Earlier this year, I expressed my ongoing grief concerning the absence of my dear friend Tower Records. The years go on and the dreams don’t stop; the void in my life sometimes feels as significant as if it were another of my human friends who make up such a distressingly large congregation of the dead.
If that isn’t morbid enough for you, I’ve got more. If it’s not silly or stupid enough, I’m just getting started.
Ah, but I may just decide to be normal and respectable and mature about the situation. That would be a first, and sometimes it’s fun to try something new.
So, Tower’s still gone and my soul still sustains a painful slap every time I drive by the former location of the Sports Arena Boulevard store. But there is an oasis in this desert of despair that I have not addressed before. It’s far away, but accessible, and is within the upper tier of blessings to contemplate not only on Thanksgiving but every night of the year before beddy-bye.
Their bags say “Buy – Sell – Trade CDs, Movies, LPs, and Turntables” and that’s not saying it all; there are terrific collectible items of all sorts, from posters to tour jackets, and just like the beloved Tower, one hell of a book and magazine section. I must not fail to mention the frequent in-store concerts (McCartney has played there). So, I will not.
Personally, I’m not interested in the concerts. I go up there to get facsimiles of music; not to witness the real thing. What overkill…
I’ve avoided going to Amoeba on Fridays and Saturdays when it’s just a bit too crowded for my comfort and there are a few too many hip celebrities who pop in on their way to some hip nightclub so they can get noticed and gawked at. They usually don’t feel that they have to stand in line at the checkout area and if the serfs who are in line don’t voluntarily relinquish their place (“Oh, please go ahead of me!” they coo), the hip celeb and his/her entourage will just walk right up to a cashier and will usually be accommodated. After all, this is Sunset Boulevard and we’re in Hollywood, aren’t we? Once I witnessed a cashier’s reluctance to fall all over herself and suck up to a very recognizable actress. The cashier used the same reply I used myself a few times in the past when the celebrity indignantly asked, “Do you know who I am?” It should be carved in granite: “I know who you were.” I never noticed that same cashier on any subsequent visit, so perhaps I should thank her here for having taken one for the team.
Upstairs at Amoeba is what I like to call Movie Heaven. The lower floor will generally have a few locations spotlighting some incredibly low-priced selections of DVDs, and one is advised not to pass them by (I’ve snagged complete seasons of series like Desperate Housewives and The Wire for two bucks) but upstairs is the full meal: row after row of the well-known and the obscure, the new and the carefully used, all arranged by genre, director, and/or country. The section labeled “Cult” is a favorite, and the one designated “Smut” is endlessly fascinating with its surprisingly classy international flavor. Bring the kids. The majority of Movie Heaven is DVDs and Blu-rays, but there is also a separate section for VHS tapes and a compact but substantial area for laser discs (which still look stunning on any pre-high definition television set.) The laser disc section used to be mammoth here, and I witness its ongoing diminution with a tender sorrow.
There is a fine selection of DVDs from England which are in the PAL format and won’t play on regular players sold in the U.S. (which are set up for the NTSC format). But you can find dual-region players that play both NTSC and PAL DVDs–I recently found one at Fry’s for under 30 dollars. This substantially increases your selection of videos, as both the U.S. and England have released titles that are unavailable on the opposite side of the pond.
The majority of the vinyl downstairs on the street level is of the used variety, but Amoeba is likely to have new copies of any vinyl title currently in print. And the new vinyl sections in the store continue to expand as more and more vinyl is produced. The classical section is as well-ordered as it is voluminous, likewise the soundtrack department. I’ve never seen more Georges Delerue import LPs in a single place (that wasn’t my own home).
Amoeba Music is extremely popular, so the stock is in constant rotation. You’ll find something new on every visit. One thing the general public isn’t aware of is the special lounge for the store’s favorite customers, who can hang out on couches and drink complimentary cocktails or sodas while watching videos on a wall-size screen. This V.I.P. suite has its very own concierge, a lovely lass named Lisa who has never balked at accommodating my own peculiar needs. Yeah, and monkeys fly out of Amoeba’s butt, too. The public doesn’t know about the special lounge and Lisa because they don’t exist. I made that stuff up because I’m deeply insecure.
Since I simply cannot stand driving to L.A. during daylight hours anymore, I’ve been making my visits to Amoeba special occasions that involve more civilized transport–I take the train. Disembarking at Union Station, I hop (sometimes, if I’m real happy, I skip) onto the subway and get off at Hollywood and Vine. I avoid Hollywood Boulevard (which reeks of wee-wee, especially during the summer) and immediately go south on Vine to Sunset, where a westward walk of a block ends at Amoeba Music. For those who arrive by car, there’s a welcome underground parking garage.
Hot damn–their website amoeba.com is a mail-order masterpiece, offering free shipping on both music and movies.
So, it’s not Tower Records, where I could drive to every week or any time the mood hit. Amoeba is a very special place that I must make special arrangements to visit–but it is a place that seems to know my grief and is willing to do anything it can to comfort me. And at that it has succeeded again and again. Amoeba has stores also in Berkeley and in San Francisco. I wonder if they’d be interested in a certain place in San Diego–a place on Sports Arena Boulevard that carries a bit of history…
Who knows? Good gracious, this is all sounding too much like a commercial plug and I apologize for that if it has annoyed you. But I really, really love the place, and as I say, it’s doing a lot to help fill a empty part of me.
You want a commercial? A real one? One that’ll make your jaw drop? One that I only saw only once on television and yet its insane after taste (figuratively speaking) still haunts me? Dear reader, take the time to Google the product called V.I.Poo and feast your eyes and ears on the latest step in personal products. The world just keeps getting freakier and freakier; life’s parade must have plenty of surprises still lined up and ready to pounce. Keep grabbing the fun stuff.