IS IT THE PARTY THAT AIN'T OVER 'TIL IT'S THROUGH?
IS IT THE MUSIC THAT CONNECTS ME TO YOU
It's hard to imagine Portland without an Ozone.
No, this is not another write-up of global warming. I mean Ozone Records, the quintessential indie record store that has been in Puddletown for as long as I've been here, and predates even before that, when it was two stores, the Ooze and (I think) the Zone. Its current incarnation, O3, began its going-out-of-business sale this week, and it will all closed up by the end of June. You can still click on its website, such as it is. Who knows how long that will even stay up.
When I worked at Ozone from 1998 to 2000, it was a pretty awesome place to be. The employees were about as snotty and indie as you could get, and we each had our own pocket universe where we were in charge, our own set of customers who came to us to steer them toward their music. I was, of course, the Britpop guy, but I somehow also became the favorite of all the gay goth boys. I don't know how that happened. A few of them were even street hustlers. There was one in particular who always wore the same retro Mickey Mouse T-shirt. When Joe Nozemack and I were on the cover of the Willamette Week, promoting Oni Press as part of their "30 Under 30" article, he told me he had drawn a heart around my face. It was simultaneously flattering and weird.
I remember once an old man came in and asked, "Is this store like the one in High Fidelity? Are you going to make fun of me now?" I replied, "No, not to your face. We'll wait until you leave." There was probably a reason every employee meeting begin with a request that we tone down our attitudes. The owners said they had friend who were scared to come in the store lest they leave in tears. Honestly, such admonishments probably only made it worse. It was probably around then that they had to take the remote control fart machine away from E*Rock and me because we kept hiding it around the store and surprising customers with a long-distance raspberry. Or when we got in trouble for triggering the fake security system when our friends or particularly gullible regulars would walk out of the store, forcing them to question why they would trigger a magnetic alarm.
Moving to Portland in 1994, I literally went to Ozone on my first day in town. I had some time to kill before I was supposed to meet people at Dark Horse, and I made my way to Powell's Books. I had been to Powell's when I had come up to interview the year before, and it was really easy to find. The classic Ozone was located across the street. So, when I was done looking at books, I wandered over. I remember two things about that visit. The first was seeing the subway-sized poster for Suede's "So Young" single. I immediately bought it, and it was the first thing I hung in my very first apartment.
The second item was the only single by the band the Jennifers, called "Just Got Back Today." I nearly bought it, too, because it was on Nude Records, Suede's label, and I think the first non-Suede act to be released on the label (pre-Sharkboy, Geneva, Black Box Recorder, etc.). (In fact, it's NUD2CD, which means it was their second release, right between "The Drowners" and "Metal Mickey.") I didn't end up purchasing it right then, but a couple of months later, when I found out that Supergrass had originally been the Jennifers, I was relieved that it was still there. When the ‘grass came to Portland, they couldn't believe I had gotten my hands on one.
There were actually several independent record stores downtown, sometimes as many as four or five, three of them within a three-block radius, but Ozone was my primary source. I was in there two or three times a week. I only lived about seven blocks away, myself, and it was simple to pop in there on my way home from work. My Saturday morning ritual became to get up, shower, and go straight to the store when it opened. The new import shipment would be in, and I would snatch up whatever slabs of Britishness I could afford. Pretty soon, the two employees on shift got to know me, as there was rarely anyone else in the shop to interrupt their hangovers at that hour. They would usually make me tell them about the new bands I was purchasing, because I would take home the records before they had a chance to check them out. Like, excited to score the vinyl copy of that first Supergrass record (yes, them again), I Should Coco, which included a bonus 7" of their unreleased song "Odd?" and a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Stone Free," I told them the band was a cross of the Monkees and the Kinks. Eventually, I got to know Xtine, who did the import ordering, and I started going in on Friday nights instead because she would let me look over the list of new product while she was pricing it, giving me the opportunity to score my fix before it even hit the floor.
One of the Saturday morning clerks was Monte, who played in Rollerball. Many of the clerks were in local bands, as was much of our clientele. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of my anecdote about Elliott Smith coming into the store when it opened on the day XO was released. I apologized that the discs weren't out, but the person who handled the major label product wasn't in yet. He denied that was why he came in, bought a copy of If You're Feeling Sinister, and left. Another time I found Stephen Malkmus browsing through the Pavement bin. "We try to keep it well stocked," I said, and he turned around and replied, "No, it's pretty good!" When film director Todd Haynes moved here while he was writing Far From Heaven, we saw him quite often, as well as Benicio Del Toro when they were shooting The Hunted. The store is even immortalized in the last issue of Mike Allred's Red Rocket 7, when Red goes there with the Dandy Warhols.
Touring acts would stop by, too. The Chemical Brothers were particularly funny. Noticing a stack of rather hideous, unauthorized stickers we had of them, featuring two very unflattering photos of the guys, they couldn't help but comment on how awful they were. I offered to give them the pile, which had somewhere between 30 and 50 copies of the same sticker, saying, "No one ever buys them." They said, "It's no wonder!" and refused the offer.
Even better, though, was the infamous visit from Paul Simon. He wanted to use our bathroom, and E*Rock refused him entry, sending the signer across the street to Powell's. It was over before Eric realized what he had done. We never let anyone use our bathroom, his response had just been reflex. Naturally, by the next day, a Paul Simon poster magically appeared above the toilet.
I think it was 2002 when the old store closed down, once more splitting into two: the short-lived Ozone UK and O3. I stopped going as much. Part of it was the convenience of location no longer being there, and part of it was I had moved to ordering direct from online British sites (yes, kids, I am part of the problem). Even so, it was always there. I could pop in from time to time, browse, see my old friends. People still see me sometimes that recognize me from there but don't really remember why I am familiar looking. I was part of a Portland institution.
And now it's passing, and I don't think there's going to be anything rising up to take its place. Such are the times.
Before I go, one last memory, another favorite anecdote, a time when I may have stumbled on the beginnings of a scientific musical theory.
We had three counters at the store. One in the front, one at the side, and one in the back. On busy nights, each counter was covered by a clerk. The front counter was where the stereo was, and that's where I was placed on this particular night. The other two counters were covered by female employees. I decided to play Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" for no other reason than it's an awesome song, but as it started playing, I told a customer that was up front, "Watch. One of those girls is going to think I played this song as a comment about them." Sure enough, the inner-store phone rang, and one of the other clerks was on the line. "Did you play this to say something about me?" No sooner had I denied the accusation and hung up then the phone rang again, and the other girl wanted to know if the song was because of her. Try it sometime. I bet it never fails.
Current Soundtrack: Sarah Nixey, Sing, Memory, along with B-sides and remixes; The Jennifers, "Just Got Back Today" CD5
Current Mood: nostalgic