Did you grow up around Orange County?
Darren O’Connor: No, I’m from Hollywood, LA. Echo Park, actually, which really isn’t anything like Hollywood.
What was it like growing up?
My dad always emphasized on me, ‘Don’t ever be late, and go to school. That’s all I ask.’ I ended up being the only one in my family that graduated and got accepted to Otis-Parsons. Yeah, but I obviously didn’t go. I ended up falling in love with music. In fifth grade I bought a Queen album, Day at the Races, and I got David Bowie’s, Young Americans album. That was all I wanted was records. Every time I did good, my dad never gave me money, but like allowance, I’d get something and I’d just ask him for records.
That started back in fifth grade?
Fifth grade, 1975. And it’s funny that those two bands are the records that I wanted most because I didn’t even like any white music at all. I only liked Soul music, other than The Doors.
What other artists were you listening to?
The Doors and War and Marvin Gaye. Al Green and that kind of stuff. That’s what my mom was listening to. And rockabilly stuff ‘cause the only thing my dad listened to was Chuck Berry, Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley. That’s all that he liked, other than classical music. He didn’t like anybody, but my mom—it just reminded me of Pinesol, cleaning the house, windows open, Soul music in Echo Park. It was just what I liked. Creedence I liked, my mom listened to that too for some reason.
(To customer) How are you doing? You got any questions?
Customer: Um, do you guys have posters?
O’Connor: No, not many. I saw a poster store somewhere, but those aren’t easy to find. I think there’s a good store in Whittier off on Greenleaf. It’s like a rock shop and they have sweatshirts, lighters…it’s almost like the old head-shop style. They’re not so easy to find because they take up so much space and shops can’t afford.
Customer: Alright, thanks.
What’s your history in the record business?
I closed Neil’s records in 1987. I had a store from ’83 when I graduated, that’s why I didn’t go to Otis-Parsons ‘cause I fell in love with music. My dad said flat out, ‘If you’re not going to school, you’re moving out, you gotta find a place to stay.’ Just simple as that, and that was always my dad’s theme of life was, ‘As long as you go to school and be on time, I’ll do what I can to support you. But if you don’t want to help yourself,’ he always said, ‘there’s the door right there. Whatever you know better than me, you can always go pay rent.’
Records was all you could see?
I ended up just going into a store and pulling up New York Dolls and Dead Boys records from 1983 and started with that and said, ‘You gotta put this up for more money, you gotta price these, you gotta get these up on your wall and get this farty old rock of the wall. You gotta put up all these neat things. Put them up for like ten bucks—you have them for like two dollars.’ Later, he wanted to hire me, and of course I wanted to work there, probably more than he wanted to hire me.
Yeah, I wanted to work at another store called Turning Point, but Turning Point was more new records. They didn’t deal with collectibles at all. Neil was into everything—bootlegs, collectible—anything with money, he wanted to know about. So I come in with all these punk records, going, ‘Put these Dead Boys at $10, put these New York Dolls at $10, put the Cramps up or whatever.’ So the store started doing really well, and it was off of Broadway in a little tiny shop, and a lot of crime was going on in that place. He started having me work, then next thing you know he had to go to jail. I started running it, moved into a 25,000 square foot store, got a 7” room, got a 12” disco room, and started getting sections. I wanted to open a head shop in the back and start doing all these things. Then Neil came back and started getting crazy. He was buying hot merchandise, wanted to sell bootlegs, and he wanted to start making bootlegs, and I was just the cover kid selling records, ordering new releases, doing all the buying—like everyday and I was only 17 or 18 years old. I could work 24 hours a day, I was just always there. When I got that 25,000 square-foot store, I got construction workers and we built a little stage and a step-up counter where we were above the people. It was kind of cool, ‘cause at the time no store was like that where you’re atop everyone and you could look out and we would welcome you as you walked in. Then I got racks on the wall and started putting punk records up and that was when the store started going haywire. I had it and it was going real good, but Neil signed his name…I was a kid, and I thought I was buying the store from him, but he had it in the contract funny, like when he’s in jail I can do it, and I have to buy the store at $3,000 dollars a month, and in five years, it would be my store or something like that. By ’87, it started getting insane where cops were hanging out in front of the store and all this. In other words, it started getting real bad.
Because of in-store performances? Or something else?
No, because hot merchandise was coming in and out of there. The final days, the cops are outside and I’m drinking a Schlitz and it’s like 10am in the morning and I’m like, ‘Why’s a cop out there?’ I keep putting my beer down to the side. This guy ain’t even letting me drink my fucking beer, what’s going on? The cop’s just out there in the front of the store just sitting there, and I’m like, ‘Don’t you gotta go get crime to fix or do something?’ And they were like, ‘No, you’re the crime. You’re going down, we’re going to get you.’ He said, ‘You can make two decisions,’ and he told me straight to my face, ‘You could either stick with that guy, that criminal, in there and go to jail with him, or you can help us and tell us everything about Neil right now.’ I said, ‘You know what, no.’ And I just walked back into the store. Neil came in—cops were still sitting there—and I go to Neil and go, ‘Neil, there’s two options. You’re going to stop buying hot merchandise, you’re going to stop bootlegging, or I’m leaving.’ He said, ‘You can’t leave.’ So I said, ‘No, you have two options and I can do whatever I want, I’m a 20 year old kid.’ No one can tell you what to do if you’re a city kid. I had the world by a string according to me—I had money, I was DJing, I was spinning at Scream, I was really popular making money doing all this stuff. But he was like, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ I told him he was crazy and I went and talked to my dad. I told him, ‘Dad, this guy’s a criminal.’ He’s like, ‘I’ve told you, never deal with a criminal. Don’t let any liars or cheaters or thieves in your life, stay away.’ I come back to Neil and say, ‘I’m leaving man. I quit today if this is what you’re going to do. If I find one piece of merchandise that I think is hot in this store, I gotta go.’ Next day, sure enough, all these people are in with stacks of new release records, like 20 Beatles double CDs, and those were like $40 back then retail. So I walk in and I’m like, ‘Neil, you’re blowing it, I gotta go.’ And before I could even get out of the store, he calls his attorney. Neil hands me the phone and it’s his attorney and he says, ‘Darren, I’m going to tell you right now, if you try leaving that store, I’m going to ruin your life for ten years.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about, I’m fucking leaving.’ He goes, ‘No you aren’t. You can’t leave. You signed a contract to buy that store with Neil.’ I go, “Yep, I’ve got three months, but fuck it, he can have the store, he can have everything, I’m leaving.’ He said, ‘Nope, we’re going to ruin your life for ten years if you try leaving that store.’ I’m only 20 so I say, ‘Fuck you,’ and hang up the phone, then say, ‘Fuck you Neil, I’m leaving.’ I left and I came back with my friends Lee and Tom, went into the store, left all my record collection that was at the store—which was quite a bit. My friends said I gotta grab it, but I told them, ‘Norowitz—the attorney—told me if I take anything out of that store, that it’s theft, ‘cause it’s his store.’ So I took my record player, I left my records there, but took a certain little stack of records that I bought myself with my own paycheck. Next thing you know, Norowitz, the attorney, comes driving up. He took the keys out of our vans, stole them, raised them up in the air and ran down the street on Colorado Boulevard. I was like, ‘You know what, fuck that guy, let him do it and let’s call the police.’ My friend, Lee, who doesn’t put up with anything from anybody, took off after him, and I start running after him, and Norowitz turns around in the middle of the street, still holding the keys. So I go, ‘Don’t fucking touch him Lee, he’s an attorney.’ Norowitz stopped, Lee bumped into him, Norowitz threw the keys up onto the roof. We didn’t know, but he threw them and they went up on this two-story brick-building roof. We end up in jail—all of us—for attempting to hurt a licensed attorney.
What did you do after that?
I moved out to Tustin, came out here, and hid for two years and just traded records. I didn’t let anybody know what the hell I was doing. Then I opened Vinyl Solution in ’89. It took me almost two years to finally find a store I wanted. I wanted to move down to La Jolla in San Diego ‘cause I love that city and it seemed like a good hiding place. So my mom steps in and tells me, ‘I’m going to help you, but the only way I’m going to help you is if you move on Beach Boulevard. Half a million people drive up Beach.’ So I figured I had my balls in a vice here. I’m either gonna live with my sister and hide and trade records all day, and keep hoping to open a store someday, or I’m going to suck up and do whatever my mom tells me. She was like, ‘One thing I’ll do is I’d like to help you with your career. As a mother, this is what I’ll do.’ I ended up opening up this store, and Norowitz comes back, took everything, said it was all stolen merchandise, on the day that my grandmother died. It was 1989, December 23rd. He ended up getting kicked out of the state because of me, ‘cause we just didn’t bow down. My mom was like, ‘My mother just died on the same day that your store got everything taken out of it—that I saw you work for?’ So she just went to town on the guy and went to court. It was crazy. I ended up here and dealing with all that.
When you opened the store on Beach Boulevard, what was the music scene like?
It was a great scene. I opened the store, but I didn’t know anything ‘cause I’m still thinking of New York Dolls and The Dead Boys and punk this, punk that in the ‘70s, and all of a sudden, all these black and white kids with patches all dirty came walking in here. And they’re like, ‘Do you have this? Do you have that?’ They were naming bands that I never heard of that I thought were jokes. I was like, ‘What’s this crustcore and straight-edge stuff?’ I didn’t even know what that fuckin’ was. I didn’t even know what straight-edge meant. I didn’t know Minor Threat or 7 Seconds. I’m 46 years old now. At the time in Hollywood, I didn’t even know. I heard Minor Threat, but it was so ridiculous to me that I didn’t even bother listening to lyrics. Same with 7 Seconds. But you know what? That was a big fuckin’ deal out here. Like I said, I grew up listening to Soul music, and Queen, and Bowie, and then the Pistols, and I never looked back. In 1982, I laughed at hardcore. I went straight into Psychedelic Furs, OMD, Joy Division. Joy Division showed up in High School. I was like the only kid at Burbank listening to that, ‘cause I was hanging out with a lot of older people, so I was obviously very influenced, and I was an art guy. Even when I was a kid, people were into like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and stuff like that, and I was into Roxy Music and King Crimson. I was into that only ‘cause that’s what my older art friends were into. The first weekend—I’m only here for like four days—I have a swarm of all these crusty kids coming in. Then all the Huntington Beach kids from like Confrontation came in and were like, ‘You wanna carry this, you need to carry more Discharge.’ We could barely give away Discharge in Hollywood, but I’ll do it. Go make a list. He made me a list of about four pages. I ordered it all that week. It sold like that (snapping fingers). I thought, ‘This is nuts.’ All I did was listen to every one who walked into that store from that day. I’m gonna do whatever you guys ask of me. It turned into 40 or 50 people my first weekend. And from that point on, the store went really good. All I did was just listen to my customers. I added the extras, like if Minor Threats first album sells, everything must sell. So I’d order everything on catalogue. Then people would tell me what band they’re in now, and sooner or later they’re in Fugazi, then I gotta get Fugazi. And it was just selling. I thought I was going to go to my grave selling Pistols and Cramps and Ramones.
That sells too.
Yeah, but people are moving on here. The other thing was there were 12-year-old kids into hardcore out here.
With working parents, so they just cruise freely on their skateboards?
I always wondered how such young kids, when I’d show up at places on this side, were showing up at shows. I remember being at Burbank High and having my Pistols and my Dead Kennedys. Listening to Pistols was like, ‘Wow, I’m allowed to hate.’ I never knew I was allowed not to like something. And then I heard the Dead Kennedys and I was like, ‘You’re allowed to fucking think! This is crazy.’ The book, pulling out that poster and seeing what Jello Biafra dare say was like…it changed my world. And then I saw kids on skateboards that were a year older than me, and then I hear DOA.
What do you think it is about this area that inspires that?
It’s just a suburban thing where they are trapped. A friend of mine told me, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like out here. We have these model homes, we live in these nice houses, our parents don’t let us out. When we go out, we’ve gotta get violent, we’ve gotta get crazy. We’ve got a lot of hatred in our stuff.’ It’s just being in that perfect-type of model home, and things aren’t perfect. A city kid doesn’t see that. They think we’re all crazy, but it’s ok ‘cause we can do whatever we want, ‘cause our mom’s don’t even care about us, we could do what we want to do. Even the parents that care, they’re so busy working and getting everything taken care of, it seems behind the Orange Curtain, even parents are too busy to have kids. LA and in ethnic areas, family comes first. They’re living off of tradition, they aren’t living off, ‘I’m gonna change this thing and I’m gonna build a new way.’ The full Reagan Youth type of thing, it was real, but when it started going metal and punk and people were starting to become songwriters and doing synth stuff and getting all new-waved out and becoming creative artists instead of just hardcore, Orange County, for the most part, was like, ‘Fuck you, we’re still pissed. I loved when I was 12 in the backyard listening to hardcore, and I’m 35 and I still love mashing it up.’ And I think the reason that it’s that way, like I said, it’s just the way kids were raised in a suburban versus urban environment—two totally different things.
Also including the Orange County ideals of surfing and skating.
They go for it, and they didn’t do that in the cities. I’m not saying that there weren’t great surfboarders or skateboarders that went to Santa Monica that ended up here. Those people just had a total outside life that was different than the usual kids that went to the park and played baseball. That wasn’t exactly what you do in this area, I don’t think. Like my friend was saying, he used to listen to hard-core when he was 12—his brother was telling him about the Pistols. And then he thought he was going to carry it through with the local hardcore that Zed was teaching them at Zed’s Records. Next thing you know the ‘shock’ comes around and those kids came around, and they hit rocks hard. They’d find drugs and get crazy on them. I think they just had to skip a beat. We were, as LA people, already smoking weed and doing dust and having a great time and learning on your own road how to handle life, and drinking beer in an alley. It seemed like that just wasn’t cool for a long period of time in the Orange County thing when hardcore and straight-edge moved in and it seemed like the whole thing. And then there was the other crew that were the black and white crusties, like the Reagan and The Confrontation, which won in ’89 in Maximum Rock n’ Roll as the best single of the year—a Huntington Beach band. They were political, the fastest, loudest, grindiest band, and those were the kids that came into my store and were telling me that Discharge is their Sex Pistols, that’s how they explained it. They said when they were 14-years-old they were listening to Discharge, and The Amoebics, and all this black and white hardcore, and they had to make it more angry and more pissed, drink more and get louder. It seemed like there were two ways. The kids were either grindcore and vegan people, to straight-edge meat eating people. There was vegan straight-edge, but there was also the angry little rich kids in the baggy shorts and the baseball hats that were hardcore, and never let it go. That was just a way of life for them. My friend would say, ‘You don’t understand, when we grew up, it was like, ‘Mom, dad, I did all the dishes, I ate all the food off of my plate, I finished all my homework. Can you drive me to the show?’ Parents were like, ‘Okay junior, should we pick you up after?’ All you would do is go let out your aggression. You can’t come home fucked up ‘cause mom and dad are going to pick you up. You can’t be climbing through a window and acting crazy, you’ll probably be slated off to a mental board and your parents won’t even deal with you. But it seemed like that was just the way it was. There was a thing they would call Chore Boys, and it was all the kids that were like, ‘We’re going to listen to hardcore and get crazy, and then go home and go to sleep in our perfect home.’ And then there were the skateboarder kids, the Duane Peters, and the Lorman, and the Ricky Barnes, and Lucero—all the people I met. When I met them I was like, ‘There’s real people in this town that actually live on their own, wander the streets, drink, get thrown outta bars, and laugh the whole time while they’re doing it.’ We’re not going to jail, we’re not outta control, we’re just loving life. This ain’t no dress reheasal, we used to say that. This is our step in life right now. When I’m on my bed, I don’t want any regrets, I don’t want to be like, ‘I wish I would’ve.’ Don’t hurt anybody, don’t steal from anybody, don’t lie, keep your same chick you had for two or three years. We all know we’re going to take a tumble, we’re gonna get dropped like a bad habit, or she’s gonna cheat on you, or we’re going to do something messed up and their gonna get fed up with us, but it’s ok, let’s just live our lives. There was that crew too, which is like TSOL and the Vandals when they started. Punk was a way of life so much more here like nowhere else, and I don’t think it will ever die because of that. Just like people who grow up in the Marines and they are always Marines. With punk, it’s kind of the same way. Even if you’re a fireman later, you always remember…all I hear from 50 year old men is, ‘Yeah, Social D over at the Casbah,’ or Black Flag or whatever. It’s like, they still live that. So Orange County is a totally different type of world from anywhere else.
What do you think about the scene nowadays? Any venues you like?
I’ve always thought, as far as Orange County, a venue will never last. There will never be a club that stays punk—the city will snuff it. It will always have to move. It will be like little ants just finding new places to go. As much as you try to water it down or get them, the ants are going to come out in the sunshine and find where to go. That’s the biggest thing, there’s no traditional nightclub and nothing old that was around. It all gets snuffed out. It’s a shame, but it does. And that goes for anyone trying to do an all-ages show, but this is such a conservative town that I don’t think people will ever have a place. Detroit Bar had to change ‘cause there was no way what it used to be, when it was Club Nazi, or Club Mesa or whatever, would last. It was tough and there was blood everywhere and guys with swastikas across their neck, and those guys were the bouncers and they were supposed to win every time. They never got in trouble. They were the bouncers and you did what they said. If they didn’t like someone, you had to leave, and there were people that backed them because they were homeboys. Gangs and the culture that Orange County is against, they’re exactly kind of like, but in a white way. You go to the wrong club in LA, it’s because you’re in the wrong territory of a gang area. That’s pretty much the same thing here, but in a different way. Club Mesa couldn’t stay the way that it was going. As strong as it was staying in that mode, and holding true during the whole Fuck Dolls, Stitches, and that whole revival of punk that came back, it had to die out. That place had to get overtaken with some art form. And it stays there because it’s art form now.
The indie movement.
Yeah, it’s like everywhere in Long Beach but Alex’s. You can play any kind of music at those places, but they frown on any kind of hardcore because people get violent at that shit. It let’s out aggression. But the scene is always going to stay. There’s always going to be a scene out here, I believe.
How could there not be a scene of some sort in Orange County when you have so many diverse sections?
And it’s so remembered and traditional. I mean, there’s movies about the Orange County punk scene. The Adolescents, Black Flag, bands that came from near the water. It doesn’t have to just be Orange County. TSOL, Social D, Vandals—you could just go all down the line and there’s 30 or 40 bands like that. Being a punk in the LA part as opposed to the Orange County, those guys were a lot bigger than us. When I was at shows in LA, I was in the corner wanting to talk to some old homeless guy who went to the punk shows before that. I wanted to learn from that guy. Seemed like when the Orange County people came, they didn’t want to learn, they wanted to stampede. It was like, ‘Oh we’re gonna get out some aggression.’ They invented slam-dancing. The whole term is Orange County. It’s a living, loving thing out here.
Was there a time when you were working directly with venues? Ticket sales or anything like that?
Yeah, we’ve done ticket sales with the Galaxy in the older days and the ‘90s. It never seemed to follow through ‘cause tickets were already going computer-wise. And because we didn’t barcode, no one wants to deal with guys who are going to do cash—even though we’ve never fucked up or messed up. Is it about 8pm?
It’s probably right around there.
Yeah, ok, it says 7:09 on the clock over there and I don’t change the clock. Actually my phone would tell me.
We talked about ticket sales going digital. How do you think the digital movement has affected the industry?
It kind of booby-trapped everyone into making it really rough for kids to get ticket at fair prices. They have to pay a service charge, they have to have a computer, they’ve got to have a credit card. They’ve gotta do these things or have their mom do them and they’ve got to have them done. They can’t go, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna go to LA for the weekend and I’m going to go buy some tickets at the Palace and go get the tickets with no face-value, just straight across. We do that for our shows. The tickets are $35 for the punk rock thing, plus a service charge online, or you can get them here for $22. Gotta have cash, but you get them for $22. It’s amazing how big shows don’t do well at all. Everyone just does it through the computer, zip, pop, have their number verified on their computer, print up their e-ticket, and go do it. Like, we have punk rock tickets, and I’m telling you that everyone is gonna call, and I’m gonna get at least 500 phone calls Saturday morning and Friday night asking for tickets. I feel like saying, ‘Are you serious? You had to come home from work, make dinner, take a shower, brush your teeth, have a few drinks at a party, and want to pick up your tickets now, when these bands are getting f-ed having to pay to play? The bands have to go and pay the promoters, and they have to pay to play if those tickets don’t sell. It seems like very few people buy tickets ahead of time. Everyone is so used to a credit card and a computer and everything at the tip of their fingers, they think they don’t have to rush. It’s like, there is no way on earth that I should have 80 tickets for the punk rock thing for $22, when they’re broadcasted everywhere else as $35 plus the service charge. You would think it would get around that Vinyl Solution has these tickets. We put them on Facebook, we did them on all of our social network stuff saying come help the kids, buy tickets, they’re only $22 a piece, cash only. I know it’s going to be insane Friday. I’m going to want to throw my phone through the window, ‘cause every time we do a show—like we had Fear tickets and they had to pick them up the day before, but we had 50 Fear tickets for The Observatory. He’s trying to break us into The Observatory. Like for HFL, he brought us tickets—no one has come to buy them. Even that I thought would sell hundreds ‘cause HFL is from across the street here. But you can go to The Observatory and get them now. It hasn’t affected me, and pretty much credit cards have been going fine since almost back when I opened this place. It’s kind of the same effect, but I did use to sell tickets way better in the glorious ‘90s.
Before the days of the iPhone.
And that’s probably just a habit. I can’t live without this thing (holding up iPhone), and I do everything with this, but I do not buy or do anything with credit cards over my phone. I know it’s probably stupid and everyone else does…
Seems safer not to process that type of information through a cell phone. Although, they definitely are convenient…
They’re perfect. Google answers all your questions and is great. They get real personal with you, but I’m sure iPhones do the same. But Apple I finally got brave with, ‘cause I was always scared of Apple, but somebody finally told me, ‘Just have some confidence and realize that the Apple phone is only as smart as you are.’ I just laughed thinking, ‘So if you’re stupid, you can’t do it. I’m not going for that. I’m not telling myself I’m stupid. I’m gonna learn.’ So I practically started touching everything and realized that I can go back and it’s ok. Now it’s like I never want to go back to a PC. But now it’s like, ‘What the fuck, I can’t get my Google? Google tells me everything!’ A friend of mine, Lee, who knows everything and he doesn’t use computers, him and I have books and books and we just sit at bars and we talk about and read Mojo every month. We talk about it and get totally amazed at the stuff that Mojo talks about. That magazine is like our little Bible. On the 8th it’s out, we’re going to go pick it up. If I don’t have my kid, I’m gonna go to the bar and get ripped and just read that thing all the way through. Four days later, we’ll meet at a bar and are like two little girls talking about, ‘Did you read that article about so-and-so? Can you believe it?’ It’s just really nuts because that’s just the way we are. But we learn those facts, we read those facts from that magazine, and that’s important to find out what Ian McCulloch said about Joy Division at the time, or what he honestly thinks of them now, or what he thinks of his people. They always have the 20 years later articles about this and that, and there are reissues and new books and new movies, new DVD’s and documentaries that come out and it just gets crazy. It’s like we’re the two happiest kids in the world on those days. And it’s really frustrating when there’s a kid younger than us telling us something when we’re talking and I’m like, ‘I know more about Johnny Thunder, I’ve seen him like six times. I was the number one collector in the country, I’ve talked with him, shared cigarettes with him, I’ve drank with him, flown to visit him. You know more about him than me, according to your computer. You just check that, then say things.’
Facts have a certain perception, according to who is writing them.
That’s what Lee is like. Now you can’t argue too much because there’s people on top of your shit, but when Wikipedia came out, it was a liars club. I’d see stuff and know, that’s not true. Many people have said it, but someone said it recently, like Lux (Interior) said it as a matter of fact, ‘Oh I died? It must be true.’ When they would interview him, people would ask, ‘What did you think of that great rumor about you dying?’ And he’d go, ‘Well it must be true, right? I’ve died like six times, on drugs I’ve never even done.’
People love their gossip.
It was like that when I heard he really died. Someone told me on the internet or texted me and I was like, ‘Good one,’ and just kept driving and didn’t even worry about it. Then I called Lee, and Lee was like, ‘Let me find out. Well according to the Cramps fan base, it’s true. They’re not accepting any friends, do not show up at the funeral, and all this stuff.’ I asked, ‘Can you say you’re sorry or your regrets?’ And he said, ‘You can, but she (Poison Ivy) isn’t acknowledging anyone.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not arguing with you Lee, you probably know what’s going on. I guess he did die.’
What would you say the role of the record store is today?
I’ll use a perfect example, Record Store Day, everyone wanted the five hottest things; the Jack White or whatever, the Bruce Springsteen, the Devo Live double album, it doesn’t matter what it is. It seemed like that was what my phone calls were all day. People were out chasing an Easter egg, like, ‘I want that Wonka Bar.’ People used to buy records when they liked them. They didn’t have to be told that it was cool and time to go do this. I’m not against it, it’s the greatest idea, I’m happier than a pig in shit for Record Store Day, but at the same time, why do you gotta be reminded? Why does it have to be like rat to cheese, let’s go get it, it’s on the internet…? I dig the help-the-independent-stores thing, don’t get me wrong, but why do we have to be reminded? We do that for McDonalds. We do that for Coca-Cola. Let those guys put commercials out for you to go remember to have a Coke everyday, or go eat at McDonald’s three times a week.
Everything is a brand these days.
Art shouldn’t be like that—but even the commercials are art, aren’t they? A witty jingle of a McDonald’s commercial is gonna get you to buy their food. I’m gonna say that the good things about the records is that it’s opened people up, because so many people don’t have genres or categories or closets anymore—they don’t have to be put in the punk rock closet, they don’t have to be put in the new wave closet, they don’t have to be put in a jazz closet. Hip-hop artists like everything and if it has a cool riff, they’re gonna try it. They’ll put a Metallica riff next to a Cramps riff, next to a Sugarhill riff, next to a Miles Davis. But I wish people had the attention span to listen to the whole record because that’s when you really love music is when you own entire albums—and you look at them and feel them and you’re sitting down with your drink. There are a couple things better than that, but that’s a really good feeling…of alone time…that lasts. No one calls me after 10pm. You can pretty much guarantee. I could answer that phone but I’m busy listening to records or doing laundry. I’m busy, I’m not gonna talk on the phone. You can get me tomorrow.
(Steps away to check out a young male customer at the register.)
O’Connor (To customer): Great fuckin’ record man.
O’Connor: I went and saw them just recently with Paul Collins Beat.
Customer: Yeah, I’ve seen Peter Case and he’s super good.
O’Connor: This is one of my favorite singles I’ve gotten rid of a good 80% of my pop singles, but this one, no way.
Customer: Yeah, as soon as I saw it…I thought, I can’t pass it up.
O’Connor: The live stuff, the studio stuff, it’s just the best pop where you don’t get tired of it. Alrighty, you doin’ a card?
O’Connor: Okie dokie. You’re all set, catch you later.
Customer: See ya later.
As a record store, how do you picture yourself? I mean, you have two young guys like that come in, cruise around the store, and probably find something that they might not find elsewhere.
Yeah, that’s kinda what it is. I mean, that kid is a really open-minded type of kid. You never know what he’s gonna buy. He used to be the most fashionable, best looking little punk kid. He was in a really good band and he’s really witty and smart. Punk was really exciting to him and he liked all the new punk just as well as the old punk, then he started getting into the new-wave as well, and now he’s crossing over to just picking up stuff. He’s still getting records at least once or twice a week. He’s not a rich kid, but he can afford a record or two and he always supports the scene and always tries. And those kinds of people are always really good. Just three years ago, which is decades ago to him, but three or four years ago, he was just picking up CDs and shirts all the time. He’s really smart and he knows music, but in the last couple of years, he’s been buying records like crazy—and an array of them. It’s all over the place, you never know. Like, he bought a $20 record, and that’s kind of outlandish for him. He doesn’t buy too many reissues that are new, which is a big deal. But he’s like a lot of people, they like dollar and five-dollar records, for the most part. I sell those better than anything, unless it’s the new Tom Waits or Cramps or some really profound new record that comes out that people wait for. That White Stripes guy, if he puts out a record—like today, all I got was phone calls for his new record. I hate to be a dick, but that’s not my forte of music. Those people aren’t my people. I’m not going to chase that goose egg. When I was younger I would be all over it. I wanted everything new, I wanted every customer, ‘cause I remember when Nirvana was coming out and I was like, ‘Man, I fucking hate that band,’ and I could do that in LA ‘cause there were so many stores, but out here, people want to give me their money because this is their store. It’s like, ‘Don’t make me go to Bionic, and I don’t want to go to Tower enough to buy that record. Even if it’s more money I’d rather pay to buy it from you.’ It made me feel like, I gotta get on the ball here. I gotta get whatever they want. I’m not making money like I used to, but it feels like my store more than ever in my life. It’s my absolute passion and love, and I love getting things for people and doing a lot of important releases, but now that the money is so hard and I’m not making bricks of money. It used to be that I wanted to get anything for every customer. Now it’s like, I want to get what I think my customers might like the most. I just want to make the people who support me happy. I don’t want them to say, ‘Pretty much you’ve got this, but you don’t have this.’ I want them to feel like they know their home-cooking, you know? They’re not going to change on me. Well, they’ll mature, but they’re not going to change and they come here for a reason ‘cause we suit em’ and people like that. I kinda know if, for instance—whether it’s a Bags record or a issue of the new Tom Waits, or Townes Van Zandt--that’s more important for me to have at this store, than to have the new Jack White. It beats me. It beats the hell out of me—Record Store Day—when I know I’m not going to get those things. Literally, somebody said, ‘I can’t believe you don’t have the Social D on yellow vinyl for Record Store Day.’ I had to be like, ‘Look, I ordered 40 of those, and I got zero. I thought for sure I would get that yellow vinyl for Record Store Day.’ I bet they’re off in Massachusetts, at the one-city one-stops you know? Or all around the colleges. That record was #2 or something in Billboard charts for alternative music. It was Record of the Year and stuff. They have billboards on the side of the freeway and stuff like that. And you know what, that kinda hurts when you’re like—I don’t mean to be cocky—but kids like us built that shit. I’ve sold thousands of that, and this is what we get on Record Store Day? A big fat goose-egg?
That seems to be the industry in general.
It is, and that’s ok. You don’t want to get your feelings hurt, but that’s why I’m saying I’m trying to stay and not throw any change-ups at my customers, and try to make a new one stoked. It’s great, I love to see these people. I just feel like their heads are opening. I’m never gonna make fun of a kid in art. I love the whole idea. I love that you’re different, I love all that. When you come into my world and all of a sudden vinyl is cool, I’m never going to mock someone for that. It’s just the greatest thing and it’s one of our last hopes. I’ve always said of life that, the day that art and music and literature is gone—basically art—freedom of speech is gone, this world is over. We think that, because of art, that it’s a free world. But when that gets taken, it’s going to be an ugly, fucked up world and we just can’t let it happen. So I just praise God for anytime that any person does anything different. When I was younger, I’d make fun of like, ‘Dumb fuckin’ rich kid with his Capezios and legwarmers, what a mannequin.’ Not only could I never afford that, but I never wanted to be like that. As a punk, you didn’t want to be like that. You wanted to wear your torn up flannel, you wanted to have orange hair, and it wasn’t even bad to get beat up, you just kind of expected it. And you hated people that wanted to be cops one day. But as you grow up, you realize we need all these different people in our lives. It’s so beautiful to see that two people can hang out, and be so different.
If someone new walked into the store, and they had no clue about the scene, what would you suggest for them to listen to?
I usually have to talk to them for a little while and get them warmed up—see where they kind of stand. They have to have some kind of category, whether it’s The Doors, or the Sex Pistols, or Elvis Costello, or power-pop. I need a general idea of what kind of the power-pop you like, then I’ll lean them towards that. I usually just start walking around the bins and start flipping through, ‘cause it doesn’t come to me until I’m looking through records, and then it’s like a fire in my head and I can just start nailing them. But it takes me a few minutes to talk to them. I don’t just lump someone into a category.
No two people go after exactly the same thing.
If you say you like stuff like David Bowie, I’m gonna start throwing you things like Roxy Music and stuff like that, and just keep going ‘cause that’s what I grew up on and that’s what I’m into. I’d throw Queen at them, and if I see them shying away, I’d be like, ok, you’re more into the Rolling Stones, so let’s try Faces. Or, you’re more into guitarists, I’ll throw you over to the Ted Nugent. Maybe you like some songwriters, so go for Bob Dylan. Or if somebody said they wanted something new and they liked Nick Cave, I’d say grab the Grand Elegance. If someone said they liked new-wave keyboard synthesizers, but I want something new, I’d tell them to do VUM. I have stuff to push them into of newer or brand new stuff. Some people want to know something new, some people want to know old that like new, and then I do the opposite. If they said, I really like that VUM record that you turned me onto, or I really like that Grand Elegance. Well I can tell you right now that VUM listened to a hell of a lot of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and they listened to a lot of Suicide. And I’d tell you if you’re into Grand Elegance, they listened to a lot of Nick Cave and Velvet Underground. Then we’d just go from there, and then I’d take a look around and pull something out of my head that is somewhere in between that that kind of would surprise them, or maybe not. They might be like, ‘Oh I like that other band, but I don’t even know, who were The Velvets?’ And then they hear them and they’re like, ‘Oh I love The Velvets.’