Sunday, September 04, 2005

Not a Virgin Anymore

I walked through the Virgin Megastore as they made their closing gestures last night, playing Prince songs as the last few shoppers browsed the aisles. After 10 or so years in Vancouver, Virgin has decided having a sole Canadian operation is no longer profitable, and have decided to sell the location and the remaining stock to HMV, whom, ironically, they chased off Robson when they opened. I wanted to feel more than I did – wanted to see if I would feel any sadness as I shopped there on their last night. I checked to make sure no final markdowns had been added to the bins, and that whatever was left there was of no interest – delete bins in such places are usually the most exciting places to shop, and I’ve paid close attention to the Virgin bins this last month. Then I considered: if I were going to be bad, what CD would I want to buy here, for old time’s sake?


What to buy? I've bought my fill of avant-garde jazz lately -- they marked down most of their William Parker, their stuff on Emanem and Eremite, and a ton of European improvisers -- Ab Baars, Michael Moore, Ig Henneman, Available Jelly, Actis Dato; I've already binged on that stuff, and so last night (partly under the influence of Dan) I felt like finding some dark, interesting pop music. I walked up and down, scanning the aisles, thinking of bands to check... There's that overpriced copy of the Gun Club's Fire of Love... and Gang of Four's Entertainment is pretty cheap. Hm. Do they have that early KMFDM album? Blake likes it too. No, apparently not. Did any Residents stuff survive the markdowns? No. How about The Black Rider, by Tom Waits? I’ve been wanting to hear that for awhile, and you’ve been thinking about Burroughs a bit lately -- "The Briar and the Rose" and "Some Lucky Day" are great songs, necessary experiences. I finally put it back -- I can get it easily enough elsewhere -- and settled on White Light/ White Heat, which I don’t believe I’ve owned since I had it on vinyl, deciding I could use a listen to "Sister Ray" tonight.

It’s interesting to me to reflect on the evening, because for all of this time spent over the years, perusing items in the Virgin barn, even managing to occasionally enjoy the experience, not once since it was announced have I felt a flicker of sadness or loss that the store would be changing hands. The corporation has remained just faceless enough that it doesn't feel like anything particularly personal is happening; and HMV likely couldn’t do that much worse a job – with a space that big, they’ll have to fill it with something, and it might well be something somewhat cheaper. Hell, their restocking efforts might actually do us some good... and they're a Canadian company, too! It’s somewhat unfortunate that they will probably look with interest, in deciding what to stock, at the lists of stuff that Virgin marked down and pumped out at $1.99 – I guess you won't be seeing William Parker's back catalogue on their shelves -- but it won’t stop them from making the same predictable mistakes, stocking interesting stuff almost by accident. They’ll most likely do exactly what Virgin did – for example, stocking acts that are coming to the jazz festival, and waiting to see which ones sold (not that all the people listed whose discs I salvaged from the delete bins were jazz festival attendees). So who cares that the name will change? Granted, the kids who worked the tills were often hip, smart, and interesting – I hope some of them will keep their jobs – but other than possible staff changes, my prediction is that the HMV won’t really feel all that different; and even if it does -- if they actually manage to do a worse job than Virgin at bringing interesting stock in -- even so, not much is being lost. Zulu and Scratch will remain the places to look for music, if one actually needs to go to a store. There'll be even more incentive to make the trip there. That's not a bad thing, either.

Interesting to compare these feelings to my reactions to other local losses of late – with the closure of the
Granville Book Company last month, for instance. There, I feel I’ve lost a friend, someone I knew, someone who belonged to the community and was respected. Walking down Granville Street, it’s like I have a phantom limb, stretched out and itching in the direction of that one empty storefront. I have to remind myself that they aren’t there anymore, sometimes -- the impulse to turn in as I walk by will surface, and I'll have to catch myself. I wonder about what the guys will do. I miss bullshitting with Bob or Rod, miss stopping by there on impulse, miss seeing what interesting new items they’ve decided to bring in. With the Granville Book Company gone, I’m one step closer to leaving Granville to the drunken cancer that seems to be overtaking it. The loss of Virgin is more akin to the loss of Sam the Record Man -- remember them? Their husk remains, untouched on Seymour, graffiti on the doors, faded “closing out sale” posters still in the windows; but really, who cares?

There are places to shop that belong to the community, and then there are the corporations that feed off it. We might be content to let them feed, if we can gratify our own needs by that process, but they'll never fully be welcome or wanted. Here's wishing Virgin luck in finding a bigger host to salve its appetite... 'Bye.

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