Today marks 3 weeks since Easy Street Records hosted its last in-store performance and shuttered its Queen Anne location’s doors for good. To reminiscence about the loss of one of our independent, locally-owned shops, we have a special guest contributor – Tim Shields was at Easy Street on their last night, watching Yo La Tengo and all of the evening’s events, and he wrote the following article that he’s shared with Queen Anne View.
Easy Street Records, January 2013
Soon-to-be Chase Bank, February 2013
Seattle Bids Farewell to a Musical Institution
by Tim Shields
There were tears. There were goodbyes. There was a marriage proposal. And there was Yo La Tengo, a band underappreciated by the mainstream yet undeniably influential in its own musical community. It was the perfect band to bid farewell to Easy Street Records in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle on Friday, January 18th, 2013. For more than a decade Easy Street has been a staple of the Queen Anne neighborhood and a bastion of Independent music, however, due to the landowner’s request for a ten-year lease, it will soon become a Chase Manhattan Bank.
Waiting anxiously in the crowd were preteens with their parents, gender confused 18-year-olds with braces and lipstick, 20-something hipsters in hunting caps and tight jeans, and balding middle aged music-aficionados who possessed the kind of encyclopedic musical knowledge you’d expect from someone who’s been browsing the record bins for more than a decade.
By the time the crowd started pouring in, most of the record bins had been, or were in the process of, being removed. In the rear of the store behind a sliding garage door was the stage that supported and helped launch countless bands, from Pearl Jam side projects, to Modest Mouse, The Shins, Brandi Carlile, The Head and the Heart, and Macklemore (before he met Ryan).
For more than an hour the crowd waited shoulder-to-shoulder as foreheads beaded with perspiration and colored shirts ran dark around the arms. Shortly before 7pm, Matt Vaughan, who 12-years prior introduced Elvis Costello to open its doors, stood emotionally before the capacity crowd of 500.
He thanked the countless people who supported the store over the years and gushed at the incredible time he had. Behind him on stage were his past and present employees, some who flew in from as far as Los Angeles and Tennessee to attend the historic closing. Arm in arm they stood like proud cast members on closing night of a successful Broadway run; some in tears, some in embrace, some in awe as they moved between the joy of what they experienced and gained and the sadness and lament of what they were losing.
When Vaughan finished speaking he handed the microphone to his second employee, Troy Nelson. Nelson told the crowd how he was scrubbing toilettes before Vaughn hired him as the second employee at Easy Street. “I’ve been working here for as long as it takes one person to begin Kindergarten and graduate high school,” he said. He told of how he parlayed his job as an Easy Street clerk into a DJ gig at the local cum world famous radio station, KEXP. He spoke of how he met incredible people and loved seeing the spectrum of humanity that passed through the record store’s doors, including neighborhood babies and dogs.
And then he told of how he met his fellow employee, Mackenzie Mercer; how they became friends, formed a band called The Young Evils, started dating, fell in love, and got to travel the world together. Then, before 500 friends and strangers, he got down on his knee and asked Mackenzie to marry him.
They collapsed on the stage in tears.
When the cheering died down, from the huddled mass of lips and limbs entangled on the stage floor, Nelson exclaimed, “I think she said yes!”
Moments later, with no words of personal introduction, Yo La Tengo took the stage and ignited the eager crowd with a thunderous rendition of the Rolling Stones’ This Could Be the Last Time.
For an hour Yo La Tengo did what they do best; hypnotized the audience with a raucous, distorted, and cerebral set from their latest album, Fade—a set that ranged from droning guitars, to heartfelt three-part harmonies, to psychedelic melodies, to screaming guitars with feedback and delayed reverb, finally encoring with a 12-string acoustic lullaby.
At two points during the one-hour set, from the right corner of the stage someone began launching Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys into the crowd. Those of us who saw them coming threw up our hands like parched refugees while others shielded themselves as if the tall boys were incoming ordinances. iPhones were held high—snapping, uploading, and tagging images. It felt as if we were in the basement of our best friend’s house while his or her parent’s had gone away for a three-day weekend.
When the set ended some patrons left, others socialized and milled about while bargain hunters pilfered the remaining CD and record bins. Still others stood around wide-eyed and nostalgic, soaking it all in as if the most important ballpark of their youth were about to be demolished. 45-minutes later, in a scene straight out of the no doubt soon-to-be spin off of Portlandia, Seattletopia—the progressive land where gays can wed and marijuana is legal—Chaotic Noise Marching Corps, a local uniformed marching band, paraded through the store as patrons flocked in tow.
It was a party.
It was also the end of an era and in a lot of ways symptomatic of the new Seattle boomtown reality that Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing has helped create; out with the old to cater to the new. On another level it’s becoming a typical ceremony of the digital age, a changing of the guards as consumers increasingly ingest music and media by download and stream. The sad thing is, in a generation kids might not understand why you would go to a music store to buy music when you can download it to your phone during Algebra class.
As Ira Kaplan, lead singer of Yo La Tengo made his way to sign autographs, I asked him what he thought the closing of an epic store like Easy Street Records meant to Independent music.
“I mean it’s…you know maybe…” he stumbled to wrap his head around the thought and then poignantly added, “I sometimes think and hope that bad things have good consequences and that they are there to remind us that we’re missing out on something, that we’ve lost something, and that maybe we’ll take what’s left more seriously.”
Looking as if he had taken a victory lap, Vaughan was all smiles at the end of the night. “Nothing could have been better than having one of my favorite bands play here tonight. I mean after 25 years of making incredible music—to have the purveyors of Independent music here on a night like this—that was something I could never have dreamed of.”
While Easy Street Records still has a location in West Seattle, I wanted to ask Matt, where do we go now? Or better yet, where do we go from here?
Tim Shields is a freelancer writer getting reacquainted with Seattle. In April 2011, he threw everything in storage and traveled extensively for 15 months throughout India and Southeast Asia, eventually residing in Berlin. He has written for the Seattle Times and BBC Travel and is currently working on a novel about serendipity and travel.