Indoor Living

Band: Superchunk
Album: Indoor Living
Best song: “Watery Hands” is a great song and the impetus for the piece.
Worst song: “European Medicine” isn’t great.

I’ve been feeling particularly nostalgic lately. I’ve also been very busy with work, so I’ve not had the time to write as much as I’d like in this space. Because of this, I’m posting something to which I’ve linked, but still remains something I really like. I wrote this six and a half years ago, posted it on Livejournal and have done a few edits this week — not for time stuff, as it should still be read as it was written in 2006. Indeed, here are some caveats about the piece:

  • A lot is mentioned about superstores v. indie record stores. This… is less than it used to be, as superstores don’t do the business that the Internet does. Especially not music-wise. Circuit City, for example, is long gone. As is Borders.
  • Indeed, Dr. Wax is long gone. Record stores are dead.
  • Limewire! HA!
  • Yes, there was a debate about “web blog” v. “blog.” It was widespread among journalists.
  • There are actually smaller, independent stores in DC proper. I was living in the suburbs at the time, home of big box stores. Nevertheless, the point remains.

It’s worth nothing, though, that I’m a big proponent of digital media and own a Kindle, as well as an iPod and haven’t bought a physical CD in ages. So, I’m part of the problem. Nevertheless, take a read, as I think it’s an interesting piece of work. Also, remember that a 25-year-old wrote it. 

One of the things that inevitably comes up at a newspaper (even the community paper where I work) is the idea of new words, new slang, etc. Questions inevitably arise about whether we should use “Web blog” or “blog” or some similar new technological term.

I also err on the side of liberalism in those situations because of a professor I had. A Southerner, he would explain why “y’all” was a word. A real word because of its use, its meaning, etc. But, mostly, he used to tell us that English is “alive.” “Language evolves,” he used to say.

Most would agree with the overriding theory, although they might have problems with specifics (most people don’t feel comfortable, for example, with the newest, non-dictionary-recognized definition of “skeet”). But, the point is clear: E-mail didn’t exist thirty years ago, so no one should expect the AP Stylebook or Webster to know how to spell it or its usage.

Evolution/change is a very natural thing, and I think there’s a great deal to be said about it in everyday life. Even the most strident literalist would agree that the Framers of the United States Constitution would agree that, no, there was no radio in the 18th century, so we must take a serious look at free speech in regards to 21st-century telecommunications.

So, the idea of “language evolves” translated to me as “everything evolves.” Only the truly nostalgic or ignorant can idealize the past to the point of hurting the future. I try to be on the train for new technology as much as possible. The future, to me, is very attractive. “The way things used to be” isn’t.

So why do I lament the end of the indie record store so much?


The end is here!” say the signs. The stats are staggering. (I’m quoting directly from Prefix’ Dave Park’s blog entry)

  • “This year alone, 200 independent record stores have closed nationwide.”
  • “While 97 percent of all music is sold at retail stores…”
  • “That 8-foot rap section pays for two thirds of the store to be here.”
  • “1,380 music stores have closed nationwide since 2003. Most of them were independent retailers.”
  • “470 music stores have closed in 2005 alone. “
  • “One in five major-label albums is bought at Wal-Mart.”
  • “Half of all major-label music is sold at Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy.”

The “record-store-as-solely-selling-records” concept is dead. A whole fucking lot of people buy their Nickelback records with their hamburger, VCR and shirts at Wal-Mart. A lot of people buy their computer software alongside their Gwen Stefani records.

Is this a big surprise? I mean, after all, the independent hardware store is nearly gone in the D.C. area; All we’ve got is Lowe’s and Home Depot. Replace “hardware” with “book” and “Lowe’s and Home Depot” with “Borders and Barnes & Noble” and you get the idea.

Hell, even more prevalent is the superstore replacing all the available small stores. In the midst of having a computer place, a TV/stereo place, a record store and a video game place, we’ve got Circuit City. Add in a supermarket, a sporting goods store and a clothing/department store (and take out computers), we have Wal-Mart. Add some yuppies and an ugly red logo and we’ve got Target.

Hell, this trend started about a million years ago with the supermarket’s combination of a pharmacy and a grocer. As a consumer, it’s pretty nice to be able to have one-stop shopping. Not everyone has the time to get their prescriptions filled at one place, their fruit at a fruit stand and their bread at a bakery.

Similarly, Wal-Mart was a huge hit in Columbia, Mo, as it gives the students a place to get everything, from motor oil to pears to underwear to the new Madden game to Fruit Loops to a new basketball to the Evanescence CD. Also, beer.

So, why does the demise of the independent record store seem so scary to me?


One of my biggest fears in life is to stop having any semblance of connection to underground culture. I never want to be caught not knowing who the bands are when they come to the local indie clubs. I may not be a fan of the records (For example, I can entirely do without the Go! Team), but I want to at least have a working knowledge of the bands. Similarly, that I know who Jim Jarmusch is, despite not being a huge fan of his movies, is important to me.

I don’t want to be hit upside the head with an “out-of-nowhere” cultural thing. That’s part of being a journalist ( William Powers explains as such in National Journal), but it’s also being a music snob/college radio person/etc. There’s an air of pretentiousness that’s undeniable to it, and that’s something I’m totally comfortable with.

Which brings me to 7″s. I have a decent collection of 7″s and I even recently scored two interesting finds (The Half-Handed Cloud/Sufjan Stevens split and the famously out-of-print Coctails’ “Songs for Children,” which includes their wonderful version of “Frere Jacques”).

Maybe it’s just my place in life (outside any sense of interesting rock snob culture, working in a yuppie community for a family-centric community newspaper), but it seems like 7″s have gone the way of the dinosaur. My two and a half years of being PD at KCOU involved a lot of writing and re-editing our music training manual, and writing the “R’s” section with a yearly increase of the explanation of 7″s. By my senior year, it just seemed that most people didn’t know what a 7″ was.

Personally, I used to peruse the 7″s rack at Dr. Wax, an awesome record store near where I grew up (and one I go to whenever I visit Chicago). At the time, 7″s were a great way for fanboys to get the rare and unreleased stuff. I spent many an hour at Wax and on eBay looking for the original Tortoise/Stereolab “Vaus” 7″, Elliott Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing” 7″ (complete with über-rare “Division Day” as the b-side) and the Dianogah “Hannibal” single.

They were also a great introduction to new music. The vinyl singles were a quick, easy way to get acquainted with an unfmailiar band. After meting my friend Fern (who is/was a huge Braid fan), I then went to Wax and bought “Fire Makes the House Grow” for $1.99.

Kinda like an Mp3.


It goes without saying that Napster changed everything. In addition to inciting about a million debates in my life about the nature of cultural ownership, it brought the digital information reproduction problems into the open. While a lot of people expected something like the Google Scholar thing to be the tipping point (you know, not having to pay for “The Inferno” or any of the works of Shakespeare), when the nature of digital ownership ended up revolving around music (and porn, I guess).

Moreover, it brought about the Mp3. The music format is now the aggressive/up-and-coming way for people to get (notice I didn’t specify the verb “buy”) music. Despite the format’s relatively (in comparison to CDs) low sound quality, the ease of getting music through legal (like Rhapsody and the iTunes store) and illegal (LimeWire, the original Napster, etc.) venues made Mp3s an alternative to CDs for the music consumer.

Just like vinyl used to be.


I have a friend who does not claim to be much of a music fan.I can vouch that she’s not a big music fan, but one interesting thing about her is her reliance on vinyl as her music source. Coming from a family of musicians (her father is a music professor/scholar and her uncle plays piano quite well), she’s inherited a great deal of jazz records and has bought just as many. Her vinyl collection, while not massive, is very interesting and varied, spanning Tribe Called Quest, Al Bloomfeld and Monk. She is anything but indie rock (in fact, she finds indie rock to be largely pretentious and dissonant [good example: the only ‘indie’ band she has any interest in is the Postal Service, who just happen to be the poppiest of the indie bands]).

Contrast that with another friend of mine. He is really into underground rock; he likes a lot of metal and electronica. He has a huge CD/Mp3 collection and owns no record player. He bought a CD from Insound (or some similar online record store) and received an exclusive 7″ with it. He has nothing to play it on.

So, it’s not like vinyl is specifically an indie/underground rock thing. Many claim that lot of old records sound better on vinyl (I mean, we all know Steve Albini’s thoughts on vinyl). For years, vinyl had its place.

Just like independent record stores.


The sociological implications of the digital information age (as opposed to the digital age) are striking. As society gets more and more global, we as Americans seem to have moved within ourselves just as much. The sense of communal anything seems to have disappeared as more and more Americans jump into SUVs and ride to the exurbs in search of a big house with a big refrigerator, a grand green lawn and a big TV.

We all live in our own homes, which double as our own castles, our own islands. I don’t know my neighbors at all and I’ve lived in the same apartment for more than two years (although, in my own defense, a language barrier exists [on the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt me to say hello to my neighbors when I walk by]).

I hate to drive and take the Metro nearly everywhere other than work and the grocery store. Whenever I go downtown, I take the Metro; a 60-some seated tube that seats many other humans stuck in the same situation (trying to travel a crowded, pompous city). We come back from bars, movies, galleries, shopping, touristy stuff. We’re all going out to the suburbs from the city (or going into the city from the suburbs or traveling around the city). Hell, I’ve seen people I stood near at a show on the train after the show.

I don’t talk to any of them. I’ve got an iPod and a cellphone with ‘Bowling’ on it. I listen to my music and bowl away. The headphones suggest a certain “get away from me” vibe.


The main rack at CDepot in College Park, Md. is the hip hop rap, so I understand the state that hip hop drives the bus that is independent record stores. Rap is one of the dominant genres in music today and certainly is the best-selling. Any check of the iTunes top 10 tracks list or the Billboard lists would tell you that.

I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that hip hop isn’t the most important music genre. It drives the bus from the suburbs (Lil’ Jon)to the country (Bubba Sparxx) to the inner city (most of hip hop). I listen to a lot of hip hop.

So, I don’t blame the indie record stores for specializing in hip hop; It is the genre that’ll make the most money. It’s just sad when they don’t carry any of the indie records I want and I have to revert to insound, iTunes and eMusic.


Dr. Wax no longer has a 7″ box to peruse. The store has lost a lot of business to iTunes, Circuit City and a recently-opened Target. I still go there whenever I’m in the Chicago area to look around the CD racks; I check to see if I missed any new Kadane-related project or some new noodling that Geoff Farina has decided to put to tape.

If not, it was always fun to chat a bit with Jason and Kyle and the other people who worked there that I knew somewhat, but not enough to actually know. A question about a Tortoise show or a Rainer Maria CD was always met with some semblance of an answer. While not a huge communal thing (remember, I’m only 24 and an introvert), it was nice to be able to chat up music a bit.

I don’t think you get that at the Target music department. You certainly don’t get it at Wal-Mart, where they won’t even stock something that says “Motherfucker” in it.


A good example of the inroads Mp3s have made into the indie rock snob market would be Ben Gibbard-related stuff. While not the definition of an indie/underground band, Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service are popular indie bands; They’ve bands that a lot of fucking people like. DCFC used to be on Barsuk, a very small label, while the Postal Service is on Sub Pop (if not the king of the indies, certainly in the royal court).

Anyway, while still a DCFC fanboy in college, I search high and low for three 7″s from the band. One was a split with Fiver, one was the single for “Wait” (a cover of a Secret Stars song) and the third was the “Army Corps of Architects” Sub Pop Singles Club single. I never got the “Army Corps” one, but was able to get the other two.

Now I can get them all on iTunes.


As evolution goes, the world turns. In the stead of talking with the erstwhile record-store employee, I’ve got message boards on a ton of places (myspace, etc.). In my own personal life, I have a few friends at work who introduce me to new music. In lieu of having a decent college radio station, I read nearly daily and get the gist of the underground from the site. I listen to XMU.

It’s a changing world. Sometimes, it is kind of hard to deal with that.


I’ve gone on too long and you’ve tired of me. The point is that my I got into Superchunk largely after a purchase of the Superchunk “Watery Hands” 7” many years ago (my sophomore year of high school, I believe). I already had “Here’s Where the Strings Come In,” but barely listened to it. I saw the video for “Watery Hands” and wanted a copy of the song.

Remember, this was at the infancy of mp3s and when file sharing only existed on college campuses. So, the only way I was going to get a copy of the single song “Watery Hands” was to either call in a request to WNUR and tape the song from the radio or buy it on a 7” (or, I could’ve just bought the whole album). Because I thought 7”s to be “indie” in some way, I went to Wax, asked the guy for the 7” for the “song with the video that has the Mr. Show guy and Janeane Garofalo in it,” and picked it up. The indie record store and vinyl were the two things that made that possible. That was something that happened a few times and was a sizeable part of my high school years.

That is why I lament the passing of the indie record store.

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  • By An Ache for the Distance | Albums That I Own on October 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    […] I’ve touched on this before, but I really miss the notion of diving into a record’s liner notes. When I was really small, it meant folding out that accordion sheet of paper that came with cassettes, which later turned into the CD booklet inlays (and, at different times, pouring over the LP case and LP inserts). […]

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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