Woke up to the news that Amoeba Music had posted a GoFundMe plea. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given the pain every independent retailer is feeling, but still. This one hurts.
I’ve been going to Amoeba for 27 years now, ever since I came to the Bay Area. I used to go to the one in Berkeley, then, for the last 20 years or so, have been a regular at the Haight Street location. It’s a cathedral to contemporary culture and an indispensable part of the city’s heritage. It’s a museum, it’s a marketplace, it’s an electric vault of creation.
More than any record store still in existence, it overwhelms. Amoeba is huge, and everything is there. All music made by humankind. It’s in the endless racks, it’s on the walls, it’s on vinyl and CD and cassette. There are DVDs, posters, figurines, turntables, T-shirts, books. And yes, there are picture discs — they have that rare Talking Heads/Robert Rauschenberg Speaking in Tongues collaboration; it’s right behind the counter, and reasonably priced, too.
Great civilizations — and great cities — manage to move forward without plowing under the past. Culture must change and adapt and evolve, but we don’t need to erase the past to make that possible. As culture moves ever-more online, places like Amoeba are more and more essential.
We need these utterly democratic public spaces where all are welcome, where browsing and meandering are encouraged, where there is no price of admission, where you can wander the racks for two hours, and leave with a Joan Armatrading CD you got for $1.
Every cliché about pretentious record store people has been proven true, but Amoeba is different. I have no idea how they’ve managed to foster such a warm, hassle-free environment, but they did it, and they live by it. Hippies are welcome there. Slovakian tourists are welcome there. Families are welcome there. The atmosphere is spectacularly hands-off. You can linger for hours and never be bothered, never be rushed. I dearly hope the Amoeba staff makes it through all this and can return when the world is reborn.
For me and, I suspect, thousands of others, Amoeba is therapy. I don’t know why this is the case, but ever since college, when I have the blues — just the blues; that is the clinical term — I go to record stores. The collective hope embodied by every lunatic band, every defiant singer, by every re-issue of a rare Aretha-in-Paris-live-concert-you-never-heard-of — it coats every wound, it heals every ache. And while the smaller record stores are good for minor aches and pains, Amoeba is the Mayo Clinic for cultural self-care.
It would be a shattering tragedy to lose this living repository of 100 years of human creation, where every soul is truly welcome.
So would you consider giving to Amoeba Music’s GoFundMe page, or buying a gift certificate? Here’s my offer for those who do:
[NOTE (4/23/20): DUE TO DEMAND AND THE LIMITS OF DAVE’S HAND AND LOWER ARM MUSCLES, WE’VE GOTTA CALL THIS ONE. PLEASE SUPPORT AMOEBA ANYWAY! AND IF YOU SENT US YOUR DRAWING-ORDER, THEY ARE GOING OUT TODAY AND TOMORROW. THANK YOU!]