Last night I heard that Alan Vega had died. This got me reminiscing about Record Gallery, the record store in Dallas, Texas where I found Suicide’s first album. While looking for information about Record Gallery on the web, I discovered that the owner, Steven Stokes (a.k.a. Reverend Stevie Fever) had passed on in October 2015.
I’m not sure how many of you lived in/around Dallas, and/or visited Record Gallery while it was there. Some Seattle-ites might have known of it after Steven moved to Seattle in 1989; a few years later he merged Record Gallery with another store, Sound Affects [sic]. He later lived in Olympia, WA and, finally, Portland, OR. His sojourn in those cities, plus his own predilections for synthesizers, and electronic-based music, would firmly place him, I think, among BoingBoingers and so I’ll be quite surprised that there was no overlap between Steven and BBers other than myself. (Though for all I know, he may have had a presence here.)
Record Gallery occupied the second floor above a row of shops on Lowest Greenville Ave. in Dallas. As the name suggests, it served as both a record store and art gallery. Evidently the space was a former apartment, as it had a full bathroom. The main room (I guess the former living space) housed the checkout counter, the merchandise (records and tapes, but also t-shirts, posters, incense, IIRC some software), and the art gallery. There were one or two smaller rooms, displaying some more art – one of these was a black-light room where everything had fluorescent(?) paint. An acquaintance remarked that the black-light room always smelled like inhalants (i.e. poppers), and after a while the room was closed off.
Steven always had some incense burning; someone on Facebook remarked how every time he lit some Nag Champa, it reminded him of Record Gallery.
I first rode there with some friends in late 1986 and, once I figured out the route, I started driving there myself from Arlington. That’s about a 60-mile round trip to go buy some records. I had visited Metamorphosis (across from Fair Park), and would continue going there as well as Bill’s in Richardson and Seldom Seen in Carrollton (or thereabouts), but most weekends I would drive over to Record Gallery to buy at least one record. Gas was cheap (about 80 cents/gal. which was not much, even in 1987); records not so much, especially the imports that Record Gallery sold.
We actually had some decent record stores in Arlington. Fantasia, near UTA, had helpful staff and at one point I applied for employment there (they didn’t hire me). Pipe Dreams had a good record selection but I was always paranoid that I’d be caught up in a bust there (because of the, um, apparatuses that a place called Pipe Dreams would sell). Record Bar in Six Flags Mall had an amazing selection, before the mall was remodeled and the store moved to a smaller space.
But increasingly I found myself in Record Gallery because there was always something new (to me) and different. Also, The Rev. would chat us up if he wasn’t too busy – mainly about music but on one occasion it was about karma. I don’t think he knew I was driving all the way over from Arlington.
The record racks in the middle of the store carried rock albums – mainly psychedelic, prog, or punk records. Around the perimeter, underneath the artwork, were racks of records which The Rev. had labeled “Other” or “Uncatgeorizable” or some such. I remember looking at the back cover of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports there. It didn’t even have song titles – instead, there were geometric patterns. Not long after that I made my first Eno purchase there, On Land. In all honesty, I have not listened (very often) to a lot of the music I bought at Record Gallery in years. But it was a big and important step in a near-lifetime of loving to listen to music that began in early childhood, was reinforced by a school music teacher named Mr. Feingold who I had in New York, then reinforced again at Record Gallery and again when I took a Jazz Appreciation class at UT-Austin.
I can’t remember how I figured this out, but The Rev. was also The Martian Neon Creature, who (using an electronically-altered voice) hosted a program called Radio Soiree on KNON-FM. It wasn’t a well-known show: it was in some fittingly obscure time slot like 2am on a weekday morning.
I had an evidently weird set of adolescent priorities, seeing how I brought several dates to Record Gallery, as opposed to, say, going out for dinner or to a movie – whatever walking-around money I had (from either saving up over the summer, or from working part-time) would go toward more records. (In hindsight I am unsure whether all those who accompanied me were aware they were on a date, or rather, that I believed that we were.)
I went off to college at the end of the summer in 1988 and didn’t visit Record Gallery so often after that. The following summer I received word that Steve was moving to Seattle. I got in one last visit before the Dallas Record Gallery closed for good. Steve re-opened in Seattle and a few years later merged with another store called Sound Affects [sic]. I kept in touch via US Mail a couple of times – I sent him a stack of 'zines to set out at his store up there. Later, I found via his website that he had moved to Portland. In the meantime, as late as 1997 or '98, the old Record Gallery space on Greenville remained vacant, with the old sign still in place (which I noticed when my sister and her husband lived in the M-Streets neighborhood).
I think my very favorite memory of the place was showing up on Halloween in 1987. Someone came up to our group and said, in a serious voice, “Careful, there’s a penguin on the loose in here.” At that moment, the t-shirts on the shirt rack parted and someone dressed as The Penguin (a la Burgess Meredith) stepped through, making Burgess Meredith’s Penguin sounds (“wahhh, wahhh, wahhh”). Meanwhile, someone with a can of silly string was chasing Steve around the store.