Sunday, March 22, 2009

Every Poster in the Window Means No

For years, it was right by the freeway exit.

Next to a travel supply store. And a pharmacy that looked like it still had stock on hand from the late 50s.

And every time I passed it, I was struck by a small poster in the corner of the front window for a mid-80s album by Let's Active. I went into the store once, expecting a treasure trove of jangle pop, but finding a random and unexceptional random selection of vinyl records and CDs arranged with little rhyme or reason. The clerk had no idea why they had a 20-year-old Let's Active poster in the window (and also had no idea who Let's Active or Mitch Easter was). "I guess it's there because it's always been there."

Let's Active was a real band at first, then an every-changing cast of backing musicians hired on to realize the infectious pop music of Mitch Easter. Easter played in Sneakers with future dB Chris Stamey, then opened Drive-In Studios in 1981, where nearly every seminal jangle-pop record was recorded. Easter co-produced (with Don Dixon) the first two REM albums (which, for any music fan, would be enough to guarantee his place in the pantheon). Soon after, Easter's band Let's Active was signed by IRS Records. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

The band -- Easter, Faye Hunter, and Sara Romweber -- released the Afoot EP in 1983 and the Cyprus album in 1984 (released together on a single CD in 1989). After Cyprus, the band imploded and 1986's Big Plans for Everybody was largely an Easter solo record. A real band was recruited in time for 1988's Every Dog Has His Day, which sounded more coherent and also sounded a lot edgier and less poppy (although it's hard to imagine any Mitch Easter song not being poppier than 90% of the music out there). When Let's Active failed to break out from college-radio cult status, it faded away in the 1990s. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

In 2007, Mitch Easter released Dynamico, which simultaneously seemed classic and innovative (in the same way the Let's Active albums did in the 80s). In an alternate universe, this album would have sold a million copies the first week (and then usher in the resurgence of the music industry). At the very least, a poster from the album should have appeared in the window of that little record store near the freeway off-ramp.

Instead, the record store put up signs last year that it was closing soon. Part of me wondered if it was because the clerks had no idea who Let's Active was. Another part of me thought the store would always be there just because it had always been there. I meant to make it in for their going-out-of-business sale, but never made it (again, maybe if the clerks had known...). When I finally made it back to the store, the doors were closed and locked. Peeking inside, I saw that the record racks were gone -- but the Let's Active poster (now more than 20 years old) was still in the window. A month later the poster was gone -- replaced by a "This Space for Lease" sign.

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