Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

The first thing I got from a mail order catalog was The Lounge Ax Compilation, a benefit CD to keep a club in Chicago in business.  I was maybe 14 or 15 years old.  Had I ever been to this club?  No.  Did I really care about the fate of this club that I wanted to help?  Kind of, but not really.  I was more interested in the fact that I would be getting previously unreleased tracks from Sebadoh, Superchunk, Seam, Yo La Tengo, Guided by Voices and Archers of Loaf.  I don’t think the CD sold enough money to keep Lounge Ax in business, but at least I could say I did my part as a 15 year old living in San Diego.

Every time you mail order something from a record label, they send you an updated catalog with your purchase.  Being new to this mail order world, receiving the catalog was a pretty exciting thing.  I would take it to school and my friends and I would look through it to see what we would be ordering next.  We were young and were curious to see what great bands we’d missed out on because of our youth.  So, going through the Touch and Go, Sub Pop, and Matador Records catalogs were expeditions for us.  “The Jesus Lizard did a split cassette with Nirvana?  They must be great, right?”

Honestly, I don’t know how I waited for my orders to come.  I know it sounds foolish, but I would send cash to these record labels through the mail.  I don’t think I ever stuck change in the envelopes, and i would wrap my bills in the piece of paper my order was on to prevent people from recognizing there was cash in the envelope, but obviously it was a huge risk.  I was completely vulnerable.  Fortunately, every order I made safely made it to each label and I received all but one shipment, and for that one shipment I didn’t receive, I was lucky enough to have my sister, who was working in “the biz” at the time, stand up for me and make some calls to make sure I got what was rightfully mine.

I didn’t just order CDs from these labels.  I started to order vinyl, mostly 7″ singles.  Sadly, I missed the boat on the first run of the Sub Pop Singles Club and when I went to college, I missed the boat on the 2nd run because I was poor or flakey, or both.  There was no room in the dorms for a vinyl record player and then Amoeba Records in Hollywood opened, and iTunes started releasing “exclusive material” so my mail order adventures came to a halt.

It wasn’t until the last year or so where I’ve re-committed to my love of mail order (I blame Sub Pop records with all their reissues – and the fact they give you a digital download with each vinyl purchase).  It’s obviously a lot different now than it was in the late 90s.  Now it’s online, you get tracking numbers, and I have credit cards/debit cards to make sure that my orders get to where they need to go.  I could make the pretentious argument that it’s not the same as it used to be because of all the “technology” involved, but I’m not going to.  I’ve never really considered myself a record collector, but I love the fact that I get the same feeling when I get my records in the mail now that I got over 10 years ago and that I’ll do the same nerdy things like lay out all my colored vinyl as if I were putting together some sort of brilliant artwork (I have white, yellow, pink, blue, red, purple, sea green, orange and of course black – I know you don’t care, I just wanted to brag).

Music has always been a big part of my life.  From the piano lessons I took when I was 7, to the countless hours of walking around with my walkman/discman/ipod and headphones,  I really have no clue where I’d be without it.  I’m just glad to know that as I get older, I still have the same crazy passion for it that I had when I first discovered it.  I know that my spending on shows and vinyl will be curbed over time as the priorities in my life change, but I am confident that the few times that I am able to order something, I’m going to still have that same excitement that I had when that Lounge Ax compilation was at my front door.

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