A few weeks ago, our resident funny man, Dave Little, mentioned that when he hits Austin, he really digs making trips to both Waterloo Records and to Book People. Both independently owned store-fronts are more or less treasured Austin landmarks. With that said, however, you don’t really hear them mentioned in the same breath as the South Congress Bats, Barton Springs, The State Capital Building, or even the glorious den of iniquity that is Sixth Street when it comes to the standard, and perhaps tired, must-see Austin attractions.
The sad fact of the matter is that it had been way too long since I, myself, had darkened the doors of either establishment. My recent trips to Austin typically centered around festivals or quick day trips, and there was rarely time for the leisurely browsing time that visiting these two places would surely require of me. That all changed a couple of weeks ago, though. As my wife, son and I made our way into town from Dallas for the FFF Fest, I decided that we wouldn’t be hitting I-35 North on Sunday until I had traversed every shelf and display of both Book People and Waterloo Records, both located on Lamar Street near the flagship Whole Foods.
After strong and spicy Bloody Mary’s at the original Kerbey Lane restaurant (I know, I know, it’s touristy, but it’s really great, regardless), the family and I pointed the car towards Book People. Open since 1970, it’s tough to imagine more than a handful of similar book havens of this caliber in the entire country. Celebrity book signings and a mammoth inventory are only two of the many great qualities of this three-level shop. I pursued the gigantic music section (“Ooh, Jay-Z’s Decodedis in paperback, now??”) while the Mrs. and our four year old son got all up in the crowded and kid-eriffic storytime, set in what can only be described as an indoor amphitheatre for little ones. As I resisted the urge to pick up an autographed Jonathan Franzen novel on the way out, I knew that I wouldn’t be so prudent when we left and then hit Waterloo Records.
Whether its the dozen or so iPod-powered listening stations that seem to be more curated by knowledgeable, discerning lovers of music than simply cobbled together by label publicists and trend-watchers, or the large room of all things vinyl, this store will never go unvisited by me again when I visit Austin.
After choosingSlint’s Spiderland vinyl, as well as the 33 1/3 series book that discusses the same album, I gave the first few tracks of themuch-maligned Metallica/Lou Reed release, Lulu a listen. After thinking the first track, “Brandenburg Gate” wasn’t so bad after all, I asked one of the store’s employees what he thought of the bashing the album’s been taking. He was quick to say that he really liked the first track, but wasn’t too keen on the rest. So, great minds and all, right?
So, if reading Little’s column didn’t compel you to visit these jewels of independent commerce as it did me, I can only hope that you feel as such now. If not, well, that’s one less person standing in my way at the vinyl bins next time.
I officially give up. There is now too much information. Even when I try to learn, my brain informs me that, due to circumstances beyond my control, I am closed. Recently, I was in Austin. I know, look at me! World traveler. And when I’m in Austin, I always visit two of my favorite places. Waterloo Records and Book People. They are across the street from one another. Very convenient. I get very excited thinking about it. Music and books are weaved throughout my life. On my table next to my drinking chair sits at least 20 CDs and 30 books. Whenever I am sad I look at my table. I look at my table all of the time.
I walked into Waterloo Records. It’s organized chaos. Music is alphabetized and categorized for both enjoyment and protection. There is nothing I have to have, which means I am not looking for anything in particular, which causes me to be rudderless, which makes me nervous. I have several hours before I have to be anywhere, so you think that would be a perfect scenario for leisurely browsing. Nope. I wander over to the listening station and gaze at the selections. Okay, I like Lindsey Buckingham. Great guitarist. Plays with his thumb. Had sex with Stevie Nicks back when she was prettier and I had bangs. I fumble with the headphones and try to put them on over my hat, which I’m wearing because I am bald and don’t have sunscreen. My hat falls off. I pick up my hat and drop my sunglasses. I put the headphones back on the hook and knock several Wilco CDs off their perch and onto the head of a baby sitting quietly in a stroller. Until then. I decide I’m more in the mood for books, so I leave. Quickly.
As I enter Book People, I am greeted politely by a staff member who apparently hasn’t heard that I am a one man flash mob. I decide to get some coffee from a woman who would have to do some major disassembling of her face to pass through a metal detector. I figure a double espresso with steamed milk is the perfect companion to help me in my quest to find the perfect book that hooks me in the first few pages like a deep sea fisherman and keep me engaged for the next 400 pages so that when I finish I feel both a sense of accomplishment and worn out from my word journey.
But it doesn’t happen. I pick up several books that the staff recommends on a note card, begin to get the jitters from the caffeine jolt, leave the books on a display where they don’t belong and make a beeline for the bathroom.
Sometimes, there are more important things than the arts.
Dave Little is a Dallas-based stand-up comedian, writer, musician and actor. He’s funny for Best of Texas twice a month, but he’s funny all the time on his website www.lovedavelittle.com.