Saturday, November 5, 2016

In Memoriam: saki (2010-2016)

I first moved to Logan Square in late summer 2010. It was a brave new world for me - my first time living on the northside. Fresh out of college and student teaching, I didn't yet have the physical or financial stability for a vinyl collection but I was determined to explore the neighborhood. On my second day in my new neighborhood I went for an exploratory walk and, amidst a sea of of taquerias and by-the-slice places I ran into a seemingly out-of-place record store on Fullerton called saki. I immediately knew I'd found something.

That little shop became my first neighborhood place in Logan. By that I mean, it was something I could put in a sentence like "you should check out my neighborhood ______ place, it's great". I felt a kinship with saki. We both loved music, had similar taste and were barely hanging on at the edge of the neighborhood's music scene. It was an anchor in the landscape of my new life. Like my local bar or grocery store (The Double and Tony's, for the record), it became a part of my personal geography as a place that felt intensely like home.

It's also what helped drive me into record collecting. Although I still cringe at the fact that vinyl obsession is just another form of consumerist self-medication, it's MY medication and it helps get me do normal, dammit. As the mp3 blog world of the mid-to-late '00s gave way to the even mightier deluge of omnipresent "musical content" (although clearly this blog found out five years too late), I've become one of those assholes who has deep-seated convictions on the joys and benefits engaging regularly with music put out on physical objects with art on the cover and rich sound and all that crap. saki was my kiddie pool, helping me wade carefully into a new way of exploring music.

It's where I bought my copies of The MonitorLondon Calling and Double Nickels On The Dime. Do you KNOW what owning critically-acclaimed, genre-challenging punk double albums means to bearded record nerds of a certain age? And if I needed the newest Bloodshot release or Kendrick record or just a place to find something totally unexpected, I had an oasis less than a 10 minute walk from my knee-bumpingly cramped one-bedroom walkup. It wasn't necessarily a beneficial proximity, especially after losing my first teaching job and often skated by on double digit bank balances for far longer than advisable. Still, at the time it felt like a good way to waste my youth and I stand by that.

The allure of the unexpected is what makes it especially appealing. Earlier this year I was browsing aimlessly through saki's Local Artist bin and I stumbled on an LP with a really sweet-looking cover and decided to purchase it for that reason alone. It turned out to be Bill Tucker's Punk Fills / Sad Bad Mittens compilation. As I've since moved, dealt with family medical issues and just generally tried to weather the unrelenting shitstorm that is 2016, I've often found myself seeking the sweaterlike comfort of his guitar and nasaly ruminations on life. It's the kind of record-I-never-knew-I-needed that I come in expecting to find and am rarely dissapointed.

I love the non-algorithmic serendipity of having a place to come and rub musical stones together and see if anything sparks. saki was particularly designed for this, lacing in weird noise records and the complete Sun Ra discography amongst the St. Vincent record I'd originally come in to buy. It was a place to enjoy art, familiar and unexpected. There was always local art and/or posters for sale hung with reverence on the walls and a small bookshelf where you could pick up anything from zines to 33 1/3 installments to John Darinelle's latest novel. 

Baby Money & Beer
They were also a surprisingly great place to see live music. Although I love a cramped record cave, saki's airy layout with a small stage and open area contrasted nicely with most records stores. Here in-stores didn't require trying to cram oneself awkwardly amongst aisles of records, craning and straining to see the artist. The store's giant plate glass windows were also a plus. They would absolutely drench the room in sunlight, giving whomever was onstage an air of having a natural spotlight and it made the pretentious can of beer you'd bought on the way taste that much sweeter.

The shows I most remember were mostly populated by scene faves like The Runnies or Baby Money, with the occasional local heavy hitter like JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound (which I might have mentioned before). Then every once in a while they'd even grab someone like Superchunk and you felt proud that they'd managed to drag indie royalty into your grubby neck of the woods. They also promoted the hell out of live music outside their walls with an ongoing deal where they'd give you a guestlist spot at upcoming live shows if you bought the band's record beforehand. For places like Lincoln Hall or Empty Bottle, this essentially amounted to getting a couple of tickets for below face and a free LP to boot. I never understood why that alone didn't have them mobbed every time a new show was announced but such is fate.

On Thursday, Adam Hirzel and Patrick Monaghan announced that, due to the closure of Carrot Top Distribution, the company driving the store, saki will shut its doors as of December 1st, adding yet another tribulation to the biblical trial that is 2016. Although the news hit me hard, I can't say that I was surprised. As often as not I would stop by on my way home from work and browse for half hour as the store's only customer. Being as far west as they were, they weren't exactly a hotbed for foot traffic. I was spoiled but for most people it was a schlep and, with records stores sprouting up like mushrooms on the northwest side, record buyers didn't lack for other options.

Still, I'll always have fond memories of Adam behind the register chatting with me as I checked out and inevitably talking me into having them order the latest Feelies re-issue or tweeting me when the new Angel Olsen was back in stock, lest I miss out again. I'm sure I was fish in a barrel. Meanwhile Patrick, despite being a Cubs fan, is a wonderfully old soul and one of the finest twitter follows in Chicago (and beyond), especially if you wanna get woke on the scourge of urban light pollution. These are the kind of people who made Logan Square feel like an actual community full of wonderful human beings, not just another "hot neighborhood".

So let me just close by saying a heartfelt thank you to these cool dudes and all the other great folks who helped make saki a thing for these last six-and-half years. You created something meaningful that will always hold a special place in my heart. And on my shelves.