Sunday, February 14, 2010

My reaction to the EarX-tacy announcement.

For those blog-readers who aren’t familiar with Louisville’s world-renowned record store, earX-tacy, here’s a little background. I implore you to visit their website or do a quick Google search. It’s the hub of the local independent scene in Louisville and, until the digital invasion, was the only place to find the independent releases and local music from the world over. There are some other great record stores in Louisville, Underground Sounds, for example, that deserve our attention and our business, but I’m focusing on earX-tacy for this blog. The store owner had a press conference on Friday explaining how dangerously close to bankruptcy the store is – a press conference that sparked cries of sadness and support from all over the world.

This whole earX-tacy thing has had me thinking all weekend. I went to the press conference on Friday, hugged most of the staff, and saw more smiling faces that morning than there should have been, considering the sad news that awaited from owner/founder John Timmons. That’s part of the magic of the store. EarX-tacy is a place that makes people smile. I’m also really glad Timmons is strong enough and has the forethought to make a plea for business, rather then just make a surprise, no-warning announcement that the store is closing, as has happened with so many other local businesses. He admitted aloud at Friday’s press conference that “the easiest thing to do is to close the doors today…. But this isn’t my store … it’s yours.” Truly, for a man wanted only to sell records for a living, John Timmons has unwittingly created a cultural mecca.

Over the past few days I’ve read far too many asinine comments that mention “overpriced records” and “Isn’t that how capitalism is supposed to work” and “I get all my music from Limewire.” (Limewire, by the way, is not only illegal, but hurts the artist every bit as much as it hurts the independent record stores.) I can’t keep quiet about this because it’s too important.

I understand these talks of capitalism and the free market dictating what stores stay open. And no, I don’t think that the local government should step in and help out every business that is floundering in these sad economic times. I believe that earX-tacy, however, has earned a different place in our city’s layout.

I’ve traveled to four continents, and I’ve seen earX-tacy bumper stickers in each of them, either on cars or guitar cases or slapped on a graffiti-splattered wall. My pink earX-tacy hoodie has traveled with me on many a tour, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gotten a thumbs-up, a wink, or a new friend because of it. People recognize and appreciate earX-tacy in the way they know other interesting cultural entities, such as City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco or the original Café du Monde in New Orleans.

It’s because of the place earX-tacy has naturally risen to in our city’s culture, not because of brilliant marketing or a business plan, that I contend that earX-tacy truly is more than just a retail store, despite John Timmons’s original intentions. As Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) said on Friday at the press conference, “EarX-tacy is an experience.”

I believe the store has earned a place in the art and culture of Louisville, and any attempt to support it – at least by the city officials – should be viewed as such. Of course, as individuals, the best thing we can do to support them is by giving them our business – just as the best thing you can do to support a local musician/artist/writer, is by going to their concert/gallery/reading and buying their record/painting/book. But I would love to see the city officials do their part in economically supporting this Bardstown Road icon, and they should think of it as just that: a cultural institution, a place where art is displayed, and an incredibly important part of Louisville’s vibrant art scene.

Those of you who think art is not important, please go read a history book. The suppression of art, whether through capitalism or fascism, yields a terrible place to live. I truly believe that earX-tacy should be treated as the cultural icon it has grown to be, and we should take responsibility for maintaining our community’s culture.

John Timmons is most certainly not asking for a handout – he emphasized multiple times during the press conference that what he needs is your business. I believe, however, that the rules of capitalism that have been brought up so often in angry blog comments, truly should be re-thought when it comes to cultural and artistic institutions.

The starving artist concept exists for a reason, and it’s true that it is not often economically viable to make a living as an artist. But without art, humanity suffers greatly, and thus, we need to make efforts to fund artists and culture within our own communities, lest we all be living in a mindless, miserable world. Many artists have left this world bankrupt and unappreciated, only to have the world honor them with museums and anthologies many years after their deaths. I don’t want to be sitting in a chain restaurant in ten years in my pink earX-tacy hoodie talking about when Louisville used to be a different and interesting place to live.

We are so very fortunate to have a vibrant artistic community in Louisville, and earX-tacy is most definitely in the nucleus of the local music scene. If we do not give the store the respect and business it has earned, we will see it fail, as well as many other businesses and artists who depend on earX-tacy for their own commerce.

When John Timmons spoke about how all he ever wanted to do was sell records, he made the statement, “I’ve never been cool.” I laughed at the statement, coming from the casual man in the sweatshirt, owner of the coolest store in Louisville. Then I thought about how many other artists must feel that way. I’ve stood on stage, singing my songs, looking out in awe as the audience listens and applauds, wondering how in the world some nerdy kid like me is center stage and selling records. And I think, “If they only knew how un-cool I am,” they’d never be screaming like that. Well, John Timmons hasn’t regularly gotten that sort of immediate and loud audience validation, but to me, and to thousands of other folks around the world, John Timmons should know that he is about as cool as they come. Here’s a guy who loves music and musicians so much that he created a cultural institution – though not intentionally. How many of you can say you did that? And as he held a box of tissues at Friday’s press conference, scratched his head in amazement at the media representation and what his avocation had yielded through years of work-fueled passion (or perhaps passion-fueled work), John Timmons was undoubtedly the coolest man in the room.


  1. John is the only person in the world I can see and just mention the word 'waterbeds' and he laughs. We commiserated for years about the challenges of buying for Phoenix and of dealing with the owner's retail ideas.
    We traveled to recording industry convention things and spent days together and he didn't strangle me...which says a lot about how nice a guy he is. I painted the signs for his first two locations, helped move crap outta that little Poplar Level place, so he could start his dream-come-true store...working out of his apartment and driving to record shows was getting old.
    He followed through with the dream so many of us baby boomer record store workers had, but didn't do...having the kind of store that true music freaks and musicians could love.
    I think that's why I really would hate to see his store go. It would be the end of an era.

  2. wondefully said brigid.

    joni said "Don't it always seem to go
    That you don't know what you've got Till it's gone"

    we know what we've got, we can't let it go.

  3. As a fan of Jil Thorp and the Beat Boys I was introduced to John prior to ear X-tacy. I have an unopened vinyl LP autographed by the whole band (worth about what, John, at ear X-tacy? Say, maybe $6). So I just want to say that playing bass in a cool band made John a cool dude long before he opened his store.

  4. Love love love hearing stories like these ... thanks, guys:)

  5. Brigid....
    YOU are a lovely and amazing human being... and extremely talented as well.
    Sending the love back your way.
    That "john" guy.