The Bargain Bin

The Bargain Bin: of Montreal’s SATANIC PANIC IN THE ATTIC

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Working at a record store taught me a tragic truth; no matter how much you love your favorite albums, they’ll never be as popular as they deserve to be. Each month at Merry-Go-Round Magazine, I dust off some long-overlooked records, revisit my pretentious past, and explore how this music forever etched itself into my history. Eventually, all your memories get marked down and thrown into The Bargain Bin.

“This semester, you’ll all be shadowing someone with the career you hope to be in someday,” Mrs. Stein, my College Comp teacher, said. She was the bane of my existence during my final year of high school. Everything that happened in my life from 2004 until now is technically all her fault.

“I want you to write about the career you want in the future. Give me an idea of what you’re hoping to do or what industry you might be interested in so I can help you choose the best person to spend the day with. You have the next half-hour to write.”

I was 18 and very sure I wouldn’t amount to much. I didn’t know how to spend the rest of my working life because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working. How was I supposed to make that decision at such a young age? I didn’t have the support behind me that would help me explore my interests, and my anxiety held me back from doing it on my own. All I wanted to do was to surround myself with music, so I decided to write about that:

If I am being honest, I am not sure exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. My mom would love it if I were to become successful as a lawyer or a doctor, and my dad would most likely be supportive no matter what I choose. I don’t have many dreams that don’t involve me having practiced guitar every day for the last 10-plus years—which I have not done. I do know that I love music and have always loved going to record stores. My favorite movie is HIGH FIDELITY, so if money were no object and it was up to me, I would probably own a record store.

Ms. Stein returned our essays two days later. She gave me the full points and scribbled a note: That’s interesting. I know someone who owns a record store.

I arrived at Euclid Records in Webster Groves, MO, a quaint little part of St. Louis County centered around a university. It’s a fairly quiet area filled with old money, one of those places where you’d see teens walking around on a summer night unaccompanied because they felt safe. It’s mostly adorable, but even with the college just up the street, it felt like a weird spot for such an institution. I’d stopped by once to try picking up an application, but the dude behind the counter told me they only took resumes. Until then, my work history included a year of working one day a week washing dishes at a restaurant and a handful of months cutting the cheese at the food distro company my dad co-owned. (I always feel the need to clarify that my job was, in fact, taking 10-pound blocks of cheese and cutting them into smaller blocks, not tooting.)

I pushed off getting a job in high school as long as possible, save for those two short-lived gigs, hoping I would accidentally stumble on something that would make me look cool as hell. Making money wasn’t a top priority, but having my peers think I was rad was. I just needed the right career to land directly in my lap without lifting a finger because I had no clue how to make my dreams a reality. I interviewed at a local chain of record stores and showed up overdressed because that’s what I assumed you were supposed to do for any job interview. No record store in their right mind is going to hire.

Around the same time, I interviewed for the music section at a Borders bookstore. When the hiring manager asked me what the most recent CD I’d purchased was (easy answer, The Flaming Lips’ CLOUDS TASTE METALLIC), I thought, Man, this is easy; I’ve totally got this. She followed up by asking me to recommend another CD someone who brought this to the counter might want to purchase. I could have said any other band I listened to, and she wouldn’t have cared one way or another. I froze before mumbling something about how there weren’t many other bands like The Lips. I realized later that this was a test on upselling, not being a pretentious gatekeeper, so I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t call to offer me the position. I also applied to work alongside my then-girlfriend Blu at Jack in the Box. When her manager said I’d have to shave my goatee if I wanted to work there, I casually told him there was no way I was going to do that and walked out. After that, he told Blu she had to stop giving me free soda cups.

I spent the first few hours at the store shadowing the owner, who regaled me with stories about his decades in the industry. He’d worked at a location of a record store he loved when he was younger, and the owners eventually offered to sell the place to him for some uninteresting reason I didn’t bother to remember. He never had any formal training or taken any business classes, so there were many years of learning on the fly. He was describing exactly the life I imagined for myself. I hung on his every word as he told me how he was friends with Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo, how his pal Bob Pollard from Guided by Voices often stopped by when he was passing through town to flip through 45s, and that when Jeff Tweedy worked for him, you could usually find him sleeping on a couch in the back during his shifts.

He told me about the time he was hanging out at a Pogues show and impressed the famously hard-to-understand Shane McGowan with his T-shirt for the store, the design based on the cover of NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE SEX PISTOLS but with EUCLID RECORDS in place of the band. He quickly drove to the store and back with shirts for each Pogue, which they wore during the encore. “You can’t buy advertising like that,” he told me.

I also asked him if he was still a collector or if being surrounded by records all day made him less interested in filing music away at home. He answered, “The store is my collection, so I don’t have much at home,” but I could tell he was lying.

After our talk, the owner sent me up to the front of the store to hang out behind the counter with the folks who kept the retail part of the store running daily. I connected with one of the managers who had some very Muppet-y qualities: a friendly smile, fuzzy face, twinkling eyes, and a total goofball. We bonded over a shared love of quoting THE SIMPSONS and loving Ween, and we laughed for the next few hours. He walked me through almost everything he did at the store, from ordering products to ringing up customers, determined to have me shadow everything he did so I’d have enough to write about for class. He made the store seem unique, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it.

The Muppet Manager took out a CD from a box of promos and told me it was something he’d been digging lately. The cover featured colorful little drawings, so detailed and strange, like a Bible-themed acid trip. A strange, echoing drumbeat blasted from the store’s sound system, accented by electronic handclaps and off-kilter synthesizers. The singer’s voice was dreamy, so weird and lovely. I don’t know what I was thinking that morning, having only brought a 20-dollar bill with me for a full day spent at a record store, but there was no question that I would be taking this one home with me. It had elements of LSD-laced Beatles or PET SOUNDS if Brian Wilson locked that entire studio of musicians in his bedroom with him, but there were also some weird ‘80s New Wave bleeps and bloops. It felt like an album you had to listen to from start to finish, or you’d mess up its flow. It was a journey. Some of it reminded me of a more experimental The Apples in Stereo—though I didn’t yet know they had The Elephant Six connection. I would have given it a perfect 10 if I had written for a music blog back then. of Montreal’s SATANIC PANIC IN THE ATTIC became the first of many hidden gems I would dig up at Euclid, and what a fucking incredible album to have been the first.

To cap off the shadowing assignment, I sent a thank you note to the owner, and I decided to shoot my shot by asking him to hit me up if they needed any help this summer. He wrote back, “You know, I was thinking the same thing. We have an opening on staff; come in and talk to the crew.” My classmates shadowed lawyers, real estate agents, and other boring shit like that, but I was the only one to get a job offer. That was 20 years ago, and oh, how the time has flown by. I worked at Euclid Records for the next decade, which was probably three years too long, making record store guy my personality, filling my head with music I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, and going on adventures that have often ended up in The Bargain Bin.

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Jack Probst
Jack is a freelance pop culture writer living in St. Louis, Missouri. His writing has also been featured in Pitchfork, Paste Magazine, CREEM Magazine, NME, and The Riverfront Times. He appreciates the works of James Murphy, Wes Anderson, and Super Mario. He also enjoys writing paragraphs about himself in his spare time.

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