Taking a Little Vacation Vinyl
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the song really does remain the same.
By Eugene S. Robinson
There’s video floating around where kids are shown things — a Walkman, cassette tapes, citizens band radios, pagers, LPs — that were invented before said kids were born. The kids’ answers about what the items are display all kinds of whimsy and everyone ends up feeling a lot better about themselves. Or something. But do you know what an LP is anymore?
Mark Thompson, owner and operator of Los Angeles’ Vacation Vinyl, does, and between explaining how it’s an abbreviation for “long-playing” and describing how his place in space works, he waves his hands around his shop, shelves stacked high and deep with old records, older records and new records, as he literally DJs the afternoon while taking inventory.
I sell what I want but with great consideration to what people want or are excited about that’s hidden or underexposed. I’m here to learn.
Mark Thompson, owner, Vacation Vinyl
“If you were a real fan of music, vinyl never went away,” says Thompson. Which is to say while it was widely assumed to be dead — if not after the advent of the CD, then certainly after the MP3, which made listening, or stealing, music as easy as having a smartphone in your pocket — that belief was laid to rest when the purists gained some purchase and, in a fit of nostalgia for how vinyl both sounded and looked, dug in and made places like Vacation Vinyl destination spots.
And by “places like” we really mean “record stores” even if, to hear Thompson tell it, Vacation is much more than that.
“We’re a community store and as such we just don’t want you to buy,” Thompson says. “We want you to participate.” Which is how it’s made sense for Thompson to partner with comic book artists and host in-store shows, discussion panels and book readings. With an inventory that covers core interests — hardcore and metal — Vacation has branched out to finely crafted pop vocals and pretty much anything that people are driven to come and talk to Thompson about. “I sell what I want but with great consideration to what people want or are excited about that’s hidden or underexposed. I’m here to learn,” he says.
Something that’s resonated with the community, which, since it’s LA, necessarily includes a steady retinue of like-minded celebs like Keith Morris from Off! and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Music is and always was about community,” says Blackhouse Records owner Scott Rozell, who still relies on stores. “Places like Vacation provide that community.”
And even in the face of most kids under 18 having no idea what a record store is, Thompson remains undaunted. “I’m not hesitant to share this stuff,” he concludes. “And if you have ears, you can listen to music. My job is to help you hear what you’re listening to.”
To that end Thompson moved Vacation from its initial digs in the Sunset Junction neighborhood to another location in Sunset Junction, with a second location, in downtown, being planned for this winter and, next year, a third location, in Hollywood. He has a theory about vinyl, music and retail that’s absolutely expansive.
As is his riff on vinyl supremacy, which gives a nod to tech things like a frequency range greater than what you get when you listen to digital, the value of 12-by-12-inch artwork and a recycling reality that if you had already invested in a record collection, turntables, amplifiers and speakers, why would you haul all of that stuff away just to be able to listen to your music on YouTube? “It never made sense to me that we were all going to fundamentally change how we experience music in just this one format,” Thompson says.
Which in a nutshell is the paradox of Vacation Vinyl and its paean to just that one other format. But when Thompson switches to a Mingus record and you can hear the room come alive with human? It all makes sense.