I Know What I’m Here For

Picture it — Sicily, 1999….

Hang on, Helena… are you seriously going to rip off Estelle Getty?

It’s an homage, darling… most of these people haven’t even seen Golden Girls.

Well, if you’re going to make pop culture references, you might try something more recent than the Mesozoic Era.

Now you’re just trying to make me feel old.

“You are old, Aunt Helena,” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia piped in uninvited, and is just as quickly dismissed.

Start again….

Picture it — Niagara, 1999…

I walked into a tiny record store named for a Bowie album (first sign that it’s going to be something special) and I knew exactly what I was there for — I wanted the new Ben Folds Five album, and Tom Waits’ return to form, Mule Variations — still a favourite.

The lady at the counter looked like someone’s sweet old grandma, all wide eyed and bright smile, and she was the real goods. Any time I’d gone back to the store and she was there, she’d all but offer you tea and cookies, while she blew your mind with anecdotal stories of various bands.

I wanted to be her when I grew up — the retired hipster that runs a record store and knows more about music than you ever will. I’d try to impress her, asking for an obscure record, and she’d come back with — “Do you want the commercial release, or the German import with the Kraftwerk cover as a bonus track?”

Yes please. Gimme gimme gimme.

Music is and always will be my porn, and I have, not just once, blown an entire paycheck on records, only to suffer terrible buyer’s remorse afterward.

Her husband wasn’t so cheerfully friendly, but instead reminded me of a retired soldier from some very unpleasant war, and doing the maths in my head, I had images of jackboots and goosestepping and reminded myself to never ask about it.

Their son also worked in the store, and as I got to know him a bit, I began to realize how long-suffering his parents were, and I wanted them to adopt me. Just think of all the great music I’d have access to.

But the truth is, Colin was a junkie. A nice enough guy, but an on-again, off-again, recovering, mostly functional junkie. And I’ve learned the hard way over the years that you can never trust a junkie. They’ll sell your kidneys for a fix. Yes, you read that right, darlings — not their kidneys — yours.

But that day in 1999, when I first walked into that magical, wonderful store, I only knew that I wanted those two albums. My mouth dropped open and my brain went blank, though, about three steps into the store, and I no longer knew what I was there to buy.

There was a song playing, and it was beautiful and infectious. And it sounded familiar — I knew the band, but I’d never heard that song. In fact, the last time I’d heard them was a few years before, in Halesowen, when their ad campaign urged people to get Laid…. by James.

“Is this James?” I asked excitedly.

“Yes,” the elderly woman at the counter said, returning my enthusiasm. “Isn’t it marvelous? You can hear Brian Eno all over their sound.”

I flinched. Did she say Brian Eno? I tried to guess her age, and thought, shouldn’t she be more into Perry Como?

“What is this?” I asked. “It’s fantastic. I didn’t know they had a new album.”

“UK only, I’m afraid,” she said with a sigh. “It’s a shame, really. Their label really fucked them over.”

Did she just say fucked them over?

I love this woman!

“So, do you have a copy for sale?”

“Of course!” she said with the confidence of a drug dealer. “Let me hook you up.”

Music was also my drug, and she had just become my pusher.

I left there that day with a deluxe edition, bonus live disc version of Millionaires by James, an album that should be ranked along with Oasis’ What’s the Story, Morning Glory, Radiohead’s OK Computer and Pulp’s Different Class as one of the great British rock albums of the ’90s but because of terrible promotion, has gone sadly under the radar.

It’s definitely my favourite JAMES album, darlings, and a great go-to album when I need something high energy.





11 responses to “I Know What I’m Here For

  1. Your story reminded me of the time I was laying in bed in an apartment in the 90’s nursing a hangover (well, not nursing, praying to die). I could hear Chris Issac’s Wicked filtering through the walls. I had a Lazarus wake up and knocked on the neighbor’s door to get the name of the song and artist. An unusual young woman in a man’s shirt invited me in to listen. She had Bolivian marching powder and a lot of real good Tequila. I’m grateful to Chris for the second life.

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