Thursday, February 26, 2009


Below are my contributions to the recent Vice magazine guide to Atlanta, before their copy editors took scissors to my words. The changes that were made are mostly fine with me, and probably improved the pieces. But there is one small change I find rather annoying. I was careful to says “gods know” and “pray” to “gods”. Yet the youngsters at Vice were inclined to turn my pretend paganism into monotheism and remove my not-so-subtle allusion to the world of Battlestar Galactica. On the other hand, I am actually pleased and surprised to learn there exists such a thing as a copy editor in 2009. I thought the kids simply cut and pasted something from the web, turned on the spell check device and called it writing. And on one final hand who or what exactly is a “lugubrious gloaming”?

Elsewhere in the same Atlanta guide someone claims that Benjamin (Smoke) once “hung out” in Little Five Points, which is not exactly an accurate assessment of “back in the day”. What made Little Five Points tolerable then, and as far as I can tell makes it not so bad today is that Little Five Points and the surrounding neighborhoods are a small town next to a mass of noxious urban sprawl. Everyone knows everyone, and people who want to be seen do sometime “hang out” in public places. Benjamin hung out in his various homes: in the Ponce Apartments, in the flatiron building in East Atlanta, in the North High Ridge Apartments, in various duplexes around the neighborhood, in Cabbagetown and finally in the retirement home across from the Majestic where he spent his final months. When he wanted to “go to town” for whatever business he needed to deal with, he went to Little Five Points, and headed home as soon as business was done.


When I walk into a room filled with records, my pulse jumps, my temperature rises, and for an instant I feel something akin to happiness. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a bad independent record store. If there is one, it is not mentioned here. What follows is not a survey of Atlanta’s retail music, but simply a fan’s description of some rooms filled with records. These stores are scattered around in-town Atlanta, but the best area for record shopping is without question Little Five Points.

Wax N Facts (432 Moreland Avenue) is perhaps the grand dad of Atlanta independent records stores. In the thirty plus years I have visited this amazing store, considering how the world has supposedly changed, Wax N Facts really has not, much. When I first took a Marta bus to this Little Five Points legend yet-to-be, the train system was not built. Wax N Facts was half its current size, but co-owners Danny and Harry were there, as they remain today. I purchased my first copy of the Hampton Greese Band masterpiece, Music to Eat and the Fans deput 7” single. These days Wax N Facts continues to stock what made that first trip worth taking: plenty of used vinyl, independent LPs and singles. And the prices cannot be beat. Somewhere along the way they started stocking those newfangled CDs, and despite all the complaining noises I have made over the years, they continue to stock the damned annoying things.

Criminal Records (1154-A Euclid Avenue) recently made their third relocation within the two-block Little Five Points business district, and it was a very smart move. The new expanded locations allows for the best selection of new vinyl in Atlanta. Criminal also stocks used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, an amazing selection of comics, graphic novels and magazines, hard to find elsewhere in Atlanta. This is the first place I go to look for the latest obscure independent release I read about somewhere. Criminal has a large, helpful staff, and these people know what they are talking about. Saturdays they have in-store live bands. Check the website for details, and sign up for both their excellent newsletters.

Full Moon Records (1653 McClendon Avenue) is the third great L5P record emporium, out of spitting range of the heart of the neighborhood, and a short hike up McClendon. Historically McClendon was not one of the five points of this hillbilly-hip shopping district. Short story long: developers and the city of Atlanta joined forces and lobed off the shortest of the original five intersecting points: Seminole Avenue. By default, McClendon became the fifth point, and the strip of beautiful old storefronts where Full Moon is located has become a sort of sub-division of LFPs. Full Moon is small with annoyingly limited hours, but no Atlanta store has a smarter selection of used and new vinyl than this cramped room of treasures. The tight, limited selection of jazz and blues is excellent.

Ella Guru (B-101 Elizabeth) is another small shop in the vicinity of L5Ps, in the opposite direction from Full Moon, in an area once thought the armpit of the neighborhood. Case in point, I lived in a 50-year-old school bus illegally parked 10 feet from the current Ella Guru locale, next to a field of kudzu. These days the kudzu is striped away and replaced by enough gentrification to frighten off the most hardened urban pioneer. My one trip to this tiny CD store, I purchased the new John “Drumbo” French CD: City of Refuge, which is appropriate considering this is one of two Atlanta retail record outlets with a Captain Beefheart-derived name. The selection of vinyl is shabby -- a few half empty boxes that might be impressive found at a garage sale, but there are plenty of used and new CDs

Low Yo Yo Stuff Records (3854 North Peachtree Road) relocated a couple of years ago from their tiny Athens hole within a hole-in-the-wall to this new more spacious locale. Todd and company specialize in collectible used vinyl you cannot find elsewhere. This place is worth the Herculean effort required to drive out to Low Yo Yo Stuff on the two days they are actually opened. Unfortunately this reporter works weekends, and I have not been here since the Atlanta move. I can report one reliable source says they have the best selection in Atlanta, and I believe him. The prices are not cheap, but these are the records you never find at other stores: long unavailable punk and no-wave and experimental jazz and rock.

Wuxtry (2096 N. Decatur Road) is another great, old Atlanta record store. If Wax n Facts is record grandpa, Wuxtry is record granny. Mark stocks an extraordinary vinyl selection of used jazz, country, soul, soundtracks, and just about everything else. Sometimes the prices are not rock bottom, but sometimes that can be a good thing. Stores with the lowest prices tend toward a selection of the lowest common denominator crap. Finding the good stuff requires constant vigilance. Wuxtry prices tend to be below market, but high enough to retain an above average selection of good records, and some amazing high-end collectibles displayed with tantalizing flare along the walls. And yes they do have some of those silly, soon to be extinct, CDs.

Decatur CD (356 W. Ponce de Leon Avenue) is mostly about CDs, as its name loudly states, and they probably have the best selection of CDs in the city. Warren is able to order most out-of-stock items overnight. When I stop in on other business and despite my efforts not to buy anything, I always come away with a half dozen CDs, I have been unable to find anywhere else. And for the still sound-of-mind collectors of actual records, there is a good selection of new vinyl long-players. As a sign out front announces (and confuses many), Decatur CD has a partnership with A Cappella Books. Inside, accompanying the records and CDs, is a selection of music related books and some non-musical bestsellers and books of local interest. All cards on the table: I am one of the managers of A Cappella Books, and partially responsible for the book selection at Decatur CD. Obviously, I believe it is an excellent selection, including books on punk, jazz, sixties rock, and a foot-long pile of books about Bob Dylan.

The Book Nook (3073 N Druid Hills Road) has been open as long (or longer) than Wuxtry or Wax N Facts, but first and foremost this is a rather mediocre bookstore containing an above average record store. As such there is no other store in Atlanta that compares to the Book Nook. The bookstore tends toward the lowest common denominator formula described above, but the record store maintains a decent selection of used vinyl, and has excellent prices. Record overlord, David T. holds court and rules his corner of the room with an iron fist, but he knows more about rock music than just about anyone in Atlanta. His record store reflects his personality for better or worse, and despite all I believe it is for the better. The Book Nook also has an excellent selection of music books and magazines.

Kudzu (2974 E. Ponce de Leon) is one of many antique markets scattered about suburban Atlanta. Most of these have booths that specialize in vinyl records. Kudzu is far and above the best. Last time I made the drive, they had at least four large booths with record troves. One booth in particular maintains a better, smarter selection than many independent retail record stores. Combined the Kudzu record sellers amount to one of Atlanta’s better record rooms.

Fantasyland (2839 Peachtree) has a reputation among record enthusiasts for being overpriced and not worth the drive to Buckhead. When I find the time (and money) to spend an hour or two at this Atlanta landmark, I am never dissatisfied. The selection of big band, swing, classic jazz, rock oldies, and old style torch singers is unbeatable. Sometimes because Fantasyland is off the well-worn collectors’ track and because it is pricey, there are amazing records hidden amongst the dusty stacks that would not last two minutes in the new arrival bins of Wuxtry or Wax N Facts. In addition to vinyl, Fantasyland has a scattershot selection of used music magazines and soft-core girlie rags. I have found long sought after issues of Forced Exposure and Trouser Press amongst the dross. The most remarkable thing about this ancient record outlet is that it is still open after gods know how many decades. To those same gods, I pray these forefathers of record geeks stay in the business another decade or six.


The party line in the book business is doom. The business of books is past expiration date, on life support, you pick your cliché. The arguments for this unpleasant scenario are many and sound. It certainly makes sense that in the age of google and myspace and the I-phone, a thing as seemingly antiquated as a book would not be the first thing most folks would turn to in their search for entertainment and information. From my lofty position as the used book manager at A Cappella Books in Little Five Points, I get mixed signals. When our store opened almost 20 years ago, the neighborhood seemed to be a thriving center for independent bookstores. The corridor between LFP and Virginia-Highland was scattered with an impressive selection of stores: Charis Books, McGuires, the Science-Fiction & Mystery Bookstore, the Small Press Bookstore, and Atlanta Book Exchange. All but two of those stores moved or closed within a year of A Cappella Books opening. And yet, those two -- Charis and Atlanta Book Exchange -- remain in business today. Nobody is getting rich selling books. In fact, books considered collectibles and selling at prices starting at $45 and climbing just a decade ago, are selling these days literally for pennies. Even if there are relatively few copies of a book available, websites such as and allow customers to view pretty much all the available copies simultaneously. That old trickster the law of supply and demand goes to work, and the prices hit the basement floor. Most used books are literally not worth the paper they are printed on. In many cases those trying to sell their books might want to sell them by the pound to a recycling center. I hear a chorus of angry noises from you three book lovers, and I sincerely hope you do get angry. There are book warehouses selling cheap copies of almost every well-known (many much less well-known) book of the last 100 years at literally one cent per book. They add a shipping fee of $3 to $5 and end up making a few cents after labor and materials. This is not the book business, we at A Cappella want to be in. Nor do we have the staff or space such operations require, obviously. We end up scrapping around the edges, finding new ways to maintain our integrity and pick up a dime of profit. We are still buying and selling used books, but our standards and selection are in a constant flux. More often than not we have come to rely upon a thoughtful selection of new books, and recently author appearances have become our bread and butter. Who knows what we will be doing next year to keep “the smartest bookstore in Atlanta” open and still smart. I believe there will be a next year for our bookstore, but ten years is more than ever much in doubt.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Barton Gellman: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (Penguin) These days Dick Cheney haters appear happy to move forward along with our handsome new commander in chief, blocking from collective memories the torturous Cheney/Bush administration. Not to throw out trite remarks about history and repetition, but Cheney and his presidential sidekick might be out of office, but the damage they inflicted upon this country and the planet remain, regardless of what history thinks about all of this. Barton Gellman is an old school journalist who does not put opinion before his story. Such an approach does not best serve all stories. In the instance of telling the behind the scenes tale of the Cheney vice-presidency, Gellman’s technique is perfect. And his story is riveting. There is one man who surely does not give a shit what history has to say about Cheney. That would be Dick Cheney himself. Not known for his sense of humor, Cheney had me guffawing when he responded to ABC reporter Matha Raddatz’s lengthy question regarding how the American public had turned against the war in Iraq with one word, “his eyes locked on Raddatz”, he said: “So.” There is nothing about Cheney’s policy prerogatives that I do not find repugnant, but at times it is difficult not to admire this relentless Machiavellian tactician. Cheney’s ties to Halliburton are normally amongst the first weapon employed by the VP’s detractors. Yet, there is not much evidence of graft in the pages of Angler. On the other hand, there is much evidence of Cheney’s efforts to remake the U.S. executive into a monarchy. Once his king was firmly entrenched, Cheney used the power of the office and his power as un-elected co-president to fight his global war on terror using any means necessary, including deceit, secrecy, torture and blitzkrieg. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who cares about this country, where its been and where it is going.