March 26th 2014
1-2-3-4 Go! Records: A Musical Oasis in Oakland, CA
The first time I walked into a record store- a real record store, not the music section at whatever big box retailer made its home at the mall- it was somewhat akin to Socrates’ “Allegory of the Cave”: at last I had crawled out from the consuming darkness of ignorance into the blinding light of knowledge. I was only 14 when this awakening happened, but even at this tender age I was an arrogant little music aficionado. At the time I thought I knew it all: I could sing all the Beatles’ B-sides backwards, I could rattle off the entire catalogs of Springsteen and Dylan and Cash, I could lecture about the origins of rock n’ roll like a tenured professor at some questionably credentialed community college. I obviously knew everything there was to know about music.
Then came that fateful day at Amoeba Music in San Francisco. Perception eviscerated - Year Zero for my musical enlightenment had officially arrived.
From that day forward I was to become a disciple in the Church of Music, and the record store would become my temple. These were my people - the intimidating dudes behind the counter with the Black Flag tattoos and obscure metal band logos patched onto their denim jackets; the dreadlocked girl in the reggae section who disdainfully rolls her eyes when you ask where Bob Marley was located; the old guy with the grizzled beard and thick glasses scouring through the jazz understock to show you where all the really good stuff was. Over the years I would travel throughout California searching for the most unrecognized and unheard of places to make my pilgrimage, from the tiny holes in the wall sandwiched between dilapidated cafes and beauty salons to local landmarks like the aforementioned Amoeba on Haight Street or Rockaway Records in LA.
So when I first heard about Oakland-based 1-2-3-4 Go! Records' goal of raising $16,000 to pay for an expansion of the building, I jumped at the chance. I checked my meager bank account (which is, ironically enough, supplemented by a record store clerk salary), got a little depressed (an unavoidable feeling whenever I check my account balance), but then sucked it up and contributed what I could. This was my small way of giving back to the community, to a local establishment catering to that dying breed of music nerds, obsessive collectors, the weirdoes like me who freak out when we find rare UK pressings or alternate album covers of the same records we already own but are compelled to buy again just because this one’s different. And thankfully there is enough of that rare breed left to meet such a goal. Sometimes all it takes to keep a dream alive is social media savvy, an Indiegogo account and a little bit of faith in humanity.
The grand reopening of the store was fantastic. There was now a whole extra room full of vinyl to sift through as well as an expanded stage area to showcase the best musical talent the Bay Area has to offer. And, most importantly, it’s an all-age venue, a phenomenon fading faster these days than the local record store itself. To have the two combined into one establishment is completely anachronistic and nearly unfathomable, but it’s real. And it’s awesome. That night I was treated to the blistering punk of Oakland’s own YI and the danceable bliss of glam/bubblegum-rockers Shannon and the Clams. It was a show so good, so full of energy and fun and passion, it reminded me why I do this stuff- insatiably seeking out the next great band, staying out late at concerts even if I have to go into work early, passing out flyers on street corners for hours on end to promote my own band's gigs. There’s something utterly and inexplicably compelling about music, something so indescribably powerful that it makes me engage in bizarre activities and keep strange hours and listen to certain songs on repeat over and over again because I just don’t know what to do when the music stops.
In an age where all the sales reports show that more and more people are buying less and less music, it’s comforting to know that outlets like 1-2-3-4 Go! Records can still exist, can still serve those few zealous music fanatics remaining. We need to keep these places alive as long as possible. They really are little oases for fans, geeks, musicians and people in general to meet, talk about this beautiful art form and maybe even develop lasting relationships. It exemplifies that sense of community that has been eroded over the years by suburban sprawls and chain stores and even the internet to an extent. Support your local record store whether it’s 1-2-3-4 Go! or Amoeba or Mono Records out in Silverlake or some place I’ve never even heard of (and if you’ve got any recommendations, please let me know). It’s just one small way we can keep the community alive.