It’s been seventeen years since I worked in music retail. Still, I get angry thinking about it, even today. When I was first hired at a mall music store at 20, in 1993, I felt triumphant; I was working where all the music was. Not only that, I was in charge of “special orders” for customers, which was how I acquired rare objects like Naked City’s Leng T’Che and Frankenchrist by Dead Kennedys. It was all very empowering.
Except, you know, not. I was serving customers in semi-rural Georgia. Not that customers aren’t complete assholes everywhere else in America, but coastal Georgia had some real plums. To wit:
- The elderly man who came into the store specifically to loudly proclaim that Best Buy was opening up in town, and would be putting us out of business. (They did, but that old man was a cunt.)
- Various young Caucasian men who came in sporting T-shirts with slogans such as SILLY FAGGOT, DICKS ARE FOR CHICKS, and KKK- THE ORIGINAL “BOYS IN THE HOOD”. Since Spike Lee’s Malcolm X was a recent release, classy white dudes also wore shirts with the Confederate flag wreathed in lightning, over the words YOU WEAR YOUR “X”, I’LL WEAR MINE: SMARTASS WHITEBOY.
- Employees were required to stand at the entrance and greet every customer with “What can I help you find today?” If you love to be laughed at by black guys, this was Shangri-La. Oh, and don’t you dare flinch after you’ve been humiliated; the other employees will go tell the manager you’re a racist.
- Various black dudes who saw that I was a young white boy, and would laugh in my face when I would offer to help them find the rap CD they were looking for. Of course by the current definition, that’s not racist. I was the wrong color to know anything about that shit, right?
- The whore who asked for a certain Luther Campbell CD, then pointed herself out on the cover with a lacquered talon, going “ME! ME!” Her friend produced a dime out of her brassiere while being rung up, and my (black female) manager refused to touch it.
- A dazed hillbilly who complained that his 95 South CD (“Whoot! There It Is”) wouldn’t play, and when we inspected it, it appeared to have been coated in a layer of congealed bacon grease.
- An endless procession of fake white “gangstas”, flashing made-up gang signs like palsy victims, and brazenly swiping cassette singles. Once I caught one, and his old battle-axe of an aunt came in to read me the full Riot Act, claiming that she managed a Rite-Aid where people stuck things in their pockets all the time by accident. I’m sure that Rite-Aid has been in the black ever since, with a sharp mind like that in charge.
- The fake white gangsta who told me to come out into the common area of the mall and fight him. Why? He asked for an application and I told him we weren’t hiring at the time.
It was not uncommon to work erratic, unhealthy shifts, allowing for no REM sleep before the next work day. I became gravely sick every December, thanks to a never-ending smorgasbord of foreign germs and air-duct grime, and literally only remained standing at the register thanks to TheraFlu. The recirculated air was so filthy, I contracted sinusitis, and every time I’d sneeze, a pint of blood would dribble out of my nose. Once I broke down crying because I couldn’t locate $400 when counting down the registers after closing, and a fellow employee was nice enough to spread the news the next day, so I could be properly ridiculed. I was married, averaging four hours of sleep a night, and afraid I was about to lose my job. Cartooning was officially something I did in my “spare time”, which did not exist. Shit, I’m down, why not kick me, huh?
Any morale at the mall store was brutally murdered. Clerks were required to “take positions” around the store, and if you got the rap section, that meant you enjoyed being ANGRILY SCOWLED AT by EVERY SINGLE RAP CD COVER. The majority of rap CDs were sheep-like; as one did, so did all the others. If Dr. Dre was scowling from the cover of The Chronic, that meant that every single rapper that followed tried to out-scowl him. If Biggie had a cover shot where smoke was undulating out of his mouth, then EVERYBODY had smoke undulating out of their mouth. Then there was the unfortunate contingent inspired by foul-mouthed imbecile Luther Campbell, where the rapper would be surrounded by the ugliest gaggle of hos this side of Brazil. All these ingredients combined to make the most unpleasant CD section one could ask for.
“In-store play” was a living hell if you couldn’t control it. If one of the girl employees got to it, you might have to suffer through Sarah MacLachlan or SWV. SWV (“Sisters With Voices”) was the beginning of the end for vocal ability in R&B. They simply could not hold a note for more than a second without trilling it all over the place like a drunken bird. They stunk, but customers ate it up. Sarah MacLachlan represented another terrible vocal trend, on the white side; that awful voice-cracking thing girls do when they can’t bend a note up to the next octave. This begat Jewel, who begat Dido, and so on, and so on. But the white guys were absolutely the worst.
In 1994, if a white male teenager entered the music store, you could safely guess exactly what he would purchase. It became a bad joke, worse than the black kids asking for the endlessly-delayed Snoop Dogg album in exactly the same way every time, for months (“Y’all got dat Snoop?”). Eventually we just put the albums right by the register, to save time. They were as follows:
- Hootie & The Blowfish, Cracked Rear View
- Pearl Jam, Ten
- Nirvana, In Utero
Sometimes, we had to play the first two albums on that list all day. I don’t have words for the hatred I feel towards them. Certainly nothing I can put on the internet. And all the bands that followed suit over the ’90s, imitating that awful mode of singing- they can burn in the hottest part of Hell. There was a group that shared a name with the worst president in American history. Does that not say it all?
Anyway, Mazzy Star… I think I covered them.