While there is no comparison between death and the closing of a record store, when the closing of Louisville’s record store Ear X-Tacy was announced last week, I handled the news like a loss of life. At first there was extreme sadness, followed by anger, then an inability to acknowledge Ear X-Tacy’s closing, and now acceptance. Typically, when anything music related hits a nerve, I rush to my laptop and rant out a post expressing my feelings. With this news, though, it only just now crossed my mind to write a post, because writing a post meant dealing with the fact that my record store is gone.
Ear X-Tacy opened in Louisville in 1985, a year after I was born. I grew up in Danville, Kentucky, a forty-five minute drive from Louisville. All Danville had was a Wal-Mart and a “CD store” – really just a place to buy top forty junk and bargain-bin greatest hits collections. But then in 1997, at age thirteen, I stepped foot in Ear X-Tacy for the very first time. I had no idea at the time what the place – and, of course, the music inside of it – would eventually mean to me.
Initially, the space itself was overwhelming. Save for the classics and the acts I recognized from the radio, I had no idea who any of these bands or artists that graced the thousands of CD and vinyl covers were. The internet wasn’t nearly what it is now, and my only exposure to new music outside of MTV, radio, and Wal-Mart new arrivals was my older brother letting me listen to his copies of Nirvana, 2Pac, and The Presidents of the United States Of America. This new universe of music was, in a word, overwhelming. I was lost on my first day there at Ear X-Tacy, and decided to try approaching the music the same way I approached books – by letting myself be drawn in by the cover art and the kind of imaginary soul that would always seem to radiate from the spines as I would search for my next selection.
I slowly walked up and down the aisles of music until my eyes locked on this purple-framed, sad-looking man holding an acoustic guitar. The brightness of the purple and crisp orange font juxtaposed a portrait of a musician in near darkness. I took a chance and spent some my birthday money on the CD. The album was Bryter Layter by Nick Drake, who to this day is my favorite artist of all time. I’m a cynical person, but when I think about that first record I bought, and how random choice lead me to find the masterful songwriting of Nick Drake, I can’t help but feel lucky that Ear X-Tacy existed in that moment to shape the rest of my musical taste and life. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel extremely sad that this experience of pure discovery might ultimately be lost on future generations. You see, music is not just the soundtrack to our lives; it also has the power to change and define them. Ear X-Tacy and all small-box record stores are path creators, allowing you to pick and choose, and for many, shape the years to follow in profound and unimaginable ways.
Nick Drake - Bryter Layter
Years before this, my parents divorced, and my Mom eventually moved to Louisville, which became my second home. Splitting time between Danville and Louisville where I really didn’t know anyone or the city itself, Ear X-Tacy became my place of familiarity. Over the years, probably my most important years of cultural growth, Ear X-Tacy began to mold me into a teenager obsessed with music. Taking recommendations from the staff or hearing songs played over their speakers, the store taught me about Pavement, Elliott Smith, Television, The Magnetic Fields, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, and hundreds more.
I soon went to college, graduate school, then off to Los Angeles to make it as a screenwriter. My trips to Ear X-Tacy dwindled, limited only to the rare visits during Christmas break or while visiting family. Over this time, I became obsessed with vinyl and frequented various record stores in Santa Barbara, Chicago, and Los Angeles. 2009 was a very dark year in my life, as writing work slowed and the cost of living in Los Angeles caught up to me. I decided to move back to Louisville and move in with my brother who worked as a lawyer. Feeling like a failure and not quite knowing what the future held, 2009-2010 ended up being one the best years of my life because of music. I dove into posting as much as possible on WLFY, and gave my brother the vinyl-collecting bug. At the time, I couldn’t appreciate the hand dealt to me, but having a year with my brother Nick, whom I hadn’t seen for more than a full week at a time since 2000, was priceless. Our mutual love for wax became a bond that strengthened our brotherhood. We would go record shopping on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. We went on multiple impromptu road trips to noteworthy, out-of-state record stores. And the night before Record Store Day 2010, we were camped out at Ear X-Tacy. Nick and I were the last two people to purchase items at Ear X-Tacy before they moved from their Bardstown Road location, and gave them their first two purchases at their new Douglass Loop location.
Stickers from our record store visits (2009-2010)
It was during this time when Nick and I met Sean Bailey, an employee at Ear X-Tacy. The guy always met customers with a smile, genuinely cared about everyone, and was living proof that record stores could offer something that the internet couldn’t: a sense of community for music lovers. Sean helped throw hundreds of concerts at the store, including My Morning Jacket, Foo Fighters, Tenacious D, and Queens of the Stone Age. Beyond the big names, Ear X-Tacy acted as the go-to venue for up and coming local bands not only to play, but to sell their music. Ear X-Tacy wasn’t just part of Louisville, it was Louisville. For some, it may be bourbon, horse racing, or baseball bats… but for more than a few, the heart of one of the best cities in America was a record store.
Sean Bailey (Ear X-Tacy Employee)
Where to go from here? I’ve since moved to Los Angeles, and unfortunately was there when the news of the closing broke, and missed out on the store’s final days. I would give up a lot to be able to walk into Ear X-Tacy one more time, buy an Ale 8-One, and walk out with a bear hug full of records. I can’t, and it hurts. Here in Los Angeles, a small record store called Origami Vinyl has become my wax home away from home. With a friendly and knowledgeable staff and its own unique spin on the sense of community that Ear X-Tacy provided, new memories and adventures of musical discovery are being formed. One day, I hope to look back on Origami like I look back on Ear X-Tacy. In that thought exists my reason for writing this. My experiences with a non-living thing, a store, made me the person I am today, and now it’s gone. But there are still record stores out there, and they need your support. Go out and embrace them. I can’t promise it will mean as much to you as Ear X-Tacy did to me, but I can promise you that you’ll never look back fondly on Amazon or a torrent website and think, “Man, that really shaped my life.”
Fruit tree, fruit tree
Open your eyes to another year.
They'll all know
Open your eyes to another year.
They'll all know
That you were here when you're gone.