Field notes on a funeral dirge: Ear-x-tacy signs off

(From The Louisville Cardinal)

By Rae Hodge–

It’s 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, and there are nearly 50 people gathered in front of a set of closed doors on Douglas Loop, holding an intimate candlelit vigil. They’re here to give a proper send off to one of Louisville’s most beloved independent institutions. Ear-X-tacy, local record store and long-time music scene darling, has closed its doors for the last time.

A few cameras and news crews begin quietly creeping along the edges of the crowd, bending their ears toward the cracking voice of owner John Timmons, whose red-rimmed eyes peer out over the crowd of former patrons and co-workers.

“For the last 26 years this store has been my child. These kids, these employees. I’ve watched them grow up over the years. I’ve watched them have kids of their own. It’s just been a great ride.” He falls silent as his eyes fill.

Where brick-and-mortar record shops across the country have folded under vast changes in the music industry, chalking up closures to the digital sea-change, Timmons insists that he could have survived all that were it not for greater economic downturn, less change in the pockets of patrons.

The first major blow to the business landed in early 2010, when the shop was forced to move from the more expensive address at 1534 Bardstown road to the smaller location on Douglas Loop after the lease was up. Now, barely a year later, the 1534 location is a chain restaurant.

Someone in the crowd brushes the strings of an ill-tuned acoustic guitar. A few notes tremble in the air, then hang. And then there’s nothing. Silent crowd. Suddenly, I picture people choking on their flat-bread fortega sandwiches, as Muzak pumps from the same PA that, in 2000, blasted out the voice of Dave Grohl in merciless spasms over a crammed shop during one particularly sweaty and vicious in-house performance by the Foo Fighters. Ear-X-tacy should have had a better end than this.

Timmons says that though the move was only a mile away, it might as well have been a hundred for some folks. And he’s got a point. That address was magnetic north on the compasses of the local music elite and every teenager within a 75 mile radius.

I look down at my Chucks and realize that I’ve been wearing them since high school, when my Sunday visits to the shop were more regular than my visits to church. The music was better here. Back in ‘98 it was easier for me to deal with smug clerks who were living the High Fidelity cool-kid wet dream, then half-mutter Southern Baptist hymns at 8 a.m. Seeing the employees pack milk crates full of vinyls into moving vans in 2010 was a brutal moment; it seemed as ill-omened and impossible as trying to move mecca.

The crowd is clothed in hoodies and t-shirts bearing the ubiquitous white typewriter-print logo, and someone is passing out nickel-sized black buttons that read, “rip ear-X-tacy.” This is more people than I’ve seen at most funerals. Former store managers, life-long employees and loyal patrons are all pouring out their gratitude between tears for this man that gave them a home.

Can’t blame them for feeling lost. Living your love of music, marrying it into your life and devoting yourself to sharing it with others has never been a paying gig. They’ve got nowhere to turn now except Underground Sounds, who hasn’t hired anyone since before King Crimson bought a Mellotron.

It takes a while for them to clear the parking lot.

Timmons makes assurances that they’ll all get a chance to come inside one last time, and he’ll keep in touch with them. They console each other by asking about food, who has eaten and where they should drink. Some plans are thrown together, and groups begin lumping. They mutter that black-clad graveyard truism to one another. “Let me know if you need anything,” they say. I set my sneakers to board to board, plug my headphones back in and coast back home before the rain starts.

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