Everyone discovers music in different ways. Whether it’s through your dad blasting Billy Squier in the pick up whenever he dragged you to Home Depot every Saturday morning, or perhaps it’s through your mama, who would wake you up by belting her little heart out to “Does Your Mother Know” by Abba when she decided to wake up at the ass crack of dawn to clean the house. Maybe you have an older sibling who, while in college, made you a playlist that you weren’t allowed to listen to around your grandparents because it consisted of songs by “that damn hippie David Bowie”. Or, maybe, you saw a skate video that introduced you to one of the most unique, psychedelic noise bands; Animal Collective. Regardless of your musical journey, the day that you discovered that you could listen to more than what’s on the radio, was the day that changed your life forever.
Music has always taken up a significant part of my life. My teenage years were spent driving my friends around in my mom’s Honda Passport, hitting up every venue from Flagstaff to Tucson and everywhere in between. The weird part is, when you grow up in Phoenix, a majority of the people you talk to say it’s hard to be successful in the music industry here. Maybe it’s because the artistic crowd isn’t large enough here, or perhaps the desert just gets a bad reputation. Bands such as Rage Against the Machine refused to come here for years due to certain parties and their racism and oppression, concerning our majority red state and their disdain for POC. Despite all these claims however, you can’t deny the fact that there are amazing talents out this way. And along with those talents comes the businesses that support those talents.
Phoenix is a melting pot when it comes to local bands and independently owned businesses. I’ve managed to land what many consider to be a dream job, working at a record store. More specifically, Zia Records. The very term “record store” is a term that still causes confusion amongst older adults, because “holy shit, I didn’t even know places like you guys still existed!”. You’ll see this youthful wonder emerge from their eyes when they hold up L.A. Woman by The Doors, a type of wonder that hasn’t seen the light of day since they were in their 20’s. I would be Jeff Bezos if I had a nickel for every time places like this ceased to exist anymore. But there’s such a beautiful sense of community that this place attracts.
You’ll see their grandchildren come in with them, and even though they’re wearing an oversized Billie Eilish t-shirt, they’ll ask their grandpa about Queen and Fleetwood Mac. You’ll see the grandpa tell his granddaughter a story of what seeing Elton John on psychedelics was like, and you’ll see the shocked yet amused look on the granddaughter’s face when she realizes that her papa was once a young, rebellious pothead just like herself. Then it hits you, the simple act of you being there is creating a cherished memory for these individuals. It’s still such an incredible thing, and I am very grateful that I have a job that allows me to help people create these experiences.
One person in particular sticks out to me when I think about these memories. About 3 or so years ago, I was coming back from my lunch break to see an older woman with a lost look on her face trying to find her way around the store. I asked her if she was doing okay, and she simply asked me if I could help her find music by a Latino singer named “Chayanne”. This puzzled me of course, because the question was being asked by a sweet little old white lady. I gladly showed her around the store, got her the CDs she was looking for, and even gave her some recommendations. She introduced herself as Nancy, and told me that she had been battling cancer for a few years prior. The music I was helping her look for served as her motivation, since she loved to dance and wanted to learn to salsa. I was about to cry when she started to cry, explaining to me that she couldn’t remember the last time someone was that sweet and helpful. From that point on, Nancy would come in to visit me often, bringing me sweets and asking me how my family was and what I was up to. I would sometimes spend hours speaking to her (and get in trouble for it), finding out about her personal life and all the amazing things she’s done and places she’s traveled to in her lifetime. She would tell me random little things like “Your generation could really make a difference, Eric”, and to me, every single thing she told me meant the world. Last year, she came in to hunt for her usual salsa and merengue CDs, and she stopped me to hug me. I spent about a half an hour talking to her, and towards the end of the conversation she slipped in the oh-so-casual, “Oh by the way, the cancer is back.” When I started to tear up, she simply hugged me again and told me that she still had a lot of life to live, and that she wasn’t going anywhere until she got a kiss from Chayanne on stage. She was going to be fine, and I even though I was worried, Nancy wasn’t going out without a fight. And she’s been kicking ass ever since. I’ll see her every so often nowadays. COVID really fucked things up, but I know she’s out there right now practicing her salsa in the living room and sipping on a mimosa with her pool boy.
On a lighter note, I was finally able to remember what my first time coming to Zia was like as a customer after digging into my brain to rejog my memory. My friend Solece and my then girlfriend Lara had taken me thrifting for the very first time…. before Macklemore ruined the Savers and Goodwill experience for us regular folk. One of them had suggested going to Zia. Up until this point, I had never heard of this store. They turned around in shock to look at me and I’m not kidding you when I say that their eyes felt like daggers peering into my soul. But when we got there, holy shit was I in heaven. How often do you come across the same Inspector Gadget toy that you got from McDonald’s when you were 5? Where else are you going to get a Selena shirt in Slayer font? My first purchase ended up being Childish Gambino’s “Awaken My Love” which I think I played in my CD player so much that even my neighbors started complaining about it. I felt like every time I stopped by and went and asked an employee a question, they didn’t seem bothered by it. If anything, they were ecstatic to help. In no way did I think that the people I was bugging for music and movie recommendations would eventually become my second family.
Now, I’d be lying if being surrounding myself with all this music and pop culture hasn’t contributed to shaping me as an individual. The 2010’s were fundamental towards my “maturity”, seeing as how I started the decade with long, crispy flat-ironed hair and Devil Wears Prada shirts that were a little too small for my torso. I spent the middle of the decade trying to find myself as a person, often wearing quirky shirts and not getting haircuts when I clearly should have. Zia was always there for my self-discovery during these embarrassing times. Once my actual first work day at Zia came, I walked into a foreign environment thinking my ability to quote 50 First Dates and rap “Warning” by Notorious B.I.G. was all the knowledge I needed. I soon realized that my “knowledge” was nothing but a grain of sand in this vast beach of music and film that I was about to expose myself to.
I’m coming up on my 4th year at the job, and I’ve become a 90’s culture, horror movie, R&B connoisseur. A mixture of horror guru coworkers and a few customers with a slight obsession with every Wesley Snipes movie are to thank for this. If it wouldn’t have been for the movie White Men Can’t Jump, I wouldn’t own any parachute pants or Michael Jordan shirts, and that would just be a travesty.
I do, however, want to clarify that just because my job is fun, it isn’t like anything like the movie Empire Records. You’ll see all sorts of individuals walk through these doors, whether it’s your local at Gracie’s Tax Bar, or a 13 year old who just watched Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time. Unfortunately, somewhere in between those people a not so cool person slips through the cracks. Although we would love to follow in the footsteps of our beloved fictional record store movie, we don’t have the ability to scream “SHOPLIFTER” and chase someone down the block whenever someone attempts to bolt with our product. I’ve seen coworkers pick up actual human feces in the store. We’ve called first-responders on someone for shooting up on the side of our building. And at our beloved buy-in counter, our daily routine has become wiping cat piss off of DVDs, and on rare occurrences, we’ll find a syringe in a box of old records. Needle-less to say (Badumtss), we’ve had our fair share of interesting encounters.
Despite the slight hiccups we encounter from time to time, we’ve managed to pull through even on the murkiest of days. Such unprecedented times have left all of us scrambling for answers, and we’re trying to keep up. I know it’s strange, but having such a tight-knit family is going a long way. And the costumers being a part of this family motivates us to keep trucking along. By the time you’ll be reading this, we’ll have opened back up. And I’m not going to lie to you, I am a little nervous. But we’ll do everything in our power to keep moving forward, while keeping our people and our customers safe and healthy. We’ve been told many times that places like us weren’t going to last. Yet here we are, celebrating our 40th anniversary. We’ve made it this far, who’s to say we can’t go another 40 years? Plain and simple, I wanted to share the importance of family amongst local businesses and culture. Whether it’s your neighborhood record store, a newly built bar in the middle of the Melrose district, or a band by the name if Summerhead that your homies are in. Go out and support! (Safely of course.) We’ll be strong for you if you’re just as strong for us.