Our Band Could Be Your Lid
Ryan J. Eilbeck
There’s one health benefit at the record store I work at: You can have a beer at work. You can have your hourly wage and beer; not something to retire on. The owner, Dan, supports this perk, covets it even during a shift. He’ll be at the back counter digging into the endless stacks of used records, nursing a semi-warm PBR from a pint glass.
“Hey buuu-ddy,” He says when I come in. He’ll have two stacks going, a this-side-that-side mix, loosely sorted by genre.
“A bunch of that dragon-riding Prog shit came in if you want to start having a look through it.”
He ventures out onto the floor, hastily slicked back silver hair, a t-shirt and khaki pants.
With his arms full of the well-loved vinyl, his beer is left behind, alone and exposed. Cue the fruit flies. They’re going mad. They’ve bred rapidly and are lined up on the rim of his glass taking dives into the sweet gold. Dan doesn’t like this. He returns to his drink, face redder and sharp blue eyes befuddled as he swats at the air,
“Fuckin’ fruit flies. I leave for a second and there’s a fucking million, swarming…”
Neighbor to the stacks of used records are the stacks of used CDs. A standard CD jewel case is around 5 x 5 x 1/4″. The top of a pint glass is 3 1/4″ in diameter. Dan had a breakthrough in symbiotic science: A CD case will fully cover the open mouth of a pint glass, the flies stay out. Repurposing. The case is now a lid. The courtship process was a short and logical one. The pairing, one for the ages.
I spend a lot of time at the back counter of Used Kids Records near Dan’s beer. I’m thinking about how much Miles Davis should cost or if Lemonheads It’s a Shame About Ray should be $3 because I like it or $5 because I like it or $3 because you see it so often or $5 because it’s a pretty clean copy. $3 because both.
In my little CD corner I’m privy to Dan’s habits. He rarely finishes his chips. He goes wild with post-it notes. He leaves his glasses out that are so thick, should a sober person put them on, they’d feel about a six-pack in. He loves Gram Parsons. Favorite local is Lydia Loveless. Everything But the Girl is his go to. Jackson Browne, that’s a yes. He’s generous when he buys and then says, “Never do what I just did… a sympathy buy.” Habitually he plays Dylan’s Street Legal. Thankfully for this project, he regularly utilizes the CD lid.
When I come in, a little less than a gulp of backwash remains, still covered by the CD. One day I was blankly staring at it.
Is there a process to choosing this CD lid?
Shortly after, I realized his process seemed to be what CD is closest to my hand right now as I am leaving my beer?
In that moment I decided that Dan was unknowingly collaborating on a mixtape with me. In fact, he was the head curator. I started taking the lids home and listening to them. I’d pick what I thought was the best song and then commit it to a 90 MIN cassette tape. I guessed that if I took the CD, he’d have to choose a new one the next day and the cycle would continue. If he noticed, I figured he might think I was just cleaning up our workstation for better flow, making room for more stacks, endless stacks upon stacks.
It took some time though. It didn’t happen every day that I worked. Maybe he wasn’t thirsty. Did he go to the watering hole down the block? Is it weird to want someone to drink every day in the work place? There was the day a mostly full pint glass tipped and broke. It didn’t even have the chance to be crowned by an unknowing band. One full week he was on vacation. Then another week went by dry. I was getting impatient; it had been 2 lid-less weeks. Then my luck changed- A Pink Floyd CD was resting easy on the top, reigniting the mix. I knew what it was in the corner of my eye. I hoped a different disc would be inside. Nope. Stuck with the Floyd. But I’d made my formula: Take whatever CD Dan leaves, even Pink Floyd, listen to it and pick a song. Dan and destiny at the helm.
Who would want to listen to this? I don’t know. Why does anyone listen to anything? Why are you still reading this? Truth is, there’s too much. Literally too much music. If you spent every minute of your life hearing song after different song, the music would outlive you. Sorry, it would. We don’t have time to hear it all. We need help. We need some sound advice. But from who? Rolling Stone? Your Uncle? Your glue-sniffin’ pill popper buddy? Top 40 radio? NPR? The Columbus Alive? The person you want to sleep with most? Pitchfork? Stereogum? Sure, yes to all, but sometimes no.
Mostly it’s a business. The business of being heard or not heard. There are publicists sending promo CDs with write ups to radio stations and record stores, venues and music magazines too. One of these parties is supposed to care and may be paid to try and make you care. Maybe the stars have aligned and you will. Someone hip says Oh that’s such and such coming out on such and such and it was written about on Blah Blah Blog. Maybe a music scholar has unearthed some gem from Nowheresville, Ohio and talked about how brilliant it is and how tragic it is that they’re unrecognized and dead. You may be content to be convinced. That’s fine.
But it’s arbitrary. It’s not at all arbitrary. I’ve heard, “Oh this. You need this,” and been handed a record by the same person who bluntly dismissed another album that probably saved someone else’s life. We’ll call this “High Fidelity record store employee image reflection.” Maybe you once made serious love to Dinosaur Jr.’s Feel the Pain and you will never forget. Maybe you stumbled into The Legion of Doom basement and saw Against Me! before they used electricity and you played-the-shit out of Crime till it got crushed when the tape player you mounted on your bike with a bungee cord didn’t hold.
Another scenario: You’re in the grocery store opening the freezer when a song plays over the speakers that makes you forget that you came for frozen pizza, not a Neil Diamond song. Do I even like Neil Diamond? You think while nodding your head. You do! You just did. Does anyone really? Who cares! That’s your song, if you want it, it’s yours. Why? Why not? Why the fuck not? You felt good and then you bought pizza. I’m talking about the right place at the right time. You were in traffic after work and your ears were in an accident with Cheap Trick. Thank you my FM comrade, you treacherous corporate zoo! Yes, sometimes you ride the waves.
In life, you’re on a walk and music barks like a leash-less dog and you can chase that dog and if you catch it you can take it home. Congrats, you found a dog! Or did it find you? The dog is domestic. The dog cannot be tamed. Dog is in heat. Dog is dreamy. Dog is stinky. Dog is a damn dog. You love it you hate it someone else please take it, you get another dog. A dog barked and you should give your body some credit for efficiently converting sound waves into brain waves into decisions. In the case of this mixtape, give me and Dan all or zero credit. We are both alive and music has been very near by all the time. My recommendation: Stroll around with your ears out. Get all Doobie Brothers and listen to the music. Or don’t. Pick your own hits. There’s billions of bands. Billions of lids.
* A cassette tape will not cover a pint glass. A computer will knock it over. iPod, almost.