Off the record
Throughout the last decade, James "Big Bucks" Burnett has celebrated the oddball (Tiny Tim), befriended the famous (Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page), and championed the dead (Mr. Ed, the eight-track tape).
At a time when the wise and the savvy were peddling compact discs, Burnett stocked his record-store bins with vinyl albums and eight-tracks. He is, at the very least, the consummate throwback. His 14 Records store on Lower Greenville Avenue acts less as a retail outlet than a hangout for the dropped-out and the burned-out--one of the last refuges for Dallas' eclectic and exhausted.
But in a few weeks--on August 14, appropriately enough--14 Records will shut down for good, yet another local independent record store to give up the good fight. Just a few days after Direct Hit Records in Exposition Park announced it was emptying its bins and closing its doors--leaving Dallas with one less record store that "specializes in punk and alternative musical records--vinyl, tapes, and CDs," as the store's answering machine says--Burnett is waving the white flag and pricing his merchandise to sell, sell, sell.
"I'm just not makin' enough money," Burnett explains. "The best the record store ever did was break even. It never made a profit, and, to be honest, it's never broken even that much, anyway.
"The loss was small enough to allow me to exist. I'm just tired of dealing with this all the time. I mean, I don't have to close. I'm just tired of the struggle to try to break even in this God-forsaken town."
Burnett, a man for whom the Partridge Family and the Sex Pistols hold equal value, will now spend his time concentrating on songwriting and fingerpainting. One song he's written will be included on the long-awaited Tiny Tim-Brave Combo album, which Rounder Records will finally release later this year, and he's got a nifty folk-art-rock demo called The Sending, a four-song tape on which he sings and plays all the guitar parts.
14 Records might not have been the cheapest record store in town--Burnett's used vinyl fell somewhere in between Half-Price Books' bargain-bin prices and Bill's Records' haphazardly whopping sums. But the store, which opened in Denton in September 1988 and moved to Dallas in May 1991, did offer a damned fine selection of eight-tracks, not to mention a few eight-track players for those who traded up to cassettes during the Carter administration. Burnett's selection of eight-tracks is, to say the least, eclectic, ranging from the cheesy (most everything the Partridges ever released) to the classic (tapes by Randy Newman, the Clash, and the Beatles).
In the digital age, Burnett was the cheerful anachronism, and now he is trampled underneath the rampaging stampede of so-called progress. As a last-ditch effort, Burnett tried to get into the used CD business, but where places like Pagan Rhythms and the rapidly multiplying CD Warehouses stock the old discs by the thousands, Burnett never carried more than a few hundred. And when stores like Blockbuster and Best Buy began selling new CDs for just a couple bucks more than the used places, 14 Records seemed even less essential to the equation.
"I'm just jumpin' on that closin'-record-store bandwagon," Burnett says, referring to the Direct Hits announcement, not to mention last year's disappearance of Deep Ellum Sound. "Instead of all these independents going under, I just wish Blockbuster would go under...Basically, I kinda predict a little more of this independent closing stuff because stores like mine are hit from two different directions.
"Nobody wants vinyl anymore. I don't care what people say about the vinyl resurgence. It's simply an uphill battle trying to sell vinyl. Collectors Records and Forever Young can do it because they have thousands of records, and I have only hundreds. And my store is possibly a bit too weird or eclectic for the average Dallasite. I know that because so many of them would walk in and walk right back out: 'Yikes! Dead formats?! Gross!'"
The death of 14 Records also means the death of the Tiny Tim Museum, which Burnett has housed for nearly a year. The display of old posters and photos and ancient trinkets, not to mention a package of Depends, will be stored in boxes and mothballed for the time being.
Now, Dallas is left with only a handful of truly eclectic and interesting record stores--such as Collectors, RPM Records in Garland, VVV Records on Cedar Springs, and even Last Beat Records on Elm. They're the independent outlets that still carry vinyl and imports and other assorted oddball rock paraphernalia; the days of places like the old Metamorphosis and the Record Gallery are long over, given way to the chain stores--rock and roll's equivalent to the Wal-Marting of America.
"Basically, my bottom line goal all these seven years was to try and create the kind of record store I might want to bump into accidentally and freak out over," Burnett says. "That's why it's as important for me to have a bunch of back issues of the National Enquirer as used Led Zep CDs. I didn't want to be another goddamned used record store, and I don't want to be another goddamned used CD store.
"I want to inject all the wrong colors into this painting. And in the process of operating this store, I was rebelling against the average retail format in that I wasn't afraid to be stupid. At most record stores, the clerk acts like he's cooler than you, and if anything I believe most of my customers are cooler than me--which ain't sayin' much."
Daisies, reverends,and toads
After so much endless and pointless talk of a music-scene-not-a-scene, here's a lineup that renders the debate moot for an evening: a local-music all-star game (no oxymoron there) certain to bring out the locals en masse. You've got it all--the major-label success stories (Tripping Daisy, Reverend Horton Heat, the Toadies), the should-be famous and would-be geniuses (Funland and Dooms U.K.), and the X factor (UFOFU)--collected on one giant stage, our own Local-palooza (or, more accurately, a Would-Be-Stock).
While there's no denying the attraction of hearing Tripping Daisy and Reverend Horton Heat and the Toadies perform back-to-back--that is, a revisionist rockabilly hero sandwiched between psychedelic pop stars and psychotic pop stars--the addition of Funland and Dooms U.K. to the bill elevates this from a mere Concert of the Signed to a local music event with added credibility. Todd Lewis, Jim Heath, and Tim DeLaughter might be the hearts of local music--the talented men who garner a burgeoning amount of national press, their faces making the occasional appearance on MTV and their voices screaming out from transistor radio speakers--but Peter Schmidt and John Freeman are the local rock scene's souls.
Right now, there is no better local album around than Funland's unreleased disc, recorded in Nashville and sitting in Schmidt's vault--though it now appears the album will indeed be released, with some changes, on the local Crystal Clear Sound imprint Steve Records in the fall. And it's about time: The disc is a remarkable piece of music, its emotions and sounds revealing a range perhaps unfamiliar to those who'd dismiss Funland as "power-pop." For every catchy song like "Angry Girl" or "Spinal Music," there's something like "Spark Loser," which begins as a Bedhead-like whisper, explodes into an unexpected roar, then subsides again. It's a roller-coaster ride, thrilling and bitter and beautiful, so perfect that when Schmidt performed it acoustically two weeks ago at Borders Books & Music, it lost none of its power and actually became more wrenching--less anthemic, perhaps, more a cry for help.
Freeman might well be the anti-Schmidt, his passion for rock and roll outweighed only by his willingness to slay the beast. As frontman for Dooms U.K. and so many other projects, Freeman is unabashed about his love for rock's cheesier side, embracing Journey and Black Sabbath and Adam and the Ants with equal adoration. That he can pay homage to them, deconstructing Sabbath into a polka or Steve Perry into a bluesman or Adam Ant into a folkie, only serves to underline how fine is the line between genius and idiot. So arrive early, stay late and, for one night at least, consider yourself lucky you live in a town that boasts such men.
Tripping Daisy, Reverend Horton Heat, Toadies, Funland, Green Apple Quickstep, Dooms U.K., and UFOFU perform July 29 at Artist Square, next to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Hall.
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