Photography, Road Trips, Stories Told

A visit to Headstone’s

Every time I go back to Terre Haute I try to at least drive by Headstone Friends. It’s a record store in the late-60s head-shop tradition. I spent a lot of money here in the late 80s when I was in college. Pretty much every dollar I earned at my part-time job, less whatever it cost me to eat Saturday and Sunday nights when campus food service was shut down, was traded here for music.

Headstone's in Terre Haute

Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor, Fujicolor 200

I was sad to find the shop’s exterior mural and sign to have deteriorated so. Contrast it to this photo I made in 2008, when I first wrote about this place. But inside everything was as it ever was: used records in the back in boxes perched on stacks of cinder blocks, cases full of CDs lining the walls up front, music blaring, dimly lit. The water fountain still doesn’t work and the room of black-light posters is still black-lit.

Headstone Friends

Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom

Hey, check it out, there’s my lamented, lost red Matrix. I was driving the blue Matrix this time; you can see its tail in the first photo. Or, rather, my youngest son was driving. We’re practicing driving toward his license and this day we burned down a solid three hours driving to, around, and from Terre Haute. It was a nice day together. And I was thrilled to share Headstone’s with him. I know he didn’t get it, but I tried to explain it to him anyway: how important music was (and is) to me, how most used records were $2 (indeed, many of them are still), and how I amassed a fabulous music collection on the cheap here. As long as Headstone’s keeps going, I’ll make occasional pilgrimages.

Incense burns constantly at Headstone’s. And they still carry the hard-to-find stuff. That stuff isn’t as hard to find today thanks to the Internet, but I still found a CD I’ve been looking for: a four-song live set Paul McCartney did in 2007, called Amoeba’s Secret. And even now, weeks later, the CD’s cardboard sleeve smells like Headstone’s. And so did we, all the way home.

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Stories Told

Headstone’s

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Headstone FriendsWhen I was in college, I should have just had my work-study paycheck direct-deposited into Headstone Friends’ bank account. I spent most of it there anyway on used records and CDs.

Headstone’s is a music store in head-shop trappings. Step inside, and suddenly it’s 1969. Well, it’s 1969 after your eyes adjust to the dim light. But you smell the sweet incense right away. Heck, you hear the loud music all the way out in the parking lot. Anyway, the counter is on the left, offering jewelry and silly buttons and, at least at one time, scales and rolling papers. On the right are ceramic dragons and fabric Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix wall hangings and a rack of incense sticks. Then racks of CDs line the wall all the way to the back where a few bins of records remain. In the corner, next to the drinking fountain that has never worked, is a room aglow with black-light posters.

Things do change at Headstone’s. When I first set foot in the place twentymumble years ago it was half the size it is now, full of waist-high record bins. They expanded into the building’s back section a few years later, and slowly tall homemade CD racks crowded out most of the record bins. And every so many years, when the building’s mural and sign are faded and worn almost beyond recognition, they repaint. When I was there last Saturday, it looked pretty fresh.

Headstone Friends

Headstone’s is seriously old school. They have one location, on Poplar at 12th Street in Terre Haute. They’re not on the Web. They don’t take credit cards. The owners, aging hippies who were about the same age I am now when I first visited, work the counter. They keep inventory records on index cards in cardboard boxes. When you find a CD you want, you go to the counter and have someone come unlock the cabinet for you. Then they total your purchases on paper receipts and calculate the tax by hand.

The staff is very low key, but while I lived in Terre Haute I visited so often that they came to recognize me. One fellow named Harold became friendly and came to recognize my buying habits. One day a college friend came by my dorm room and said that I should see Harold next time I was in. He had set aside a promotional poster from a Paul McCartney album for me. The album wasn’t Paul’s best, but the the cover photo, of Paul and his wife taken with the kind of camera used for 1940s Hollywood glamor shots, was outstanding, and larger than life on the poster. “We get this junk all the time and never use it,” he said. “You buy all kinds of Beatles and McCartney so I figured you’d like to have it.” Sure enough! I had it framed. Despite generous offers from collectors, it still hangs in my house.

Tie-dye

Harold was there on Saturday. I haven’t seen him in at least ten years, but he looked just the same – long brown-and-gray hair curling halfway down his back, reading glasses at the end of his nose, and a round, tan fisherman’s hat covering his head. There was a glimmer of recognition on his face when he saw me, but it had been so long I wasn’t sure he’d remember me even if I did give him my name, so I kept to myself. I didn’t find any CDs I couldn’t live without, but just for fun I did buy a tie-dyed T-shirt. It filled my car with Headstone’s scent all the way home. I hated to wash it.

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Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Spring morning, Rose-Hulman, 1988

As a boy, summer was my favorite season, but as I grew up spring began to overtake it. I remember well the day that spring clinched the top spot. It was the day before I took this photograph, one May morning in 1988.

These were my college days, and this was the view from my residence hall’s back door. I walked this way to breakfast every morning, but my mind was always preoccupied. This lovely scene shouted to me so I had to notice, and I stood there a few steps from the door startled and amazed by how beautiful the campus was. I didn’t want to look away from the still pond, so lovely with all the reflected trees. For the first time I smelled the sweet air, noticing how cool it felt on my arms in contrast to how the sun warmed my skin. As I heard birds chirping in the distance I wondered how many days spring’s arrival had escaped my notice.

Photography

Captured: Rose-Hulman spring morning, 1988

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History, Stories Told

Breaking the news of Space Shuttle Challenger

It was my generation’s “I remember where I was when I heard the news” moment: the day Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the air after launch. It happened 30 years ago today.

My “where was I” story is a little unusual — I was on the radio, and I broke the news to our listeners.

CBS News photo

CBS News photo

That makes it sound like so much more than it was. I was a freshman in college playing records on the campus radio station. WMHD broadcast at 160 watts from the eastern edge of Terre Haute, Indiana. Our signal could be heard well only up to about two miles away. I figure our listenership at that time of day was in the dozens.

My friend Michael burst into the studio carrying a portable television. He said, “The space shuttle just blew up,” as he plugged the TV in and turned it on. ABC News was already replaying the explosion over and over.

We watched silently, in disbelief, for several minutes. And then I realized I had a certain responsibility to tell our listeners, however few.

I let the song play out, and then I played our news sounder. I shook as I stood at the mic; my voice shook as I began to speak. I don’t remember just what I said, but I do remember tripping over my tongue. At least I got the word out.

And then I felt useless. WMHD had no real news department, just a couple students who rewrote stories out of the paper and off the UPI wire and read them on the air. All I could do, just like anybody else, was to keep watching TV. I went on the air after every record to update the story, but eventually told our listeners to find a TV and follow the story there.

I finished my shift playing records, I’m sure, for nobody.

Where were you when you heard the news about Challenger? Tell the story in the comments, or on your own blog (and please link back here)!

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Music, Stories Told

Headstone’s

I first told this story when this blog was young, eight years ago. I haven’t been back to Headstone’s in almost that many years. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I still have the tie-dye shirt I mention in this story.

Headstone FriendsWhen I was in college, I should have just had my work-study paycheck direct-deposited into Headstone Friends’ bank account. I spent most of it there anyway on used records and CDs.

Headstone’s is a music store in head-shop trappings. Step inside, and suddenly it’s 1969. Or at least it is after your eyes adjust to the dim light. But you smell the sweet incense the second you enter. Heck, you can hear the loud music way out in the parking lot.

The counter is on the left, offering jewelry and silly buttons and, at least at one time, scales and rolling papers. On the right are ceramic dragons and fabric Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix wall hangings and a rack of incense sticks. Then racks of CDs line the wall all the way to the back where a few bins of records remain. In the corner, next to the drinking fountain that has never worked, is a room aglow with black-light posters.

Things do change at Headstone’s. When I first set foot in the place thirty years ago it was half the size it is now, full of waist-high record bins. They expanded into the building’s back section a few years later, and slowly tall homemade CD racks crowded out most of the record bins. And every so many years, when the building’s mural and sign are faded and worn almost beyond recognition, they repaint. On the day I visited it looked pretty fresh.

Headstone Friends

Headstone’s is seriously old school. They have one location, on Poplar at 12th Street in Terre Haute. They’re not on the Web. They don’t take credit cards. The owners, aging hippies who were younger than I am now when I first visited, work the counter. They keep inventory records on index cards in cardboard boxes. When you find a CD you want, you go to the counter and have someone come unlock the cabinet for you. Then they total your purchases on paper receipts and calculate the tax by hand.

The staff is very low key, but while I lived in Terre Haute I visited so often that they came to recognize me. One fellow named Harold became friendly and came to recognize my buying habits. One day a college friend came by my dorm room and said that I should see Harold next time I was in. He had set aside a promotional poster from a Paul McCartney album for me. The album wasn’t Paul’s best, but the the cover photo, of Paul and his wife taken with the kind of camera used for 1940s Hollywood glamor shots, was outstanding, and larger than life on the poster. “We get this junk all the time and never use it,” he said. “You buy all kinds of Beatles and McCartney so I figured you’d like to have it.” Sure enough! I had it framed. Despite generous offers from collectors, it still hangs in my house.

Tie-dye

Harold was there that day. I hadn’t seen him in at least ten years, but he looked just the same – long brown-and-gray hair curling halfway down his back, reading glasses at the end of his nose, and a round, tan fisherman’s hat covering his head. There was a glimmer of recognition on his face when he saw me, but it had been so long I wasn’t sure he’d remember me even if I did give him my name, so I kept to myself. I didn’t find any CDs I couldn’t live without, but just for fun I did buy a tie-dyed T-shirt. It filled my car with Headstone’s scent all the way home. I hated to wash it.

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Music, Stories Told

Connecting through the ether

I miss radio, the kind where I could put on a pot of coffee on a rainy and quiet Sunday afternoon and be kept company by some pleasant music and a live disk jockey.

Time was, most towns had such a station. It played a variety of middle-of-the-road soft pop and standards. You could imagine the DJ humming along to the music he was playing, his own cup of coffee at his right hand. He’d open his mic as a song faded out and speak as if only you were in the audience. He’d tell you who sang that last song, read a PSA or a commercial, and then give a weather forecast, all in tones as rich and smooth as the coffee you were both sipping. There were recorded commercials, of course; never desired, but accepted as part of the implicit station-listener contract. But then it was back to the music and the light banter, just the DJ and you.

That kind of radio is all but extinct today. So many of the music stations on the dial where I live try hard to create some high-energy hip attitude, or play to a narrow music niche that shortly wears on me, or are simply overrun with commercials. And almost none of the stations are live anymore. When the DJ is live, you can almost sense that they’re breathing air at the same time you are. But a prerecorded (voicetracked, they call it in the biz) DJ is just another cold programming element, disconnected, lifeless. I might as well listen to Pandora or Spotify.

Me on the air

Me on the air

I feel privileged that I got to deliver that kind of radio once. In the early 1990s I worked weekends on a little AM station in Terre Haute, Indiana, one of a breed of “full service” stations that was already dying across the country. It was the station Terre Haute turned to for news, and then stuck around for the pleasant music and the personalities of the live DJs.

I worked Sundays mostly, but occasionally a Saturday. I’d go down into the studio and get out all my music as the playlist directed, stacking the tape cartridges on the counter, playing the songs one by one. It was mostly standards mixed with a little adult contemporary and a little popular jazz: Johnny Mathis, Dinah Washington, Fleetwood Mac, Les Paul and Mary Ford, James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, the Carpenters, Artie Shaw, Neil Diamond … you get the idea.

The phone would ring. Not off the hook, but occasionally. Sometimes it was someone wanting me to announce their lost dog or asking when I’d have the next trivia contest. But several people in my audience were older and lived alone, and wanted just to talk to someone. I loved those calls. My favorite frequent caller was a woman, 87 years old (she reminded me every call), whose name I’ve not remembered for twenty years. Mildred, maybe, or Edith; a sturdy name, as you’d expect of a woman born shortly after 1900. She never stayed on the phone long, a couple minutes, just to tell me she enjoyed hearing such-and-such song and to share a memory it kindled. Perhaps she danced to it when it was new, or maybe she heard it several times on several stations as she and her husband, long deceased, took a cross-country road trip. She told me once she was so happy that a youngster like me, a fellow in his early 20s, was sharing this good old music. She felt the connection, and I loved having it reflected back to me.

I have only two shifts recorded from my time on that station, from one weekend in 1992, a Saturday midday followed by a Sunday morning. I wish I had more. I especially wish I had a couple hours “untelescoped,” that is, with the music not cut out. I’d love to hear the full station sound again, not just the songs, but the jingles that transitioned between songs, and the IDs. I can hear those IDs in my mind: a booming voice said, “Serving the community 24 hours a day, we’re Terre Haute’s number one news voice.” And then there was a downbeat, and polished, impossibly happy jingle singers sang “WBOW, Terre Haute.” And then I’d press the button to take ABC network news; it was exactly the top of the hour.

Here it is, the entire recording. 17 minutes and 40 seconds, with a 15-second gap between the two shifts. It starts abruptly, in the middle of a weather forecast. I feel sure you won’t stick through it all, but do listen for a minute, anyway. If you listen through, you’ll hear some snippets of that booming ID voice, and you’ll hear me trip over my tongue here and there. But I hope you can feel that friendliness, that pleasantness, that connection through the ether. I tried hard to create it.

I wish now that I had called some of those disk jockeys when I was younger, just to say hello, just to let them know in some indirect way that I was glad they were on the job. Weekend shifts can be kind of lonely. It’s just you, the music, the mixing board, and the microphone — and occasionally a voice on the other end of the phone that lets you know that you’ve connected with them in some way that day. That connection made it feel worthwhile.

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