Sunday, April 22, 2007

Carol M. Walker 1944-2007

As we all know, this hasn't been a good week for news. While the events that took place in Virginia didn't affect me on a personal level, this sure did ...

From today's Lake County News-Herald:

Carol (Mowrey) Walker

A memorial service for Carol (Mowrey) Walker, 62, of Mentor, will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Maplegrove Alliance Church, 36400 Maplegrove Road, Willoughby Hills.

Mrs. Walker died April 13, 2007, at Hospice House in Cleveland.

Born Nov. 23, 1944, in Cleveland, she had been a longtime Mentor resident.

A homemaker, Carol graduated from North High School and was an alumna of Baptist Bible Seminary and Cedarville College and also a graduate of Lakeland Community College. She was a very active member of Emmaus Bible Fellowship Church in Mentor. Carol was a lifelong learner and a perpetual student.

Survivors are her husband of 42 years, T. James "TJ" Walker; mother, Dorothy (Nimmo) Mowrey of Mentor; daughter, Laura L. (Nick) Marino of North Bloomfield; sons, Eric J. (Leah) Walker of Copperas Cove, Texas and Bryan J. (Jennifer) Walker of Painesville; and grandchildren, Joseph, Emily, Joshua, Zoe, Jonathan, Melody and Jacob.

Her father, Joseph Mowrey, is deceased.

There will be no calling hours at the funeral home. The Rev. Denny Hoynes of Emmaus Bible Fellowship Church will officiate at the service.

The family suggests contributions in Carol's name to Hospice of the Western Reserve, 300 E. 185th St., Cleveland, OH 44119.

Arrangements are being handled by Davis Funeral Home in Willoughby.
When my family moved back to Mentor in 1983, my entire life was uprooted. I was never a "popular" kid by any stretch of the imagination, but I had a lot of friends in Southfield which made the terrifying proposition of going from a school the size of Alice J. Birney middle school to a comparative monstrosity the size of Southfield-Lathrup Senior High School a little less fearsome than it was. Thus, the news that we were moving and that I was to start ninth grade not surrounded by friends but instead by total strangers absolutely gutted me. Worse, we moved to Mentor at the precise start of the school year, so there was no time to get acclimated to the neighborhood or meet new friends before classes started.

Shore Junior High didn't do much to improve my mental state upon arrival. It was a soul-crushing construct: drab, and prison-like, smelling of tile cleaner and populated by a sea of unfamiliar, hostile faces. Alright, it might not have been that bad, I suppose, but a sudden crushing shyness and insecurity had gripped me the minute we left Michigan and stayed with me nearly all the way through my high school years. Despite all of this, within days of starting at Shore, I had found myself a new friend.

I am a bit ashamed to admit that I can't remember anymore what class we had in common (or how we had met otherwise), but we shared a similar interest in strategy games and listening to Top 40 music on the radio, and that was all I needed to make a connection. That new friend was Bryan Walker, and we spent most of ninth grade at each other's houses watching movies, playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and/or Star Frontiers, and just talking for hours about whatever came to our 14-15 year old minds.

When hanging out with friends, it's inevitable that you'll get to know their parents as well, at least to some extent. In the case of Bryan's family, I never knew his father well, but I liked his mother, Carol, pretty much from the instant we were first introduced. She was rarely in a bad mood, always made me feel welcome, and struck me as one of the sweetest, kindest people I had ever met. In addition to sharing the same first name and middle initial as my own mother, there were times I almost felt like Carol was a kind of surrogate mom to me: perhaps sensing my insecurities and shyness, she always made a point to tell me it was good to see me, or that I was looking better or complimenting my speaking voice or what-have-you. At the time, I was usually embarrassed by all of this and would sheepishly blush or squirm and murmur a "thanks," but I realize now that she quietly helped me to reacquire some measure of my confidence and self-image over those first few years when all I wanted was to get the hell away from Mentor High School and run back to Southfield, where I at least felt like I belonged.

I've only talked to Bryan a handful of times over the last few years, and haven't been back to see his old house or his parents in upwards of two decades now. Despite this gap, hearing the news from Bryan yesterday (as well as how long this had been coming) left me just as crestfallen as if I'd seen Carol just last month. For someone so caring and kind to have suffered as long as she did feels terribly unfair, and I feel both relieved for her that it's over at last, and also profoundly sad for Bryan, his father and his siblings for what they have lost.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Spinning Into Oblivion

A record store somewhere where people still care. Kind of.
The following article was shamefully ripped off wholesale from the New York Times.

Op-Ed Contributors
Spinning Into Oblivion

Published: April 5, 2007

DESPITE the major record labels’ best efforts to kill it, the single, according to recent reports, is back. Sort of.

You’ll still have a hard time finding vinyl 45s or their modern counterpart, CD singles, in record stores. For that matter, you’ll have a tough time finding record stores. Today’s single is an individual track downloaded online from legal sites like iTunes or eMusic, or the multiple illegal sites that cater to less scrupulous music lovers. The album, or collection of songs — the de facto way to buy pop music for the last 40 years — is suddenly looking old-fashioned. And the record store itself is going the way of the shoehorn.

This is a far cry from the musical landscape that existed when we opened an independent CD shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1993. At the time, we figured that as far as business ventures went, ours was relatively safe. People would always go to stores to buy music. Right? Of course, back then there were also only two ringtones to choose from — “riiiiinnng” and “ring-ring.”

Our intention was to offer a haven for all kinds of music lovers and obsessives, a shop that catered not only to the casual record buyer (“Do you have the new Sarah McLachlan and ... uh ... is there a Beatles greatest hits CD?”) but to the fan and oft-maligned serious collector (“Can you get the Japanese pressing of Kinda Kinks? I believe they used the rare mono mixes”). Fourteen years later, it’s clear just how wrong our assumptions were. Our little shop closed its doors at the end of 2005.

The sad thing is that CDs and downloads could have coexisted peacefully and profitably. The current state of affairs is largely the result of shortsightedness and boneheadedness by the major record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America, who managed to achieve the opposite of everything they wanted in trying to keep the music business prospering. The association is like a gardener who tried to rid his lawn of weeds and wound up killing the trees instead.

In the late ’90s, our business, and the music retail business in general, was booming. Enter Napster, the granddaddy of illegal download sites. How did the major record labels react? By continuing their campaign to eliminate the comparatively unprofitable CD single, raising list prices on album-length CDs to $18 or $19 and promoting artists like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears — whose strength was single songs, not albums. The result was a lot of unhappy customers, who blamed retailers like us for the dearth of singles and the high prices.

The recording industry association saw the threat that illegal downloads would pose to CD sales. But rather than working with Napster, it tried to sue the company out of existence — which was like thinking you’ve killed all the roaches in your apartment because you squashed the one you saw in the kitchen. More illegal download sites cropped up faster than the association’s lawyers could say “cease and desist.”

By 2002, it was clear that downloading was affecting music retail stores like ours. Our regulars weren’t coming in as often, and when they did, they weren’t buying as much. Our impulse-buy weekend customers were staying away altogether. And it wasn’t just the independent stores; even big chains like Tower and Musicland were struggling.

Something had to be done to save the record store, a place where hard-core music fans worked, shopped and kibitzed — and, not incidentally, kept the music business’s engine chugging in good times and in lean. Who but these loyalists was going to buy the umpteenth Elton John hits compilation that the major labels were foisting upon them?

But instead, those labels delivered the death blow to the record store as we know it by getting in bed with soulless chain stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart. These “big boxes” were given exclusive tracks to put on new CDs and, to add insult to injury, they could sell them for less than our wholesale cost. They didn’t care if they didn’t make any money on CD sales. Because, ideally, the person who came in to get the new Eagles release with exclusive bonus material would also decide to pick up a high-speed blender that frappĂ©ed.

The jig was up. It didn’t matter that even a store as small as ours carried hundreds of titles you’d never see at Best Buy and was staffed by people who actually knew who Van Morrison was, or that Tower Records had the entire history of recorded music under one roof while Costco didn’t carry much more than the current hits. A year after our shop closed, Tower went out of business — something that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. The customers who had grudgingly come to trust our opinions made the move to online shopping or lost interest in buying music altogether. Some of the most loyal fans had been soured into denying themselves the music they loved.

Meanwhile, the recording industry association continues to give the impression that it’s doing something by occasionally threatening to sue college students who share their record collections online. But apart from scaring the dickens out of a few dozen kids, that’s just an amusing sideshow. They’re not fighting a war any more than the folks who put on Civil War regalia and re-enact the Battle of Gettysburg are.

The major labels wanted to kill the single. Instead they killed the album. The association wanted to kill Napster. Instead it killed the compact disc. And today it’s not just record stores that are in trouble, but the labels themselves, now belatedly embracing the Internet revolution without having quite figured out how to make it pay.

At this point, it may be too late to win back disgruntled music lovers no matter what they do. As one music industry lawyer, Ken Hertz, said recently, “The consumer’s conscience, which is all we had left, that’s gone, too.”

It’s tempting for us to gloat. By worrying more about quarterly profits than the bigger picture, by protecting their short-term interests without thinking about how to survive and prosper in the long run, record-industry bigwigs have got what was coming to them. It’s a disaster they brought upon themselves.

We would be gloating, but for the fact that the occupation we planned on spending our working lives at is rapidly becoming obsolete. And that loss hits us hard — not just as music retailers, but as music fans.

Tony Sachs and Sal Nunziato own an online music retail business.

NP: The Best Of D.A.F.