Wednesday, January 17, 2024

What it was like growing up in record stores, via Peter Jesperson

Peter Jesperson worked at Minneapolis record store Oar Folkjokeopus when Paul Westerberg of local troublemaking band The Replacements dropped a demo tape off for him to check out. That legendarily turned Jesperson into “the Mats' first fan” and he went on to champion and navigate them into lots of gigs and a record deal. This and other tales from a lifelong career as a band manager and record-label owner (of Twin/Tone Records) punctuate his new autobiography called Euphoric Recall: A Half Century as a Music Fan, Producer, DJ, Record Executive, and Tastemaker.

In the foreword, famed rock journalist David Fricke writes about meeting Westerberg for Rolling Stone magazine's first feature on the band - my fourth-favorite behind The Beatles, Guided by Voices, and Pavement. Fricke asks Westerberg if he could ever imagine his band winning a Grammy and the singer says he had actually thought about what he would say: “Thanks - and blow it out your ass. Where were you when we needed you?”

Jesperson also worked closely with several of my other favorites, including Soul Asylum, R.E.M., and Drive-By Truckers. Like so many of us rock diehards, he traces his passion for music back to when he was nine, at a friend’s house watching The Flintstones, when they overheard the friend’s sister playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles. It was the Big Bang. 

When he became old enough to seek his first job, in 1970, his one requirement (although not at all his parents’) was that he would not have to cut his long hair. It hit him, when he noticed the ushers at a Leon Russell concert, that he could work at the Guthrie Theater. In 1972, working through the publishing house where his dad worked, he began distributing Britain’s New Music Express magazine in Minneapolis. Both of these jobs happened while Jesperson was still in high school, and he could do them in part because he was in an independent-study program that gave him freedom during some school days. He was 19 when he got the job at “Oar Folk.”

He was loving being a record-store clerk. One of his many contributions there was to convince the owner Vern that it shouldn’t just be an "album" store but should stock 45s as well. And those little records - especially the ones by The Beatles that weren't on the band's full-length albums - became big sellers.

A major moment came in 1972 when Jesperson saw Big Star’s first album in a discount bin at another store for 99 cents. At that price, he decided to give it a try. It blew him away on the first listen (as it did to me many years later).

When he realized his radio DJ job, in which he didn’t even pick the music but rather just programmed it, was a dead end, he accepted Vern’s offer to become a full-time store manager. Jesperson’s stories about working at Oar Folk, which was becoming a core part of the “Haight-Ashbury of the Twin Cities,” bring back fond memories of all those hours I spent in record stores as a young man, listening to records in Vintage Vinyl and browsing books and magazines in Streetside Records. I have never been much of a consumer, but man could I buy music and books when I was younger. I would beg my friend Chris Honeck to take us to St. Louis and one of my favorite memories was buying Pavement’s Wowee Zowee the day it was released and blasting it in Matt Wilson’s truck all the way back home into Illinois.

Jesperson writes about the many in-store performances he managed, including the Ramones and Talking Heads. After being at the store for a decade, as he became manager of The Replacements and road manager for R.E.M., he was realizing his time there was coming to a close. 

I can't wait to read the rest of this book, espcially the chapters on the Replacements and R.E.M. If I don't buy a book, I read them on Kindle and the Libby library app. The full version of this isn't available on those systems, but I discovered a different app called Hoopla that I downloaded, connected to my library, and borrowed Euphoric Recall in full for three weeks.

Read my second and third articles about this book as well.

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