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Scene (Near) South Bend: Rumor Records

| Thursday, February 15, 2018

Diane Park | The Observer

Reflecting on the frailty of relationships, Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson in Cameron Crowe’s acclaimed film “Almost Famous”) speaks wisely, “if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.”

A word of warning: If the record store in question happens to be Rumor Records in Niles, Michigan, do not (seriously do not!) Uber there alone, unless you want to spend more time (roughly 103 minutes) than expected with your new friends. It just so happens that Uber will take music-loving loners from Main Circle to Niles, but it does not offer the return trip.

That said, I would recommend paying Rumor Records a visit — preferably by car with an actual human friend.

“But why?” you ask. “I have Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube. Don’t have a turntable. And, even if I did, I could just go on Amazon or Discogs.”

To your remarkably pointed and weirdly expositional concerns, I would respond with a few images. The first depicts a mounted and bespectacled deer head, positioned above a toilet, surrounded by hand-painted 45 rpm singles. The second captures rows of worn vinyl sleeves, organized according to a loose definition of the word “alphabetical,” against a backdrop of cluttered posters and musical instruments. The third showcases a bearded man as he works meticulously on the innards of a 30-year-old turntable. These images, taken together, storyboard Rumor Records — the only store remotely within the vicinity of Notre Dame’s campus still dedicated to vinyl record shopping’s innately physical experience.

Ideally, record shops should serve as the music nerd’s enlightenment salon. Rob Fleming (protagonist of Nick Hornby’s endearing novel “High Fidelity”) asserts, “It’s not like collecting records is like collecting stamps, or beermats, or antique thimbles. There’s a whole world in there, a nicer, dirtier, more violent, more peaceful, more colorful, sleazier, more dangerous, more loving world than the world I live in.”

A shop like Rumor Records smears the kindness, dirt, violence, peace, color, sleaze, danger and love on its walls. These concepts emanate from the records and wash over the store’s employees who then extend it to each and every customer willing to step inside.

It takes a special kind of person — someone far more interested in creating a space for music fans than selling inventory — to man such a store. Matt Shaver (assisted by his tech-minded business partner and an excitable young clerk) is precisely this kind of person. He’s the kind of person who has no qualms imposing his particular tastes (vintage pressings of early to mid ’70s classic rock from what I could deduce) on a world that outwardly values curated lists of MP3s meticulously placed for easy listening. Jimmy Page never played too meticulous a live solo and Bob Dylan never seemed all that concerned with his vocal key, yet both embody the rock-and-roll ethos. Likewise, Shaver will not streamline the wild and improvised nature of his shop interior, lest he vacate the swagger wafting through its many corners.

Shavers’ commitment to the unkempt feel of the place translates to more work for the customer — I found myself sifting through bins for 45 minutes (and what seemed like a billion crappy hair metal records) until I struck a connection with a beautiful original pressing of Bob Dylan’s first LP — but the heightened effort drives the experience. Without curated playlists and algorithmic radio stations to do the heavy lifting, the customer has two options: (1) flip through record after record until something interesting or unexpected crosses his or her eye or (2) consult one of the shops three hyper-opinionated but remarkably personable employees. While (1) might take a while and (2) might lead to disagreement, both foster the very thing that internet music has endeavored so vehemently to stifle — active interpersonal engagement.

Penny Lane’s “friends” may be a kitschy metaphor for great records, but, when it comes to Rumor (and all other independently owned brick-and-mortar records stores for that matter) the phrase can and should be taken to reference actual human friends — old friends, new friends and friends not yet made.

With this in mind, when your next lazy afternoon comes around, grab a friend and drive (don’t Uber!) on over to Rumor Records in Niles, Michigan, and pay a visit to friends of all kinds.

Find Rumor Records at 216 East Main St., Niles, Michigan. Like them on Facebook (Facebook.com/rumorrecords) or follow them on Twitter and Instagram (@rumor_records). Don’t take an Uber.

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