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December 21, 2011

PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE

More than winning

An old joke: Whatever doesn’t kill you … just really, really hurts you. While there’s a surplus of painful subjects both international and local to discuss, I’d like to focus on gratitude. Thanksgiving week offered moments of human goodness and warmth, despite a political climate so vitriolic that writers are actually using the word “vitriolic.” Our week of giving thanks also included a bittersweet farewell to one of Louisville’s most important businesses — though calling ear X-tacy an “important business” doesn’t convey the incredible sense of family and creativity that this one little (epic) record store could inspire. It seems that what often constitutes victory these days is a rather ruthless “last man standing” mentality that many Americans seem to love. We like a good fight … but ear X-tacy fought for many things outside of pure profit and prestige.

Just to be upfront, I worked at the store for seven years and feel honored to be a small part of the story. I always believed our primary role was to build community and give all musical genres a chance to be heard. We aspired to treat every person who walked in fairly and decently, and wanted to offer a social forum for ideas to be debated and expanded. I thought these things because that’s what everyone on the staff requested of me each day. They also gently reminded me to be on time and wash my clothes (many ear X-tacy employees were also working musicians).

No one worked at ear X-tacy to make a killing. We simply loved music and being surrounded by it. Sure, we didn’t always agree, but that made it interesting. I was humbled and inspired by the musicians (from many continents) who shared their talents during the years of free in-store concerts … not to forget the amazing people in this town who showed such loyalty and support for decades. Seeing the Louisville Independent Business Alliance come together was so encouraging. More than ever, we seriously need small businesses to keep our city vibrant and original. We can all debate what the store’s closing means for the music industry, and what that says about surviving a radical change in entertainment technology (coupled with a gnarly worldwide recession), but I mainly think of people coming together in one space, sharing something elemental with each other.

No, ear X-tacy wasn’t perfect. We stumbled sometimes, dropped the phone, missed the beat, couldn’t always special-order the Australia-only 12” remix of “Bootylicious.” I did see people of every background, age, wealth and experience gather and express their personalities. I saw the organic exchange of ideas and ambitions, often scented with dragon’s blood incense or perhaps the less than optimal “wet-dog-hemp-burnt-plastic” smell endemic to good record stores. Fuck — we even sold ceiling fans for a while.

John Timmons was kind enough to share his store and his dream with our town. People from all over saw that Louisville had a space to celebrate the everyday, the everynight, the shaven and shaggy, the devout, the confused, the breakdancers, the turntablists, the acoustic, the virtual, the freaks, the ironic, the mutants, Madvillains, dispossessed, the Lovecraftian, the Funkadelics, the Slints, the white-gloved, the purple-caped, the classical, the romantic, the Gwars, the no-depressed, the dreaded, the undead, the Ut Grets and Vrktms and Nellie McKays and the Nappy Roots and Indigo Girls and those wearing Morning Jackets and all other lifeforms not visible without black light.

I truly believe in the resilience of the music culture in Louisville. There are many people working to expand creativity here (and throughout Kentucky). Louisville Public Media is an incredible asset that needs our support, as do local concert venues, new and surviving record and book and video stores — any place that lets humans come together to share a few urgent thoughts or just vent. We also need you, dear readers, to join the fracas. A diverse, compelling music community won’t just thrive on its own. It requires the rush and energy of being out in the open to grow, not just nibbling on digital packets in isolation. You may be lucky enough to create something that lasts 26 years in the flesh and 10,000 years in the soul.

Jason Noble is a Louisville musician who has performed with the bands Shipping News and Rachel’s, among others.