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Friday, February 22

Chicago Magazine C Notes Blog Praises saki and CTR

First, a note from our founder:


Now, on to business.

To my, and our, great surprise, Chicago Magazine's C Notes blog posted The C Notes Power List: Music’s Hit Makers about six musical "cultural influencers" Wednesday evening. My name was included in a list of people who are doing cool things in Chicago. There's some awesome and inspired people on this list who've decided to take bold steps to help raise the musical awareness level here in the cultural capital of the middle two thirds of our nation. I was not aware that my name would be included on this list until Whet Moser @whet pointed it out on Twitter Wednesday night. Incredible company with whom to be named. Wow.

Obviously I'm very touched to be thought of in this regard and with these excellent people. Had I talked with the author of this post, I would have shared some things that got overlooked when crunching saki, CTR, and CTD down into 110 kind words. There's also a lot of hyperbole crammed into there.


False modesty aside, the best that I can say for myself is that I've always done my best to foster an atmosphere where imaginative and energetic people can work on implementing their creative visions to the best of their abilities and with as few hurdles as possible. Too often I have failed at this over the years, but generally speaking, whenever you see cool things happening around here, somebody else besides me has been conjuring and then pushing them into existence, and that's been true for at least that last ten years and good chunks before that. So, a little history.

I cannot count the number or labels and store buyers, some even local, who came into our old basement warehouse wholesale space, almost from the moment we opened, and energetically said, "You should open a retail store!" Having worked in retail, our answer was always either "No thanks." or "Great idea! You do it."

I went through two bouts of cancer treatments with my mom back home in Texas, one of which lasted on and off for nearly a year, and then through prolonged Hospice care until she passed. I got diagnosed with MS in 2006, fought through a bout of IV steroid treatment, and have been dealing with the relatively benign ups and downs of that disease since.

Oddly, it was during my crazy living in the basement manic IV steroid dosing that the idea for a store like saki really hit me. It would need to be a kick ass record store, like what had been suggested previously by our visitors, but it would need to be more than that. It would need to incorporate elements beyond most record stores and beyond the tchotchkes that had begun invading previously sacred record store shelves: art, events, books, tons of in-stores, and other stuff. We'll get back to this.



I report all of this not for sympathy, but to point out how many amazing, amazing things have happened here while I was either physically, emotionally, geographically, spiritually, or energetically absent. Sometimes I was many of those things at once. CTD has actually expanded a little over the last few years while competitors have shrunk, merged, or closed up, and has started doing digital distribution. (Thanks Adam R, Allison, Brook, Caitlin, Ed, Emily, Gade, Jared, Jason, Joel, John A, John D, Josh, Julia, Karen, Katie, Kristin, Lauren, Markie, Marty, Matt I, Matt B, Geils, Michael, Pat, Pete, Robert, Sean, Tyler A, Tyler C, numerous short timers, part timers, and interns!) In an attempt to increase our dismal wholesale margins, CTD started doing mail order in 2006 under the name saki and opened up online (Thanks Tyler A!). In 2008, while undergoing business consultation and counseling (Thanks Marty, Katie, Allison, Brook, Bryan and Doug!), our old landlord forced our hand with an ill-timed, enormous rent hike on our dark, basement space just as the economy crashed.

warehouse shipping-old space pre move

We found our current space, which had room not only for our existing wholesale and mail order operation, but also a store front, in a cheap but transitioning neighborhood that was not already served by a record store. We snagged it at a good price and moved. (Thanks 2008 crew!) We got support and advice from our cool, new alderman, Rey Colón, to help with licensing and zoning. (Thanks Alderman!)

Just as things were getting settled around here, Mom got very sick again, and I was off to Texas to sit in hospitals for the second time in seven years, and learn more about cancer, caregiving, codependencyletting go and love. (Thanks MDA docs, nurses, social workers, advocates, teachers!) Meanwhile, the label kept on releasing amazing records without missing a bea(s)t. (Thanks, Kate!) At the same time, the retail storefront, which had been put on hold, was willed into being when Allison decided to make that her parting project, and the rest of the staff amazingly picked up the slack, not only for my prolonged absence, but also for Allison's radical shift in duties. (Thanks Allison, Brook, Adam H, Adam R, Caitlin, Ed, John D, Karl, Julia, Kate, Kristin, Pete, Tyler C, Tyler A, Leah, Ray, Spencer, and rest of 2010 crew, again!)

Mom had "two weeks to live" for nearly a year and far exceeded the normal stay in Hospice. I think she stuck around largely out of spite. Even through that, over the last two years really cool things kept happening here. New exclusive labels kept coming on board, a few people left for new adventures, and great people with new ideas and energy stepped in to fill their shoes. New independent stores started opening (and stayed open!) even as the big boxes withered and died.

After Mom passed and I shifted into Learning About and Doing Stuff You Do When Your Last Parent Dies*, I finally got to spend a little more time back at work. The label got reinvigorated, and we threw ourselves into rethinking everything and promoting amazing new albums by Antietam and Megan Reilly. (Thanks Erin and Julia!) saki really started to blossom. Cool in-stores and after hours parties happened with regularity. We started sponsoring shows and events away from saki and hosting podcast tapings, lectures, bigger in-stores, fun activities, movie nights, and even a superb monthly stand-up comedy night, all for free! (Thanks Bottom Lounge, Cole'sEmpty Bottle, I Am Logan Square, Joe McAdamLincoln HallProvenanceSchuba'sTownship, Adam H, Tyler, Matt B, Erin, Karl, Matt I, Leah, and everybody who I'm forgetting!) We had our second, astounding Record Store Day. We got seriously into the gallery side of saki and hosted some incredible art shows with great ones lined up. (Thanks Erin, Leah, Adam H, Julia, Matt!)


Late last year, Erin decided to pour through the historic and exciting new City of Chicago Cultural Plan, Chicago's first in over twenty-five years. I encourage you to check it out if you haven't. We set up a meeting with them to discuss how we felt we could help them implement this monster in our little corner of Logan Square. A few weeks later, we, and the hip people at Elastic Arts, got a happy surprise with a proposal to carry out a monthly series of largely Chicago-centric extended listening parties, which of course we jumped at. We've been doing things like this with no budget, so even the tiny stipend from the City to help out gave us a lot of room to do fun things and also give the artists at least a little bit of compensation beyond potential record sales for a change. (Thanks DCASE, Elastic, Provenance, Goose Island, WeeGee'sNew Wave Coffee, caterers, Erin, Adam, Matt, Karl, Caitlin, Joel, and multitudinous other helpers!)

Through all of this, the single biggest constant has been CTD. The distributor has the most employees, the biggest overhead, the lowest margin, the most moving parts, and the grindingest work load. Over the years, since Paul and I–and very quickly Markie, Marty, and Millicent–started this place, our first goal was to stay in business while eschewing most of the mistakes of our past employers. Our second goal was/is to help out record labels, record stores, musicians, and zine writers here in Chicago and wherever we find them, and in whatever small way we can muster. Over the years, we've obviously helped get records from Band A to Store B millions of times, but we've also finagled sale pricing from labels that we could pass along, fought back against electronics stores for indie shops with chains, other distributors, and even labels, shipped records and merch to touring bands who ran out, assembled box sets, bent financing rules for shops, hand-delieverd orders–sometimes even in other states, hosted bands and label peoples on our couches and spare beds, warehoused gear, offered advice on starting labels (first, don't, but if you really must, here's some tips), manufacturing, shipping (see below),

how to deal with record distributors to get what you want, getting paid from deadbeats, mastering, and just about anything else you can imagine having to do with music from start to finish. After reading this partial, off-the-top-of-my-head list, you can clearly see that there's no way in hell that I could do all of this by myself. It's also quite obvious that we would not still be here without the mutual support from our labels and customers as well. Stores and labels still have quite a few choices and so many of them have chosen to stick with us through our crazy business cycles, Napster, multiple economic crashes, two wars, power outages, emo, floods, snow and ice storms, MAP, and for our oldest, even UPS transit strikes. (Thanks stores, labels, bands and all hard working, under-appreciated CTDers past and present!)

I don't think it was intentional, but the nice, hyperbolic C Note paragraph also completely dismisses the resourceful, kind, tasteful, visionary, tireless, good people who've been running record stores and labels in this city for years and decades, and, in two cases, eons. Believe me, anybody who's managed to keep a record store or record label open through all of the BS I listed above, on top of the normal travails of small business entrepreneurship, is likely bat shit crazy and also knows what the hell they are doing. The chaff was separated out a long, long time ago. I can tell you that, without a doubt, Chicago has the very best collection of magnificent and eccentric record shopsrecord labels, recording studios, mastering labs, and live music clubs in the country and maybe the world. There certainly aren't any cities who have it better. (Sorry Austin, NY, LA, Omaha. You don't match up on all three points, plus winter.)

Wow.

The first point of all of these words is to point out in as much painstaking but hopefully entertaining detail as I can muster, that I had very little to do with most of it beyond providing a canvas, a small but steady pay check, some rough guidance, and some moral support, and even some of those qualities are lacking for extended periods of time. I hope that I and we have helped a little, believe me we've tried and at times failed miserably, but the scene here is not thanks to any one person or business and certainly not me. Which leads to my second point, and that is acknowledging and saying a sincere thank you to all of the people over here, now and ghosts long gone whose spirits and systems live on, who have made and make this weird hybrid thing go. I've tried my best to say "thank you" each and every day when I am here, but I'll say it here publicly and loudly:

Thank you

Thank you for your hard, hard work over frequently long hours for low, low pay.

Thank you for your knowledge, dedication, precision, caring, food love, compassion, recklessness, vision, fearlessness, kindness, humor, inquisitiveness, taste, commitment, zeal, friendship, and general awesomeness.

Thank you for picking up behind me and for picking me up.

Chicago music is thriving because people go to work every day trying to figure out a way to eek out a living doing something they love and enough customers here in Chicago value what it is that they, and we, do. We all love music in all of its crazy forms, and try to help it flourish. That's all there is to it.

Thanks to Chicago Magazine C Note, but bigger thanks to the people still doing it every day and every night, all of you–even the ones who can't stand me.

Saki and little sister Tejabindu Sydney Adams, ca. 1994. 2

If I've somehow forgotten your name, my humble apologies. It's certainly not intentional!

Also, you should all go read Jessica Hopper's touching and groovy story from Pazz and Jop linked herein.


*If anyone ever asks you to be the executor of their estate, even if you think it is small, and even if you think you will outlive them, firmly but politely decline, especially if you care for that person. If you don't care for them, it's certainly not worth it. If you do care for them, you will probably want to continue to have nice thoughts about them, and so you should also decline.

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