September 24, 2012

Yes this was Sam Sniderman (1920-2012)

Sam Sniderman, aka "Sam the Record Man," has died at the ripe old age of 92.

Sniderman opened his first record store in 1937, and the Sam the Record Man chain rose to prominence in the 1960s when the chain opened its flagship Yonge St. store in downtown Toronto. At one time, Sam's was the top music dealer in Canada, before a changing music industry forced the company into bankruptcy a decade ago—unfortunately, the chain predeceased its founder.

Sniderman was also a major promoter of Canadian music, giving records by Canadian artists prominent shelf space and holding concerts in his stores. He was an advocate of Canadian content regulations for radio stations, which gave some Canadian musicians airplay that they might not otherwise have had.

After I discovered popular music in 1984, no trip to the mall was complete without browsing through the stacks at the record stores, whether Sam's or rival chain A&A. But it really wasn't until I first set foot in the flagship store in downtown Toronto, a couple years later, that I fell in love with the retail music business. Its iconic signage, with two giant spinning neon records, was a perfect enticement. Inside, the store had three floors, including a huge ground floor—to this day, it's still the largest music store I've ever set foot in. A friend back home once challenged me to find a copy of Kerry Livgren's solo album Seeds of Change. Guess where I found my copy? If you couldn't buy it at Sam's in Toronto, it didn't exist.

As my tastes in music diversified and matured, I discovered that the Yonge Street store's classical-music section alone was bigger than any entire mall-based outlet. (Of all the music chains, Sam's stores always had the best classical selection; any Ottawans want to make a case for CD Warehouse?) I lived in Toronto for eight months in 1994, only a year after buying my first CD player, and I spent a lot of Saturday afternoons—and money—in Sam's classical CD racks. Even in later years, busing to or from school in Waterloo, I'd take advantage of my stopover in Toronto to hike up to Yonge and do some music shopping. I'm pretty sure that today, 15 years after my life in southern Ontario is a memory, the majority of my classical CD collection was still purchased at the flagship store.

Today, my favourite store ever is gone and the giant spinning discs are a memory. (Is there even any such thing as a record store any more?) Nonetheless, thank you Sam Sniderman—without your fine business, I might be somewhat richer in assets, but my teens and twenties would have been somewhat poorer.

September 06, 2012

(Not)able firsts at the DNC

Amongst the dignitaries on stage last evening in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention:

  • Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law School professor, former advisor to President Obama, and Massachusetts senatorial candidate, claims Cherokee ancestry, and has been billed as the "first woman of colour" on the Harvard Law School faculty. In reality, Warren is no more Cherokee than she is Martian; she's been nicknamed "Fauxcahontas" by her critics, and the Indian delegates at the convention want to have a word or two with her.
  • Former president Bill Clinton, once hailed as the "first black president" by author Toni Morrison, because of his good relations with the black community and other superficial considerations, such as a love of jazz. He's no more black than Warren is Indian.
  • Finally, at the end of Clinton's speech, he was joined briefly by President Obama, recently described in a Newsweek cover story as the "first gay president." Go on, guess how gay he actually is. Someday, the U.S. will actually have a gay Democrat for president; I wonder what trumped-up distinction they'll have to resort to for him?

Symbolism, it seems, trumps the reality at the DNC.