1-2-3-4 Go! Records -- Why Record Stores Should Still Matter

Maybe I'm just a casualty of my generation, but I fucking hate digital entertainment. There. I said it. I refuse to buy an iPod, a Kindle, or download any movies that go straight to my computer or television. I mourn the demise of the record store; the video store; the bookstores of my youth; the refuge when things got crazy and I needed a way out; the place where my friends and I could go and hang out and know we were welcome; the place where the music, the book, the video was just one part of the experience attached to memories of real friends I could trust who I'd known all my life. Face-to-face social interaction and good times, that was the true value of these businesses and what they brought to my, and everyone else's, community in a way the disconnect of digital media, and especially social media, cannot.

I was reminded of this on Saturday when I spent the day in the northern California Bay Area. I'd gone there for meetings and to spend the night with friends at the Prima Donna concert in Oakland before heading back home. At the last minute, we decided to stop in at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland, California, a record store that learned to adapt and survive the digital age by adding a clever twist to their business model. For the audiophile, it's the expected treasure trove of vinyl records and CDs, but for the rest of us, it's a cool little hole-in-the-wall dive of live music. Featuring bands from all over California, you can go in on any given weekend and hear great live music in a casual, intimate setting where the musicians interact with the audience and even strangers feel like friends.

(from left to right) Katie of The Phenomenauts, David Fields of Prima Donna, Kepi Ghoulie, and Kevin Preston of Prima Donna onstage at The KerPUNK Festival in London, England.

As the venue for one of Green Day's secret shows last September in anticipation of their upcoming three album trilogy, and a regular favorite venue for Billie Joe Armstrong's son, Joey Armstrong, and his band Emily's Army, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records has quickly established itself as a staple in the Oakland music scene. I'd gotten there on a good night because Kepi Ghoulie, a local punk rock favorite, was performing while they were shooting a music video. As is the tradition of a Kepi Ghoulie show, members of other bands took turns onstage singing and playing various instruments with him. Like a manic game of Tag, one would get off the stage and another would take his or her place, and the music never slowed. The fact that a video was being filmed only added to the intensity and the fun. It was an epic bonus for me especially because I went out that night expecting to just see Prima Donna at The Uptown Nightclub, and ended up seeing Kepi Ghoulie, Prima Donna, who was playing with Kepi at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records before their own show, The Phenomenauts, a rockabilly group with a futuristic edge and one of my favorites, The Dollyrots, and Dog Party, an up and coming all-girl teenage punk rock band.

Added to this was the record store itself. Before the show I was talking to Eric and Aaron of Prima Donna, just hanging out, catching up from the last time we saw each other, surrounded by vinyl records wrapped in plastic, like it was just any Saturday night out with friends. That's the zen-like calm and sense of family a record store produces. And this brings me back to the original point that the subsequent generations after me will never quite understand.

Generation Y, the Millennials, or whatever marketing buzzword they come up with next, have chosen the fast, convenient, easy and impersonal disconnect of the digital download at the expense of the emotional connections and experiences of real-life interactions. I know. I know. It's only a matter of time before I start talking about how I walked five miles in the snow to get to school, if, ya know, they had snow in the South where I live, but I digress. Though these real-life interactions may take a bit more effort, they're infinitely more satisfying and more memorable in the long run. I mean, I doubt my kids will look back on their life and say, "Hey, remember that epic time I sat alone at my computer and downloaded [insert band name here] new album?" No. No we don't. Of course, hanging out at the mall in my youth was also a highlight of a weekend out, so what the hell do I know right?

Check out this interview with Steve Stevenson, the owner of 1-2-3-4 Go! Records: