Amoeba Testimonials Contest Winners!
In celebration of our 20th Anniversary, we ran a contest where we asked YOU to tell US about your favorite Amoeba experience. The response was overwhelming!
Thank you to everyone who took the time to tell us their own personal Amoeba story. It was so difficult to just pick 3 winners but we did. To read all of the entries click right here! Read on to find out who won!
GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Danny Fedorenko
Listen up and let me tell you why Amoeba Records is cool.
Berkeley has had a long history of great record shops (the original Rasputin's, Mod Lang, etc.) so since my teens I had been making weekly trips out from the suburban wastelands to seek the hard-to-find punk and metal records I craved. I first encountered the brand new Berkeley Amoeba store after it had only been open a for few months (Holy hell! I can't believe that was almost 20 years ago!). It seemed MAMMOTH in both size and stock even though it was only about half the size of what it is today! Currently Amoeba Berkeley is the smallest of their three stores but back then it seemed wondrously large. I can remember the smell of vinyl records mixed with a bit of must from all the used stock and feeling this heady rush of excitement.
While I was amazedly flipping through rack after rack of albums with a bit of a goofy grin on my face I glanced up at the guy who was flipping through records the other side of the rack from me and noticed it was THURSTON MOORE from SONIC YOUTH. And he had on the exact same excited and goofy smile that I did! A bit self-consciously we both caught eyes and just nodded to one another and then each returned to his own quest for that ultimate find.
You see, THIS is what makes Amoeba cool. The people who LOVE music so much that they get this giddy feeling knowing that they can come to a store that loves music and the hunt for that ever-elusive rarity as much as they do. When you enter Amoeba Records you enter a place filled with excitement and possibility and that greatest gift of all, music.
As the holidays approach my brother Dave and I are going to partake in what has now become an annual tradition for us for the past 13 years running. It is our yearly search for the greatest (and the worst) Christmas holiday albums ever released! And while some years produce a ridiculous harvest of titles to bring home (220 Volt's "Heavy Xmas," anyone?), others have resulted in only a scant Christmas single. But, in the end, all of that is secondary because it is the annual trip we make together to Amoeba in Berkeley that is nearly as fun for us as Christmas Day itself.
So, here's to Amoeba Records 20th Anniversary. May the next twenty years bring as much joy to all of us as these past twenty have to me.
1st PLACE WINNER: Elliot Rutstein
I fondly recall the first time I stepped into an Amoeba. It was in the fall of 2002, when I arrived in Berkeley to start my undergraduate college career. I was studying science, but I knew music was always going to be my main passion. After spending my adolescent years in a suburb, knowing only large chain stores which offered little in the way of intriguing (or fairly priced) music, discovering Amoeba was as close to a religious experience as I could imagine. It was this catalyst that inspired me to convince my mom to give me her old record player to take back to my dorm. Between frequenting this record store and working part-time at KALX (UC Berkeley's college radio station), my music fix was near-satiated.
A year later, I moved just off Telegraph, a few blocks south of Amoeba. I found it impossible to not stop into the store each time I walked by, to and from campus, which ended up being several times each day. As I was then living on a student's meager budget, I found great joy in the used bargain section (especially the 'Buy 3 Get The 4th Free' policy!). I also greatly appreciated the discount offered to those with student ID's.
After graduating, I moved to San Francisco, not far from the Amoeba in the Haight. I found myself spending just as much time digging through vinyl and thumbing along rows of CDs at this location as I had in Berkeley. Many a lunch break was spent grabbing a quick bite to allow for more time wandering Amoeba's aisles.
After a year in San Francisco, I moved to Los Angeles to follow a career opportunity. I found myself in West Hollywood, once again not far from Amoeba's Hollywood location. At a distance of 3 miles, I found it to be perfect for biking, allowing an excuse to reward myself with a small stack of records with each attempt at exercise.
I am now convinced, after consecutively living in all three cities that boast an Amoeba Music, I may never be able to move again for fear of finding myself in a city without one (not to mention the general apprehension of moving now that I have albums that count in the thousands). Each location has its own unique charm, and, over the past 8 years, I have grown accustomed to my frequent visits. Amoeba has been a constant source of discovering new music, re-discovering old music, making new friends and, yes, even the destination for a few dates. It's more than a record store to me; it's a landmark representing growth of both cultural and personal significance.
Thank you for being such a large part of my life, Amoeba!
2nd PLACE WINNER: Lillian Rankins
I thought really great record stores only existed in really great movies. Places where the employees know everything and they can guide you to new artists. Or where you can guide yourself. Living in the suburbs of the Bay Area when you're 16, you can't always make your way to the Haight, but when I learned how to drive and I finally visited Amoeba for the first time I was blown away. I was definitely intimidated at first. There was no possible way I could ever feel at home in a store like this! I could never navigate my way around. How could I possibly get to everything? All of these cool people were walking around with their heads full of knowledge about bands and musicians I had never even heard of.
13 years later I feel like I walk that store with pride. I love spending hours just guiding my way through all the different aisles. I love checking that PJ Harvey vinyl section just in case by some miracle a To Bring You My Love copy found its way in there. But I didn't get to feel at home like this all on my own -- [there was] that guy who helped me find the out of print Martin L. Gore EP because I was in love with some guy and I wanted to listen to "Compulsion" over and over, or that one guy who told me that first BSS album was just OK but I bought it anyway and it came to be one of my favorite Cds, and [thanks] to any of the workers who didn't judge me for JUST getting into The Rolling Stones and told me their opinions of their best albums to buy, [and to] the store in general for always having every Bob Dylan cd there used or new because when all else fails and I can't find anything to buy I can always work on completing my Dylan collection. Whether I'm falling in love with a cashier because he too was in love with a not yet enormously popular Death Cab for Cutie or jumping up and down because I walked down the vinyl aisle to discover Ryan Adams had re-released all of his albums on vinyl, I love you Amoeba San Francisco. Others may feel intimidated and I feel at home.
Honorable Mention #1: Rosenda Moore
My sister and I went to Amoeba when you first opened the Hollywood location some years ago. We went in search of a gift for my father and someone suggested it. You see, the artist we were looking for was Lucky Thompson, who my father took lessons from way back when he was young, and he was a great fan of his music. My sister couldn't find any recordings by him anywhere else, and when we went to Amoeba. Not only did we find a Lucky Thompson CD, but there was actually a whole section of recordings that none of us knew about. Needless to say, my father was very pleased with the selections that my sister Alva purchased. We were both floored at all the different genres of music available for sale at Amoeba. I've had to avoid going back because I'd drop off my entire paycheck every two weeks if I come shopping there!
Honorable Mention #2: Tom Becker
For years I had been salivating over a rare Tchaikovsky Symphonies box set that was virtually impossible to find. While running an errand in Berkeley, I climbed the stairs to the very cool and intimate classical room and found this treasure for $20. Still pumped about that.
Honorable Mention #3: Chris Berry
I really enjoy Amoeba Records, although I always forget what I'm looking for the moment that I walk inside the enormous Los Angeles location.
My favorite moment has to be when Henry Rollins was performing Black Flag songs there back in 2002. With the help of Martin of Los Crudos/Limp Wrist and my friend Tom, I did a flip over a rack of records onto the pogo-ing kids at the front as they were playing "Rise Above." One of the Amoeba bouncers grabbed me and "escorted" me out of the store.
I also love finding all of the awesome obscure hardcore records there. Thanks!
Honorable Mention #4: Seb Asparian
November 2001... I remember waking up early so I could walk down to the grand opening of the Hollywood Amoeba store. I'd been driving by the location on Sunset and Cahuenga for weeks, getting more and more excited about the grand opening. After all, the store looked like a giant version of the Amoeba stores in Berkeley and San Fran, both of which I adored. LA needed a new record store desperately. Most of our small mom 'n pop stores had closed or were in the process of closing. We needed a new mom 'n pop-- a MEGA mom 'n pop.
When I arrived at the store, there was already a line all the way around the block. At first I was disheartened but once I got in line I realized that everyone around me was super cool. The wait went by quick, as we were all feverishly waiting for the doors to open. When they did, I entered and ran from section to section, picking all kinds of vinyl: old Brazilian classics, new jungle white-labels, hot hip hop singles and some amazing 7 inches. The employees were all extremely nice and helpful. We all got cool Amoeba T-shirts and other goodies just for being there so early.
Since the grand opening, I've had the pleasure of seeing a multitude of amazing acts go through the store (all for free, mind you!). From Murs' energy-packed performance to Sia's kooky and funny act to Busdriver's mind-bending lyrical set. What I really appreciate, more than the impeccably organized music collection, is the sense of community Amoeba creates. I feel like it's a meeting place for Hollywood's music nerds, artists, musicians and just regular folk. Every time we arrive back in LA and step off the airplane at the Burbank airport, I know I'm home when I see the huge Amoeba advertisement with a shot of the entire store. Congrats on 20 years, Amoeba! Here's to the next twenty...
I was in the Hollywood Amoeba store and I saw Madonna disguised as a man buying some cds and no one recognized Madonna because she was incognito. I asked her if she was Madonna and she said "Yes" and that she was in 2 hours of makeup and prosthetic facial appliances to get the disguise on so that she could browse the Amoeba store without being mobbed by fans. She thanked me for noticing her and smiled .. I was so excited!
Walking into an Amoeba record store is a surreal experience. You can walk in when the sun is shining high in the sky and walk out and -- wtf -- it's night time. You've just spent your whole day in this massive warehouse with walls of posters and aisles and aisles of CDs, DVDs and vinyl. It's a music lover's dream and I would never dare say no to a trip to Amoeba. You don't have to be looking for anything in particular to wind up buying a dozen $1 records and used CDs. It really is a mind blowing sight!
I remember the first time I walked into Amoeba San Francisco like it was yesterday. 2006, freshman year of high school and I was on vacation in San Fran with my Dad and brother. It was beautiful, so like a tourist, I snapped a few photos with my cell phone to show my amigos back in San Diego the awesomeness that is Amoeba.
Last summer my buddies, Kristina and Marissa, and I went driving up the coast of California from our hometown in San Diego to the "Mecca" in San Francisco. We stopped at various locations and we made sure all 3 Amoebas were on the list. This was the first time I'd been to Amoeba Hollywood and let me tell you, it didn't fail to impress. We stayed in there for hours and I left with at least 15 $1 records and a shirt. That was only half of what I would have bought if I had more money. Already I couldn't wait to get back home just to listen to them on my record player. We made a few more stops then we made it to San Fran and the glorious Haight for Amoeba visit number two. I tried to hold back but bought even more this time, including my all time favorite Cat Stevens record that I take with me everywhere I go. We tried to get out to Amoeba Berkeley but ran out of time on our trip. So I've added Amoeba Berkeley to my bucket list; I'm going to get there some way, somehow. Even without a 3rd Amoeba visit we made it back home with loads of goodies. I'd take on that road trip again any day.
Since that trip I've moved to San Francisco and attend San Francisco State Uni. I take the 28 to the 71 to Haight and Stanyan whenever I have a few hours or a whole day to kill in a fucking magical warehouse of music.
HAPPY 20th AMOEBA AND HERE'S TO ANOTHER 20 YRS OF PEACE THROUGH MUSIC!
LOVE, RACHAEL DIAMOND
p.s. whenever I wear my Amoeba shirts around, people can't help but shout lovely things at me or high five me :) EVERYONE LOVES AMOEBA!
Oh, Amoeba Berkeley, you will forever be ingrained in my memory as a safe harbor; a shelter from the storm. I was raised in the small town of Vacaville, which boasted at the time in the early 90's two music stores. The 1st, Tobacco Valley, was owned and operated by a nefarious proprietor who always remained prone on a throw rug on the store floor sedated in a thick cloud of smoke, trying to pawn the "newest" live recording of the Grateful Dead on a re-recorded cassette that may or may not have been a Journey album in its previous life. The 2nd store, appropriately named Vacaville Music, was a place that would keep Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums on sale in their top 10 well past any legal reason while hiding Iron Maiden records behind the counter for their disturbing covers. Today it is affectionately referred to as Vacaville Museum due to the fact that even now, you can find a new CD still in a long box.
And so a clear picture has been painted that growing up my friends and I had no clue what a real music store was like out there in the real world. But a new friend of ours was familiar with Berkeley, particularly an exotic place named Annapurna. Berkeley was a place we had only heard whispers and rumors of from our parents. A road trip was planned and this was our destination.
We arrived, and hit Telegraph street, greeted by people who all seemed to be going somewhere with a purpose. Our guide's purpose was Annapurna. I asked if he knew of a local book shop nearby while the rest of the group went to their destination. "Cody's" was the replay and I was pointed in its direction.
I made my way into Cody's, bought a book I was looking for, and exited back onto the sidewalk, marveling at the rich store fronts and faces passing by. As I stood I noticed a shadow darken over me, heavy breathing upon my back. I turned to face a wall of dirty denim and 90% cotton. I raised my gaze up, and up, and up further still to look into the eyes of a mountain of a man staring down at me, long hair hovering over the top of my head like some bird of prey.
"Give me a cigarette," the voice bellowed.
"I don't smoke," was my honest reply.
"Then you better start. ROAR!!"
The sheer impact of the juggernaut's literal roar was nearly enough to knock me over and more then enough to put fear into my feet. I fled. Into the crowd I went, trying to disappear into their masses. But Roar (as he would come to be known) had the effect of a Red Sea parting and at every turn people moved away exposing me to the charging Beast. As he bared down on me, arms raised above his head like a nightmarish gorilla about to pummel me into a permanent spot on Telegraph, I darted across the street toward a bright and colorful building with the marquee Amoeba something, something above the door (I was moving too fast to read much more than that). I pushed passed its inviting glass doors only to be stopped by a young man in a Ramones T-shirt, "I need your bag." I had no time to ask why I was being pinched for stealing when I just entered the building, so I traded him the book for a metal clip with a number on it and pushed further ahead into the crowded establishment.
"ROAR!!" The Leviathan had breached the store but before he could train his eyes on me the young man who apprehended my literature at the door put up an authoritative hand before Roar, "Hey man, don't start your crap today. Go...GO!"
Roar mumbled under his breath, threw a nondescript something onto the floor and exited my new found place of asylum.
Where was I? What where all these varied people doing here? Fearing that Roar might be watching from outside waiting or at least hoping I would take up the habit of smoking, I made a sharp turn to the right into what was the beginning of the C-F section of Rock. CD's. Albums. Music. Magic. Had Roar in fact killed me and sent me off to some Music Valhalla? Or was this some postmortem fantasy to ease me into the next life? No, this was real. And this was a place that I could never have imagined existed. Everything and anything you could ever want in music, covering every genre, under one roof. And no one was laying on a throw rug on the floor.
For the next two hours I wandered into the depths of Amoeba Records beside myself and beside myself again in elated joy. This place even offered hand baskets to fill with your musical discoveries!
And fill it I did. And continue to do so to this day. Over the years Amoeba would be a safe harbor for music lovers during the highs and lows of the industry. And in the tough and lean times Amoeba would be there to purchase my music collections as I painfully sold them only to come back and start my collections all over again. It would be a beacon hope and my proof that Music still matters. No matter what big box chain opens near me, it is worth the drive to again get lost in Amoeba aisles in hopes of discovering something new or re-discovering something old. If Amoeba doesn't have it, as I tell people, than it doesn't exist.
After I had exhausted my wallet [that first visit] I left Amoeba (and consequently my book as well, but I gained a clip with a number on it!). Then reality rushed back in. I scanned the horizon of heads for an oak tree sized object moving in the crowed. Roar was nowhere in sight. Then a familiar voice shouted next to me, "damn dude, where the heck have you been?" My friends had found me. That's right! I came here with people.
I ran down the events of my Odyssey like story and pointed with pride at Amoeba.
"Holy crap!" came one astonished reply, "a music store? I thought it was a grocery store it's so big!"
"Who names a grocery store Amoeba? You get sick if you eat one of those."
I never did make it to Annapurna. Cody's is sadly gone now. But Amoeba remains.
My safe harbor. My shelter from the storm.
January 19, 2009 I had a first date that started at Amoeba Hollywood. We met in front of the Newly Added Used section. She gave me a hug hello and accidentally dropped her shopping list pencil, and I picked it up for her.
Braving a hell of a storm, I took her the following MLK Day to re-create our first date. We went to the Newly Added Used section of the store and I gave her a pencil to drop. I went to pick it up and when I got up, I had an engagement ring and asked her to marry me.
We've been married nearly 7 months now.
It was a hard time two years ago. As a single parent trying to get by with a job that supported the bills and not much else, stress was abundant. I remember trying to think of a way to bring myself back to base line but not break the bank. Living in L.A. has its perks, and being close to Amoeba is definitely one of them, I grabbed my little girl, took the trip, and wandered the aisle with her in tow. Taking a stop in the corner where the clearance cds meet the posters, I was looking at the small ticket items I picked up. The overhead music was playing some random funk tune, and my daughter started to dance to the music! In her little sandals, she was swaying and rocking about! It was an awesome sight to see her getting down in a place that’s near and dear to me. Sharing my world with her meant a lot. I'll never forget that night, thank you.
Thirty-five minute story about a 40 minute set: Elvis Costello at Amoeba
Sitting on the sidewalk waiting for Amoeba to open, I thought of the concrete beneath me and paraphrased Howl: “I’ve seen the best behinds of my generation . . .” It’s been eons since I sat outside a record shop waiting early doors. It would be an hour before the gates opened -- two and a half hours before the purported start of the show.
Finally, we're in. I set up behind the sound man. I’d brought work with me (It was a Monday, after all), and the folk album section from Vashti Bunyan to Sandy Denny became my desk.
Right at noon, out bounded Elvis with a truncated version of his band The Sugarcanes (The Aspartames?) consisting of Jim Lauderdale and Mike Compton. By now, all the space in Amoeba was taken. Elvis is in good humor for someone who has already been on a radio show that morning.
Most folks loved it, though I did spy a young woman front and center who turned her back on Elvis, desperately flicking through CDs to pass the time. Forty minutes later we were done, and those of us who were within the first 80 customers to purchase were lined up for Elvis’ audience with his audience.
Officials repeatedly announced that Elvis will sign one item only, and only with the purchase of the new album. As for the one item limit, I’d come prepared, but how would my one item be received?
On his latest album, Elvis had a bawdy vaudevillian song about his lecherous ways with women of various b-list American cities called "Sulphur to Sugarcane." As one example:
"The girls of Poughkeepsie
Take their clothes off when they're tipsy
But I hear in Ypsilanti
the women don't wear panties."
I approached the table as Elvis crunched away on an apple, and started my shpiel: “Elvis, I don’t know if you’re aware, but Ypsilanti was once the Underwear Capital of the US . . .”
It’s true. Hay & Todd manufacturing made the full-body one piece union suit which was the rage in the 1890’s. “Never a rip and never a tear in Ypsilanti underwear.” To suggest that the women of Ypsilanti wouldn’t wear panties would be the equivalent of suggesting there’s no coal in Newcastle.
“Two artists in Ypsilanti have tried to revitalize the industry with the Ypsipanti, so I’ve brought you a pair and would like you to sign a pair for me.” He thanked me and accepted the gift graciously. Of course, signing any material makes for a challenge, but when he wasn’t pleased with his first attempt, he went back over the letters to make it more legible.
He shook my hand, and trying to get in the last word I said, “Wear it in good health.” Not willing to let that pass, Elvis said, “Yeah, on my head.”
That night at Amoeba Hollywood addressing a world-wide internet audience after singing Sulphur to Surgarcane, Elvis had this to say:
"…We were up at the Amoeba in San Francisco earlier today and someone gave me a gift that I wanted to share with you.
In the final verse of the song, 'Sugarcane,' it makes a suggestion that the ladies of Ypsilanti are a little bit… selective about their undergarments. And I have in my hand a pair of (yells come from the crowd as he takes them out of his pocket) Ypsilanti panties. (Laughter.) I kid you not. They go back a long way.
There’s an accompanying note with them. (Takes a letter out of his pocket to read it.) This is the historical part of the show. (He reads.) "Never a rip, never a tear, with Ypsilanti underwear." (Laughs.) At a Tom Jones show, the audience throws their underwear on the stage. We like to throw it out, into the audience. "
I have never met any celebrities or had any significant meetings with anyone when I have visited Amoeba, so my testimonial may be slightly boring. For me it's all about the music and the experience of just being inside a record store -- a haven that can remove any bad day, diminish work related fatigue instantly and refresh and invigorate your spirit instantly. I haven't met anyone in my many visits to Amoeba but yet each person who was beside me sorting through precious vinyl or walking past with their basket of treasures was a kindred spirit, a brother or sister on the same playground.
My first experience at Amoeba was with my son a few years ago and upon walking in the door I immediately thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was in such a state of euphoria I even offered my son money to buy a few cd's. One of my most recent visits happened upon my birthday. My wife and I were going to spend the day together and after a cozy breakfast at our local hangout we ventured onto Hollywood.
Each and every visit is both different and yet the same: Different in the sections to explore, and the purchases made, the same because every time I enter I feel the exact rush of excitment and anticipation for either the vinyl hunt or checking out and of course finding that one or two treasures that feel like you've just had a religious experinece. That birthday with my wife and later that afternoon and evening with our kids was the best birthday ever and the trip to Amoeba was classic. To this day my wife tells friends that she enjoyed seeing my face light up like a small boy on Christmas morning. I enjoy sharing Amoeba stories with frineds and co-workers and urging them to visit as well. I also returned with my son and friend to have another wonderful experience which of course lead to many more purchases and a great lunch downtown. Each trip is an adventure, a long lasting memory that conjures thoughts and plans for the next visit. My only regret is that I don't live closer, but then I know I would be in every day...but is that really a negative thing? I think not; it sounds fantastic. Support Amoeba and all of the independent record stores. Long may they stand and rock our worlds.
Before Amoeba entered my life, I was a bored kid stuck in the suburbs. I was interested in music but didn't have friends who knew about cool bands or artists, and I didn't know how to get exposed to anything new on my own either. We knew what was fed to us -- KROQ and MTV, and our only choice as far as what we could buy was what was available at a who's who list of now defunct commodity barns - Sam Goody, Wherehouse, Tower, you name it.
Napster came along at a pretty pivotal moment in my young adulthood, and that took care of the problem of access (but only somewhat, since in those dark dial-up days, it was really more of a means to sample than a viable way to ingest tons of songs). With the freedom to try new sounds, my tastes widened, but there were no record stores that I knew of that had these new bands I was interested in. And this was not arcane, obscure, off-the-radar stuff. This was Pixies, the Breeders, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth.
I'd heard murmurs of this strange mecca in Hollywood called Amoeba around high school. Oh, how far away it seemed. How badly I wanted to go. All my favorites were playing instore shows. People I knew who had been there described it with awe. But I didn't learn to drive until years after most kids my age, and I didn't get to experience Amoeba until college.
And oh, it was glorious. I went often. What little money I had pretty much went there (actually, this is still sort of true). And while school took up most of my time, I treated Amoeba as a secondary sort of education -- a giant hive mind of culture that could feed all of my curiosities. They had everything I already knew about, and many more treasures that I had yet to discover. This is still the case today for most of us non-wizard level geeks, I'd wager.
When I moved to Berkeley, I suddenly had an Amoeba in my neighborhood, and I went there probably every day of my first semester at Cal. Not always to buy, but to just be there, browse, hear what was playing on the speakers. Amoeba Berkeley became 'my' Amoeba and it was and is a beautiful, special place filled with wonderful people who love what they do. Over the years it became a haven and hang out spot that introduced me to some great friends. Amoeba Berkeley is synonymous with discovery and friendship for me.
I am glad Amoeba exists, because for many of us, a good record store means more than loading an anonymous stream into our earbuds. It's about building a community, experiencing culture and the exchange of ideas. It's a place to go to find out about the secret life of your neighborhood. It's about the search and not just the find. And it gives you something the hunter-gatherer mentality of torrent- and blog-pillaging never will, which is the sense of investing in something personal and long lasting. Music, film, books. These things feed the mind and furnish a life. Long live Amoeba.
Amoeba, I don't quite know how I feel about you anymore.. you see, I believe you've brought me to a new high, and left me there. It's that feeling you get when you're casually browsing through preloved vinyl and stumble upon a rare bootleg recording that seems to be worth that pretty penny in your pocket and you end up buying it when little do you know you would end up hanging out with Mark Mothersbaugh and his band on the rooftop of a local show later that night with it on hand, laughing at the amazement of what a find it is all while getting it signed it and invited to hang out the next day. Oh Amoeba, how you make me feel so warm and fuzzy inside during these chilly cold days. It's like that one time when Sia signed my calculator on a school night in exchange for a custom pin I was wearing. Stay classy. Stay great. And pass this feeling along to everyone else. You're really a new high.