Music makes my brain happy.
Science tells us that the brain’s reaction to music is similar to its reaction to food or hallucinogenic drugs. The brain finds intellectual reward in following and understanding a sequence of sound. An appreciation of its understanding results in a pleasurable experience for the listener. And that’s just the sound alone! Music is more than an audio dopamine cocktail. In some cases, lyrics can heighten the listening experience with attached associations and memories. Music makes it possible for two very different people with very different political views and theological beliefs to have the same biological reaction to the same sound. Even with all the tension in the world, music is transcendent.
I often seek out new music and new ways to experience music whether it be through social media, word of mouth or live performances. Living in a world where music is so easily accessed and purchased via wi-fi connection and a few clicks shouldn’t mean the inevitable extinction of music stores, but a greater appreciation for them. I take trips up and down the West Coast a couple of times every year and this summer I visited Amoeba Music, both the Berkley and Hollywood locations, for the first time. Thus, my obsession with music stores that began with my first viewing of Empire Records as a younger person intensified.
Amoeba Music is an acclaimed music store with the reputation for being one of California’s best. And it does not disappoint. Both stores are fairly large spaces with high ceilings, album artwork and tour posters climbing every wall. Aisle after aisle holds thousands and thousands of new and used LPs and CDs. They have a little something from every conceivable genre, mapping out the evolution of music. Amoeba features the latest releases along with the work of those whose music remains relevant even beyond the bounds of death. There’s so much music from so many artists I’ve never even heard of and even groups that have long disbanded and moved on to other life pursuits. They even have live performances! Amoeba is a hub keeping the physical sale of music alive, a gathering place for people with similar interests. You don’t mind paying for music because you know it’s worth every penny if your exhausted play count is any indication. You don’t mind the price tags so much because you know your money ultimately goes toward supporting your favorite artist and supporting a place that’s given you access to desired product and a vast variety of it.
Then there’s the film and movie (there is a difference!) section, which is paradise for a film major nerd like me. Film, at its very foundation, is all about visual stimulation, but synchronized sound compensates for the growing assumption that the attention span of the average human is significantly shorter in the modern world. Synchronized sound is a large part of why moviegoing is a major pastime and essentially apart of the typical human experience. This section of the store is mostly broken down by genre, but they arrange the Blu-rays by director/auteur, which may not seem like a big deal, but made me giddy beyond recognition. The fact that they would even think to categorize the work by filmmaker, that attention to detail and what it implies, speaks volumes and gives them even more credibility in my mind. The wall of TV shows leads to racks of VHS tapes, which are actually for sale and not just for show. There are some great movies for bargain prices if you’re willing to sift through the rows of DVDs, which I definitely would have if I had more than a few days in each city. It took me a while just to take it all in before I could even begin to do some serious browsing.
Shout out to the staff whose strong, proudly displayed opinions only amused me even more:
While wandering, I couldn’t help, but play with the idea of working in a place like this, writing my opinions on post-its in hopes of engaging and amusing customers. I could see it. Maybe one day. (Or maybe that’s just the irrational Empire Records love nagging at me.)
If the brain reacts to a single sequence of sound like it does to snorting cocaine, how does the brain react to the body being submerged in the mecca of music and movies? I’ve been to other music stores, one in Hawaii and a string of smaller stores around Hollywood, but Amoeba is different. It has this laid-back California atmosphere, inviting you in and encouraging you to get lost in the copious amounts of awesome with little judgement. To see music worshipped, appreciated and made available in such a grand way is something I wish I had access to on a daily basis, but I guess I’ll just have to settle for every time I’m in town.
Music stores aren’t museums. Records, CDs, VHS and cassette tapes aren’t artifacts to be encased in glass, admired from afar and reminisced about like the dead. They’re just different vessels that you can hold in your hands, that aren’t vulnerable to a computer breakdown, no backup and becoming too comfortable in the age of technology. They’re vulnerable in other ways, sure, but tangible in a way an MP3 isn’t. Music stores celebrate entertainment in its many forms and will hopefully kick the test of time’s ass and continue to be a safe haven for those who find life a little more bearable when a sweet series of sounds leads to a release of dopamine.
For more information, check out Amoeba Music and stop in if you’re ever in the neighborhood.