It was exactly twenty years ago today, November 17th, 1990, when the first Amoeba Music store opened its doors in Berkeley, CA. And, as you well know, all three Amoeba stores have been celebrating the anniversary of this joyous occasion all this month, culminating in the big, all day 20th Anniversary party event at the original Telegraph Avenue Amoeba this past Sunday with cake (of course), giveways, incredible sales, plus non-stop live entertainment from such talents as Pam the Funkstress, DoseOne (both pictured left), and Lyrics Born. Check this recent Amoeblog with lots more photos and a nice run down on Sunday's wonderfully fun event.
As Amoeba's Marc Weinstein noted in the recently posted Amoeblog interview, the lead up to that November 1990 opening took many long months of hard work. That Amoeblog interview was just one of two that Amoeba Marc did on the topic of Amoeba's rich past. I also talked with him about additional Amoeba history, including what Telegraph Ave was like in the decade before Amoeba first opened and Marc's own personal record store history.
"I worked at Rasputin's in 1980/'81 and then I went traveling to buy records back East so I still worked for Rasputin's through '83 but not back in the Bay. When I came back from being back East I worked in San Francisco at Streetlight Records from '83 to '90," recalled Amoeba Marc. "I remember the Avenue [Telegraph] been completely packed with all types of people. The variety that was represented and the businesses that kind of catered to those people on Telegraph was so thick," he said. "It was so good in its heyday; great record stores, great book stores, great used clothing stores. We closed Rasputin's at 11pm so we could go next door to Universal [long gone Berkeley record store] which was open til 12 and Universal always had little shows or things going on. We could shop for records til midnight every night and go see bands and never really leave the Avenue. You can't really do that kind of thing anymore."
"Universal lasted until about '85 I think but I don't know for sure cos I was off the Avenue. I didn't really come back to the Avenue until about '89 when we were starting to look for a location," recalled Marc. "I just know what it was like before and what it is like now on the Avenue. It is nowhere near the vibrancy and cultural diversity that used to be represented. There's just no economic diversity anymore. Nowadays you're either homeless and live on the street or you have money, but nothing in between. Berkeley in general is really just a rich person's bedroom community. There is no real cultural activity except for maybe food but that tends to be more of the realm of people with money anyway. There's a lot of cool stuff going on with food. There's a lot of good bakeries but not bookstores anymore."
Another thing that has changed on the Avenue since the early 80's, noted Marc, is the number of street vendors. "There used to be a lot more street vendors on Telegraph between Dwight and Ave and Bancroft, and all doing brisk business selling their wares. Now there's maybe ten vendors. For the four blocks solid there were all vendors and they were making stuff right out on the street and selling it. You can't survive doing stuff like that anymore in an economy like this. When I moved here in 1980 I had a house for $180 a month at 40th and Shafter [North Oakland] and there were three of us sharing it for sixty bucks each. But back then an average good apartment was like $200. So we were real lucky. We found a little house. It was a funky 3 bedroom but I was paying $60, maybe $80 including all my utilities and I was making maybe $8 something an hour at Rasputin's so I had such a good life. I could buy any food, coffee, go to any shows. I had a car. I could pay for my insurance. But now if you just have rent and a car and insurance: I mean, you can't even do that! So to that extent it has changed so much in terms of how free people are to think about the issues of art and music."
Marc noted that initially the first Amoeba was going to be opened in San Francisco. "We started looking around first in San Francisco. We initially were looking at Haight Street and Market Street. And Dave [Prinz --- fellow Amoeba co-owner] was living in San Francisco at that time, and so was I, so we really focused our energy on where in San Francisco we wanted the store. But when we came over to Telegraph we looked around and thought about the whole history of record stores and it was a little bit less expensive and there was this ideal spot, where we are today, that was available right then and there and it was really a great raw space. For years it had been called Via Hermosa. It was a Mexican restaurant. Then it was briefly a cafe called Cafe Ness which was run by this kind of wacky Hungarian fellow who would run street people off with a broom and all kinds of weird stuff. He'd have tantrums in the doorway. We heard all kind of weird stories about him," laughed Marc with a hearty chuckle.
When Amoeba first opened back in 1990 it was a new business model that drew inspiration from the best of many existing businesses and added its own flavor. "Part of the whole idea of Amoeba was to have a large selection of used as well as new, of having a strong used section," said Marc. "That was our whole idea and it was a combination of experiences. I think the Rasputin's model is pretty good but not enough respect [is] shown for the product. Streetlight was almost the whole other side, like respectful and neat." Another specialty of Amoeba from the get go was to stock lots of vinyl. Even back in 1990, when the first Amoeba opened, CDs were already the leading format. "It wasn't all CDs but it was predominantly CDs by that stage. The LP market was pretty much a collector's market. Within a couple of years you really pretty much couldn't get anything new on vinyl. There were a lot of [CD] reissues of albums coming out then. Most of the labels by then had cut out all their vinyl catalog completely. In those days we would buy a whole collection, people would come in with a whole stack of records, and on top of it, their turntables, because they were getting rid of the whole idea of vinyl."
Happy 20th Anniversary, Amoeba Berkeley! Below are a lists of things from 1990, including TV shows that began airing that year, popular movies that arrived in theaters that year, and some hip-hop albums released in 1990.
Five Popular Movies That Opened in 1990 (now avail on DVD in Amoeba)
1. Jerry Zucker's Ghost with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg was the biggest box office success of 1990, and its soundtrack made the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" a hit all over again.
2. Not quite as large a scale a hit as Ghost, Total Recall, the sci-fi film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox, was a big movie in 1990. Note that the later CA governor's movie Kindergarten Cop came out that same year.
3. John Waters' excellent Cry-Baby, starring Johnny Depp -- the same year another Depp movie, the Tim Burton directed Edward Scissorhands with Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, and others.
4) House Party with Kid N Play was a silly but most entertaining film. It also starred the comedian Robin Harris, who died of a heart attack just nine days after the film's release.
5. Avalon, directed by Barry Levinson, told the engaging story of a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants who settled in Baltimore at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Five TV Shows That Began in 1990:
April 8 – Twin Peaks premiered on ABC (1990–1991).
April 15 – In Living Color premiered on Fox (1990–1994).
April 19 – Wings premiered on NBC (1990–1997)
July 12 – Northern Exposure premiered on CBS (1990–1995)
Sept 13 - Law & Order premiered on NBC (1990–2010).
Ten Hip-Hop Albums Released in 1990
1) Boogie Down Productions Edutainment (Jive)
2) A Tribe Called Quest People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Jive)
3) Ice Cube AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (Priority)
4) Too $hort Short Dog's in the House (Dangerous Music/Jive)
5) Gang Starr Step in the Arena (Chrysalis)
6) Paris The Devil Made Me Do It (Scarface/Tommy Boy)
7) Digital Underground Sex Packets (Tommy Boy)
8) Brand Nubian One For All (Electra)
9) Kool G Rap & DJ Polo Wanted: Dead or Alive (WB)
10) Public Enemy Fear Of A Black Planet (Def Jam)