If you want to buy something from Amoeba, you can, nothing’s stopping you. But if you want to sell something to Amoeba you have to stand in a line outside until a man too old to be wearing a studded belt nods in your general direction.
So there I stood, waiting, arms quivering under the weight of dozens of pounds of pulp I wished to offload. Huffing into my mask, I watched as teens wandered in and out, sporting Blink 182 and Deftones shirts which belied their lack of age. They were the target demographic of what I was peddling and they didn’t even know it.
Nod given, I dropped my box off at the sale counter, my triceps still triggering electric currents. I surveyed the scene — it was my first time patronizing Amoeba’s new location but there was, as usual, nothing I had one iota of interest in. A woman walked by carrying a Disney Resorts branded tote bag; a corpulent middle aged white male in a Rolling Stones hat nodded at my Neil Young shirt. “Tonight’s the night,” he declared. “Yeah,” I replied. The only people who patronize Amoeba are tourists or sweaty dudes named Craig who collect Mojos with Bob Dylan on the cover. I should have known this.
I was called back to the sale counter within minutes. The bulk of the weight I had schlepped from my car to said counter was worthless, though my parking was still validated. From a box which contained multiple copies of the September 2001 issue of Interview Magazine, he only bought a Nevermind jigsaw puzzle and a David Bowie photo book I found in a pile of trash outside someone’s house. Six dollars cash, he told me, nine dollars trade.
I wouldn’t say I was aghast, but I was confused. I asked if they still bought magazines. “We have stacks and stacks of them,” he replied. “No one buys them.” I told him I was probably the only person who still did; he agreed.
While I have ceased collecting most things, I nevertheless still have shelves full of magazines — there are few things I love more than sitting on a toilet and bearing witness to what was “trending” in 1995. Magazines, to me, are a tangible reminder of the transient nature of celebrity and the worthlessness of cache; even if I, in spite of my lack of rich parents and access to PR agents, “blew up” and got press, it would be sound and fury, signifying recyclability. Aw, isn't that sweet, I think, paging through a decrepit issue of Spin.Sire thought they’d get a return on their investment by shoving Spacehog down everyone’s throats.
I love magazines because they are the purest form of ephemera, designed for no other reason than to be destroyed. History may forget, but I remember the time Janeane Garofalo was airbrushed within an inch of her life on the cover of Marie Claire, the time Guitar Player profiled Jon Brion in an issue mostly devoted to Dimebag Darrell. I expended a great deal of effort acquiring these totems; they may have no worth to Amoeba customers, they may have no worth to you, yet they mean something to me.
But we live in a digital age, I can hear you say. Paper is over, Koester. Fair enough, but let me counter with the fact that show posters, printed solely for the temporary dissemination of information, still have worth. Had my box been filled with them, my wallet would have been filled accordingly. The only difference I can see between magazines and posters is that magazines contain, well, information about their cover stars. Back in my day (here we go), magazines held minutia about artists I loved which could not be procured elsewhere, snippets of soundbites I’d rapturously study like sacred scrolls. Nowadays, people are content to solely skim the Wikipedia entry of a subject they listened to on Spotify and consider themselves an expert. Minutia has become meaningless. I suppose if Amoeba did buy my decrepit magazines, they’d be sold, hacked apart and pasted on a mood board. People these days want the symbol, not the substance.
I went to the mall the other day — while I loathe capitalism, I love its church, mostly for its unfettered access to people watching. I was shook, yet not surprised, to find that Hot Topic remains the same as I remembered from my youth; there, the years 2021 and 2001 are interchangeable. Tongue studs and plaid skirts, as they always had, took up real estate alongside stacks upon stacks of Misfit shirts. The Dr. Martens store, too, stood out of time. A vinyl copy of the Melvins’ Houdini hung next to Sonic Youth’s Evol as set decoration.
Hungry for more slights, I soldiered on. As the Forever 21 had shuttered (sad!), I was forced to visit Urban Outfitters in order to get my novelty t-shirt nut; all on display were oversized, pre-distressed tributes to Sublime, Nirvana and Metallica, the only tell that they weren’t actually manufactured in the era in which these acts were relevant being the addition of a copyright date below each screenprint. There is money to be made in all this ancient intellectual property, to be sure, but, by and large, the impetus for these items are dead and gone.
If blood still pumps through your veins, you may find yourself the artist to which an “Urban Outfitters exclusive” vinyl can be attributed. There, I flipped through myriad unsold Lana Del Rey records (all Lana Del Rey albums should exclusively be sold at Urban Outfitters, in much the same way all Taylor Swift albums should be sold exclusively at Target; both should only be playable on Crosley turntables, as said turntables will ruin said records). Slabs on which Del Rey read her debut book of poetry aloud (sample stanza, written on a typewriter, as that is the law: “I love u [sic] / but you don’t understand me”) languished in the clearance section. The message was clear, that being things which were created in the 21st century contain less worth than the works which preceded them.
I will never not be perplexed by this — that the youth of today are nostalgic for something they never even experienced firsthand. Standing on the escalator, inching toward the food court, I stared at a teen girl in egregiously large pants with patches on them, patches I remember — Black Flag, Operation Ivy, et al. I read the band names aloud as I stared; she, unlike most people I mutter about, overheard me. “You like?” she asked, posing with pride. I said yes, even though I didn’t mean it.
She was but a child of modern capitalism; the capitalism of today revels in nostalgia for a time in which intellectual property was producible. Today, IP is like energy — it cannot be created or destroyed. In the year of our lord 2021, no one under the age of 48 listens to AC/DC. So what is an AC/DC shirt sold at Walmart, after all, if not IP persevering?
The fact that the target demographic of Doogie Kameāloha, M.D., a show no one asked for but nevertheless streams on Disney+, is wholly unaware of the IP which preceded it is beside the point. Somehow we have all collectively agreed there can be no new teenage doctors on television without referencing the first teenage doctor who appeared on television — somehow, too, we have also collectively agreed that there can be no new “legendary” musicians.
The powers that be must sell Olivia Rodrigo shirts, as the only reason for labels to sign anyone these days is to make a fuckload off the marketing of their image, not their music, but I’ve never seen one in the wild. Selling out is now devoid of the condemnation it once elicited — in many ways, selling out now is the point entirely. You make the music to get the YouTube hits to get the Pepsi partnership.
The modern rehashings of IPs from my adolescence sell, but the originals sell for even more. Had I kept these memories, my miserable teen years and early 20s would have been monetizable. I’d still be bitter, but at least I’d also be rich. My blood runs cold at the amount of then-worthless, now covetable ephemera I allowed to flow through my fingers, sold at a loss on eBay out of temporary desperation. I just looked up a poster I once had from an Elliott Smith show I attended; some fucker asked $200 for it and said fucker got it. (How old am I? I’m so old I got my friend John to take a picture of me in front of the wall Elliott Smith posed in front of on the cover of Figure 8 while Elliott Smith was still alive, OK?).
Perhaps I am simply unprepared for the reality of the fact that what was contemporary in my youth is “vintage” now. Je suis ‘90s kid. Perhaps I resent how easy it is for the youth of today, what with their ability to add to cart or smash that “play” button, to acquire the totems of culture which took so much for me to get. Perhaps I am merely mourning the loss of a culture that was not designed to be disposable. In a world in which everything is bingeable, can anything have staying power? Does anything have worth?
Jesus Christ. Who am I, Carrie Bradshaw? No, she was a fictional character who earned a living wage for asking unanswerable questions. All I know is that, in my day, if you wanted a Nilsson CD you had to special order it from England. Did I wait a month for the Skidoo soundtrack to arrive, only to ask “What the fuck is this?” when I was finally able to listen to it? Yes, and I’d do it again.
Perhaps I just resent my memories being used to “cultivate a vibe.” Regardless, I am old.