slam poetry thing, which I didn’t know existed. When I went back home about a month later, I saw the sendoff to the Denver team. So I borrowed $100 from my old boss, hopped in a car, and went out and visited the National Poetry Slam in Minneapolis. Then I went back and started slamming and I made the team the next year. And one thing led to another and my friend and I got picked up by an agency to go do tours for colleges. Half the time you end up getting booked like a standup comedian. They don’t even recognize you as a poet. None of those kids have been to a poetry show. That’s when you find yourself on the front lines where you’re converting people into liking it. And whether they stick to it or not, and whether you get to read the kind of poems you always wanted to read or not is not necessarily important. You’re job is to entertain them, which is good. And you’re job is to also get them interested in this shit.

You’ve been involved with youth programs that incorporate poetry and slam. Can you expound on the work you’re doing currently?
Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Project is an independent literary arts organization that empowers youth in the mediums of poetry, performance, and slam. So I coach when we go slam at Brave New Voices. I do all the bookings and write a lot of the curriculum. It’s all non-profit. I send emails. I’m an Executive Director, but I don’t know what that means half the time. It means, the guy who asks for money. It’s interesting because I never graduated college or anything like that and I do a lot of teaching work, which is fun. I got to do the TEDx Teachers event last week and do a TED talk. And I got to tell a room full of teachers that I never graduated college. But every team member of Minor Disturbance has gone to college except for one.

So is that what you do for a living?
The Youth Program doesn’t pay me anything now. I honestly wanted to keep it as simple as possible for as long as possible, because the non-profit world is really cutthroat and shitty and I didn’t want to be a part of it. We just want to help kids. So it was like, how can we do that as easy as possible and make it still worth our time? That’s why I used to do all the workshops myself; I didn’t want to subject anyone else to that. All the donations would go to send the team to Brave New Voices every year.

What are the Brave New Voices competitions about?
Basically you bring six kids and two coaches at least and as many entourage kids as possible because even if they’re not competing, at least they get to go see it. What makes it cool is that you get kids from all over the world that are writers. And I’m sure you remember how it was when you were fourteen or fifteen in the back of the class, writing poems, or journal entries, or thoughts. You just think of it as a very lonely thing, which is cool in its own right. But I think poetry is and always will be a communal thing at its heart. And so you get to share in a community with all these other people who share the same secret as you. And when you’re 15, it’s cool. The kids won the Brave New Voices last year and we won the Mastermind Award from Westword last year. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. Luckily the Flobots guys were like, ‘We’ll scoop you up and give you fiscal sponsorship,’ which makes our lives easier. I think our new slogan is ‘Minor Disturbance: Teaching kids to cuss artfully since 2006.’

You often refer to yourself as a writer…
Well I write, but I don’t get paid for the writing as much as the spectacle of performing my writing in front of people. And that depends on who I’m touring with or how I’m doing it with different groups and sometimes it’s more performance-based. And if it’s me, then I literally have an awkward conversation with the audience for an hour and throw in poems to help that conversation go. Compared to other guys who do slam, I’m not a cult of personality or anything. I’m just kind of a weirdo who’s good at being honest. That’s why I like doing all the shows that don’t exist in that realm, like a book release show, or doing shows with Charlie [Fasano], or opening for bands.

What’s the slam circuit like?
It’s like any indie art scene, like hardcore bands in the early ‘80s to a certain degree. You have venues you know do it and you go from point A to point B and you make a little bit of money and keep going. Then you can get more money by going to colleges and certain slams and certain kinds of shows pay you more. But I think there’s a lot of people that get into slam and they’ll be on a team, but then they’ll find out there’s all these venues and that you can tour. And they’ll go on a tour, but they don’t go on a tour so much as they just get to couch surf across the country for free, which is a tour, I guess.

Yeah, that’s a tour.
It is a tour. A lot of bands do it that way. You just do it with less gear and your sets are shorter. So you’ll show up at a place like the Merc [-ury Café] and there will be an open mic and you’ll do your 15 or 20 minutes and then you sell chap books or CDs and people give you money if they like it and then you move on. There are some hot spots, like New York. New York’s hard to break into, but once you break into it, it can be really good for you. Boston, the whole New England scene in general is great. Seattle is great. Portland is really great. Portland has one of the largest slams in the country now. I’ve done 49 states, six countries including the U.S. I feel like I’ve had my little punk rock career. 

How did the book come about?
Charlie [Fasano] used to work across the street from my house, so I woke up one morning and had this idea like, Charlie should fucking illustrate my book. So I asked Charlie and I said, ‘Hey, do you want to illustrate this?’ And he said, [in a Charlie voice] ‘Kenny, I think that’s a fantastic idea. Let’s do it.’

He’s a good person to ask because he’s so motivated.
Oh completely. He was on it four days later. He’s like, ‘I got seven prints, man. Take a look.’ He kept reading the poem, and he said, ‘I love it. I wish I wrote this fucking poem.’ It is kind of a Charlie poem. You’ve seen the way the guy writes, and the whole poem is crazy like that… It’s cool; I get to mention Don Becker and Corky Gonzales in the same poem, because they’re so much a part of Denver. When people write poems about New York or London or Paris, they just automatically say a place whether you’ve been there or not, and you’re expected to know what they’re talking about because it’s this famous place. So I approached the poem the same way, so when I talk about the Westside or Northside, instead of saying the Highlands or Santa Fe Arts District, you should know that.

So that’s what the book’s about?
It’s just this one poem called, ‘Denver.’ I used to read it every Denver show because I couldn’t read it anywhere else, but it’s a seven- or eight-minute long performance piece. It’s’ a lot, but I kept forcing it on people. I think after awhile people were like, ‘If he reads that fucking poem again, he can go fuck himself.’ So I stopped. But it’s a magic surrealist piece about when we lost the World Series to the Red Sox. That first game against the Red Sox was the worst shutout in World Series history. It was 13-1. It was horrifying. It was the first time the Rockies had been to the World Series and I remember everyone was so pumped, like, ‘We’re a real city too.’ And Boston’s like, ‘No you’re not.’ It was a disheartening time in Denver’s history. The thing about it is the same year Men’s Health released a magazine saying we were the drunkest city in America out of 50 major U.S. cities. So the poem is about us getting really drunk after we lost game one and setting the city on fire. Denver rears up and commits suicide, basically. And it took me literally until last week to realize that the whole thing is about me breaking up with my fiancé. 

You know what’s funny? Your cohort Charlie has an anti-slam poet poem.
I know. I fucking love it. It’s so good. I think it was funny for Charlie because I think he heard of me because we travel around in the same circles a bit. And then he went to Chicago for two years and he was always that guy that read with bands and did those shows. And he came back and there’s some fucking prick with a beard standing in his stead, hanging with the same people, doing a similar thing. I think we just looked at each other and started doing shows. I’ve always admired him so much. He does it the way I always wanted to do it. He’s doing what Rollins did. He’s the kind of guy I would have grown up reading. He really is the Denver poet. But I think I wrote a better Denver poem.

Embracing my Inner Contradictions

As any number of rock and roll lyrics can attest, we are flawed beings rife with endless contradictions. On “Talking Shit About a PrettySunset,” Isaac Brock encapsulates this phenomenon perfectly when he sings, “I changed my mind so much I can’t even trust it. My mind changed me so much I can’t even trust myself.” But since no one likes a hypocrite, it’s all the more difficult to accommodate the myriad discrepancies that constantly duke it out in the mind. We like to present ourselves as a substantive, unified front of cemented opinions and personality. Of course, we’re imperfect beings who can easily be influenced by any number of factors from weather and sickness to a lack of sleep and alterations in serotonin levels. With this constant state of flux in mind, I realized that since attempting to be a perfect person is pointless, I might as well accept my inconsistencies. Some might accuse me of giving up, but I tend to think of it as maturing. Whatever the case may be, I have compiled a few of the inner contradictions that I have come to welcome in my life.

1) Driving. There are so many ways in which I am a hypocrite when it comes to maneuvering my automobile, that it’s almost painful to list them all. That’s why I’m only admitting to a few, such as driving as fast and inconsiderate as possible even when I have ample time to reach my destination, getting upset about people driving while on their cell phones only to answer a call of my own a few minutes later, not letting people into my lane when they signal and then getting mad when people won’t let me in when I signal, and hating people for tailgating me when I’m driving at a speed I deemed fast enough even though I do the same thing when others drive at a speed that I deemed too slow. 

2) Television. When other people watch TV, they’re wasting their lives in front of the idiot box. When I watch it, I’m just trying to get my mind off things.

3) Mistakes. I have no patience when it comes to the mistakes that others make in my presence, yet if I ever make a mistake in your presence, I expect you to cut me some slack. I’m only human, you know.

4) Music. Throughout my life, music has played an integral part of my day-to-day existence. My love for music manifested itself as a very young child when I would ask my mom to leave the keys in the car after we got home so that I could finish listening to a particular song. I started playing drums at 10, formed a band at 16, and have been playing in one form or another since then. The first record I remember owning was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I began collecting cassette tapes in third grade. And currently, I own over 1,000 records. It goes without saying that I spend hours upon hours every week listening to music — and that’s because it means so much to me. And if you ever want to put your record on the turntable or play a CD in the car, you can fuck right off because your music sucks.

Review: Land Lines

Cash Cow Production

Have you wondered what the genre of captivating cello rock has to offer? Apparently the Denver trio Land Lines has it pretty well figured out — at least if the group’s self-titled debut is any indication. A few years after the breakup of Matson Jones, cellists Martina Grbac and Anna Mascorella started crafting songs together. And after reuniting with drummer Ross Harada, they recording a batch of tunes that depart from the more rock and roll influences of their former group. The song, “Boards Over Walls,” for example, abandons bowed cello parts and incorporates plucking in its stead, giving the song a succinct background over which Grbac and Mascorella harmonize the chorus, “I’m a stern worman.” Of course, the bowed dueling cello approach isn’t deserted completely, as demonstrated by the brooding, “Vegas,” a track lyrically penned by Charlie “The City Mouse” Fasano. Still, while this lineup boasts a similar roster to Matson Jones, it’s enough of a divergence to necessitate a completely fresh approach, which benefits Land Lines in the most graceful of ways. More information.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: A.M. Pleasure Assassins

Basement Pharmacy

A.M. Pleasure Assassins is one of those bands that was originally conceived as a recording project — most likely when one of the band’s members figured out how to operate recording software. The outfit has since morphed into a functioning band that routinely plays throughout the Metro Area, including its hometown of Fort Collins. On Basement Pharmacy, the group combines an array of lo-fi punk and indie that demonstrate the band’s ability to incorporate influences from Modest Mouse and a bit of the Strokes (with songs like “Media Mammals” and “Ferns”) to Gang of Four and maybe even some Husker Du and Descendents (with the songs, “Little Green Yarn” and “Shiny Metal Grey”) without sounding too derivative. With enough variation to keep the album interesting, the songs are filled with hooks that might verge on saccharine if they weren’t recorded with such lo-fi charm. It’s a band that sounds like it didn’t leave the practice space to record Basement Pharmacy. And that’s what makes it so good. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: The Coup

Sorry To Bother You

 I was fortunate enough to stumble upon The Coup at the perfect time. I had just started playing in another punk rock band and I asked the older, more open-minded members of the group if there were any hip hop outfits that didn’t sing songs degrading women and praising money. They suggested The Coup, which was convenient because it was immediately following the release of Party Music, which I proceeded to buy from Wax Trax. The album directly resonated with my radical sensibilities, bestowing upon me the knowledge that non-punks could also create ingenious protest music. 

But with the release of the new album, I had no idea what to expect — especially since the group released the underwhelming Pick A Bigger Weapon and Boots Riley formed Street Sweeper Social Club with Tom Morello in the meantime.

Of course, now I realize I had nothing to worry about, since Sorry To Bother You is a masterpiece of an album from beginning to end. Opting to pretty much eschew Pam the Funktress altogether (though she makes an appearance or two throughout the record), Boots raps over a backing band that utilizes bass, drums, and guitar, but also doesn’t shy away from less traditional instruments like accordions, kazoos, and violins. And of course, the lyrical content is as focused and biting as ever, with references to the Occupy Movement, the plight of folks on welfare, and dancing on the bar nude after a rousing protest.

At first I was reluctant to say that this is The Coup’s finest work — especially since Party Music had such a profound effect on me. But after listening to this record dozens and dozens of times, I can confidently proclaim this to be the group’s best. And after seeing them on this tour, I think that I may be in love with Boots and Silk-E.

The Track-by-Track Breakdown

 1. “The Magic Clap.” If there’s one thing that Boots Riley wants us to do, it’s to dance at the Revolution. The album’s opener stokes the fires of discontent with a beat that gets the party moving. Quotable: “Countin’ up all that dough you owe / You ain’t sposed to know it’s opposable / We are not disposable / Muscle up kid / We got blows to throw.” 

2. “Strange Arithmetic.” In an homage to revolutionary teachers around the world, track two urges our instructors to shine some light on the indignities and injustices of our hierarchical system over a fuzzed out moog riff and driving rhythm. Quotable: “Home Ec can teach you how to make a few sauces and accept low pay from your Walmart bosses.”

3. “Your Parents’ Cocaine.” Imagine an early Clash song, but replace the distorted guitars with a chorus of kazoos, throw in a scathing belittlement of rich kids (and guest lyrical accompaniment from Justin Sane, no less), and you’d have “Your Parents’ Cocaine.” (I highly recommend looking the video up on Youtube, by the by.)

4. “The Gods Of Science.” If the previous song seems overdone, “The Gods of Science” atones for it with its hip hop minimalism, which impeccably showcases Boots’ smooth lyrical onslaught.

5. “My Murder, My Love.” There are two songs that bring a smile to my face every time I hear them (see “Long Island Ice Tea, Neat” for the other). This is the first one: A soulful tune that perfectly juxtaposes Boots’ flow with a laid-back rhythm. Quotable: (There were so many to choose from on this song — which means you should probably just get the album so you can appreciate them for yourself — but I narrowed it down to these two…) “I’m alive through the power of explosion: Colt 45 and a busted Trojan.” And, “Let me clarify things with the way I strut so I can shout with my mouth shut.”

6. “You Are Not A Riot (An RSVP from David Siqueiros to Andy Warhol).” If the instrumental make up of this song were different (more distorted guitars, less pianos and nord electros), this would sound like a straight up agitprop punk song. Of course the fact that it’s not a punk song doesn’t take anything away from its sheer power. Quotable: “You upper-crusty punk.” (I love that one, because I’ve known a lot of them.)

7. “Land of 7 Billion Dances.” Until I saw the video to this song, it wasn’t one of my favorites. But after viewing what is more or less a love letter to the people of Oakland, I have learned to let it love me too.

8. “Violet.” Rapping over a string arrangement about turning tricks and falling in love with a prostitute makes my heart full enough to burst. (No shit.) If there’s a song on the album that’s beautiful enough to make me cry, it’s this one.

9. “This Year.” This song makes me fall in love with Silk-E, who provides the exquisite, soul-affirming voice gracing the lead vocals on “This Year.” While I think this one took the most warming up to, it has since become one of my favorites. Quotable: “Decided I’m gon live if I am gon have to die.”

10. “We’ve Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green.” Rounding out the slower, contemplative side C of the record, “We’ve Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green” incorporates instruments uncommon in the world of hip hop: an accordion, washboard, violin, and acoustic bass. It’s a ballad that never loses its grove as Boots imagines a nightmarish scenario of beasts who only care about “mountains of stuff.”

11. “Long Island Ice Tea, Neat.” Have you ever heard a tune that makes you close your eyes and thank the forces of the universe for giving you life? This is that song for me. Every time I hear it, I crank up the volume and let it take me away. It’s like I want to crawl up inside the song and live there for a week or two, just because it’s so damn beautiful. The instrumental arrangement is reminiscent of Nomeansno (courtesy of the guys from Japanther) and the lyrics depict an elevated sense of being inspired by a political victory. Quotable: “Today we struck a blow for all us in servitude / But the thousands of people got me drunker than the booze.”

12. “The Guillotine.” This moog- and guitar-friendly groover advocates the violent overthrow of the oppressive capitalist system. (It’s a perfect soundtrack for a nice dinner party, or a riot.)

13. “WAVIP.” While Boots’ lyrics are as biting as ever in this inconspicuous album closer, the guest vocalists are more or less underwhelming. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but with twelve solid tracks preceding it, it doesn’t really have to be.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Wax Trax: An Interview with Duane Davis

It’s hard to imagine a Denver without Wax Trax. More of an institution than a record shop, it began in the mid-‘70s with Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher who eventually sold their Denver storefront and moved to Chicago where they started the Wax Trax! Records label—whose roster included Ministry, Front 242, and KMFDM among others. Duane Davis and Dave Steadman took over the reigns of the Denver location in 1978, beginning with a humble collection of new and used records and eventually spanning across four storefronts on Thirteen Avenue. Through the years, the Davis and Steadman immersed themselves in the music they sold—even running their own 1980s label, Local Anesthetic, which showcased local post-punk and hardcore bands like Frantix and Defex and even poet Allen Ginsberg. In the 90s and 00s, the store continued its tradition of supporting local music and zines, giving independent bands and authors an avenue with which to promote and sell their art on a very reasonable, very accessible system of consignment. And though Wax Trax has had to bare its brunt of hardships, it has endured all the ebbs and flows of the record industry. We can only hope it continues to do so—a Denver without Wax Trax would be so devoid of culture and character, it’s painful to even imagine.

Yellow Rake: You’ve been in business now for thirty years.
Duane Davis: Yeah, or as I like to tell people, we decided that even though we’d only been in business for 10 years, we’d say 30 years—it just sounded more impressive that way. Actually, that’s not true—we started in the first week of November 1978. Wax Trax itself, of course, was already established. It had been there with the original guys for a year-and-a-half or two years.

Are these the guys that moved their operation to Chicago?
Jim [Nash] and Dannie [Flesher] were the primary guys, and yes, they went on to Chicago where they started a store and the Wax Trax! Records label, which was hugely successful—at least for a while. Jim died [in 1995], but Dannie is still around as far as I know.

So you bought the store from them?
Dave Steadman and I did. At that time, Dave and I were both social workers, case workers with Jefferson County Social Services. We both worked in Adolescents in Crises units and had done that for a little while. Then we decided it would be more fun to corrupt adolescents rather than try to save them, because that was pretty much a thankless job. Dave was much more into music than I was. His basement was like a miniature Wax Trax; it was filled with racks and albums. He was a junk store fanatic at that time—and still is. He went out and bought up all kinds of stuff as cheap as he could and squirreled it away until the day he could get a store going. He and I were pretty well lubricated out at the Jefferson County Juvenile Probation chili and beer blowout they have once a year, and Dave says, “Why don’t we get a store?” About a year later, we did.

Did you have any idea it would last this long?
No we didn’t. Since Dave and I have never been in any kind of business—our adult jobs were primarily working in social services—we didn’t really have any benchmarks against which to measure success, growth, or what to do. We entered into the slipstream of commerce at just the right point for a music store. In late ’78, the punk movement was already going on both coasts and in England, but in Denver it was just starting to catch on, and there was a small contingent of people that were involved in it. We didn’t have a whole lot of stock right at the beginning. We had $100 of new records and a few racks worth of new records. From that, by plowing all the money we did make back into the business, it was able to grow pretty fast. Based on the excitement of the punk, post-punk, and new wave, from that point all the way up until the late ‘80s, and even in the late ‘80s, the grunge movement came along and that jacked everything up. And then the CD revolution pushed sales through the roof as people sold off their vinyl collection in order to go into CDs. That was also the handwriting on the wall for the death of the local record store. But at the beginning, it was pure excitement. People were so excited about the music. The music was so great. It was a wonderful time to be involved in the whole thing.

And you became very involved in the local music scene in the 1980s, didn’t you?
We did. In one sense, this was pre-internet, pre-computers. In order to find out about music, people would go to their local record stores. And they would go to a record store where they felt they were getting good information to find the stuff they had been hearing about. Or they would just go to be told what might be good or what might not be good. We had a variety of people coming into the store: A lot of them young, a lot involved in alternative music, new wave, and post punk. At the same time, we would have grandmothers with blue-tint hair and bowling shoes buying Elvis bootlegs. And we would do parties with bands. We had a lot of kids that worked for us that were in bands. We decided to start a label of our own—which was very small of course—called Local Anesthetic, which I stole from Gunter Grass’ novel of the same name. We started putting out some records by some of the kids whose bands we saw on the weekends. Everybody knew everybody. Everything was done on a handshake—actually there weren’t even handshakes. You would just do it. It was all very casual, very do-it-yourself. To this day, I have no idea what we put out or what the quantities were—all that stuff that record collectors love to know. We just kept doing it until it had run its course at a certain point. It never made money, of course. It was part of being in that community.

You have a lot of photographs on your website of the Misfits and Dead Kennedys playing at the Mercury Café, which was just right across the street from Wax Trax.
When the Mercury Café was here, Marilyn was a huge part of the success of the post-punk community in Denver. The first great show I saw there was Black Flag. They did an afternoon show there for all ages and then an evening show for the 21 and over crowd. It was mind-altering, like nothing I ever seen before. Henry Rollins hardly had any tattoos and he was skinny. He hadn’t bulked up the way he is now. In addition to the label, we also did a fanzine called, Local Anesthetic. I was taking pictures at those shows and then using them in the fanzine. We were distributing that in any record stores and book stores that would let us put them in there. It was just that synergy that was going at the time. And these bands would come across the street and hang out in the store.

Don’t you have a picture of X bumming change in front of Wax Trax?
 [Laughs] I just put that on there as a joke about them bumming change. They actually went out and posed for that picture for me. They later came in and did an in-store, which was unfortunately timed, because Exene and John Doe had just had a big argument and wouldn’t talk to each other. They had to be at opposite ends of the counter. They were acting like babies. You find that people are people no matter what. But back to Marilyn—Dead Kennedys played there on April Fools Day 1983 or something like that. Gun Club played there, T.S.O.L., Hüsker Dü. Hüsker Dü had crisscrossed the country and I remember one time I was going down to Marilyn’s and there were the three guys from Hüsker Dü sitting on the sidewalk under the window of Mercury Café. I stopped to talk to them and they said they were waiting to see if Marilyn would let them play that night so that they could get enough money to buy gas to drive to Salt Lake City. And she did. And that’s how casual a lot of that would be. All of it was done on a shoestring. They were out there doing it because that’s what they had to do.

Did the success of bands like X or Hüsker Dü surprise you at all?
Not too much. [Laughs] This will sound terrible, but we were really full of the music back then. And we really believed in it enormously. Part of the fun of being an independent record store geared towards what we considered to be the elite of musical taste was a kind of arrogance and confidence that was probably misplaced, and at times probably irritating as well. Because we really did believe this music was the best. And our concern was not that it was going to get big, it was, “Why isn’t it big now?” We thought, “Why would you listen to anything else?” We were wrong about that. There are plenty of things to listen to. A lot of it is good. And a lot of it depends upon what stage of life you’re in and what you’re getting out of it.

Have you ever seen the movie, High Fidelity?
DD: Oh yeah.

Did it remind you of yourself?
I certainly saw my employees in there: The nerd and the Jack Black characters. I just love those two guys because I’ve had variations of those guys work for me for 30 years. Dave and I thought we were getting out of social work, but that wasn’t the case. We were hiring high school dropouts. They weren’t even 18 yet. They were still in the throes of trying to figure out who they were, living the rock and roll lifestyle. Dave and I were old enough that we weren’t particularly living the rock and roll lifestyle, but we enjoyed it vicariously.

There’s a part in the book, High Fidelity, where Rob, the main character, discusses the state of his record store. He says, “The shop smells of stale smoke, damp, and plastic dustcovers, and it’s narrow and dingy and dirty and overcrowded, partly because that’s what I wanted—this is what record shops are supposed to look like, and only Phil Collins’s fans bother with those that look as clean and wholesome as a suburban Habitat—and party because I can’t get it together to clean or redecorate it.” Based on the state of your store, do you think there’s any truth to that?
We have always maintained we are not afraid of dirt. And anybody who is won’t want to come into Wax Trax. Dave and I came from an era—mid ‘60s—where head shops were the place to be. That’s our model for the store. It’s not a new facility with bright, gleaming knobs and shiny displays. We don’t waste a whole lot of time or resources trying to look good.

What’s the future of the mom-and-pop record store?
Not good. I’m not sure that music is now as big of a part of a person’s identity as it was from the ‘60s through the ‘80s. We never felt we were selling music. We felt we were participating or helping people identify who they were to their friends. If a kid came in with a certain kind of haircut and a denim jacket, it was like, “Okay, we’re going to sell some U2 and Big Country to this guy.” If they came in and it was a two-foot high multi-colored mohawk, then it was going to be Exploited or GBH. If it was a shaved head and some tattoos, it was going to be Screwdriver or Black Flag—you’d find out when they came to the counter. Today it’s hard to find out what the micro-genres really are. What’s taken over is a modified Red Hot Chili Peppers look—a little goatee, some baggy pants, and a couple tattoos and I’m not sure where it’s going to go from that. But that’s the music. Music will always be around and bands will always be around. How music is going to be delivered to people who are the fans, that’s an interesting question. We did have a shot in the arm from vinyl resurgence, which despite the fact that it’s been touted in Newsweek and Time Magazine is actually true.

Did you see that coming?
My joke about the vinyl resurgence is that we were very well placed for it because we foolishly never stopped. We always had a vinyl store and we always stocked it as well as we could. Even when people stopped buying it, we were still packing the basements full of this stuff. Vinyl is our first love and we have a good atmosphere for it. It has given us a new lease on life. There have been some pretty bleak times with this. It’s sad to see people not as excited about what we do as they used to be. You lose a certain sense of validation within that. So it’s fun to have people coming back in and being excited about a record or a style of music.

Do you think Wax Trax will stick around for a while?
We are trying to find where our footing is—it has been a pretty slippery path to this point. It has stabilized and risen a little bit. But we’re no longer as confident that it will stay. Wax Trax, in one form or the other, is going to be there for quite a while. For one thing, my partner, Dave, he will die at the counter, buying quarter records. He can’t imagine anything else in his life. I think the vinyl resurgence—it will ebb and flow some—but it will always be there. Obviously the music can be digitalized, so it’s not just the music; it’s the artifact. It’s the twelve inches or the seven inches of vinyl in your hand that you put on the shelf or display on the wall. There’s something about putting it on the turntable, putting the tone arm down, hearing the little bit of hiss before it hits the groove, knowing where the pops and crackles are as it goes through. It’s like re-reading a good book, or watching a good movie again. It’s something you can do over and over. Music is obviously a repeatable experience. If I had to guess at how many times I listened to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” I couldn’t even imagine. And yet it still thrills me every time I hear it. And I think that there’s a small proportion of the population that’s like that. But it’s there and it will be there some time to come. So I think there’s still a place for Wax Trax.