Louisville’s independent sonic haven celebrates its 25th birthday, a relocation to Douglass Loop, and a persistent buoyancy in a world where the identity of music is fiercely altering.
During the morning hours at the new ear X-tacy store, the floor is quiet. The record clerks hold down the counter like tiki statues, one girl chatting on the phone, the other two clerks chatting about records. Owner John Timmons, leading ear X-tacy into its 25th year, holds a nostalgic affinity to his clerks, always preferring the counter over the cubicle. Among the impending doom and closure of local businesses, in the wake of a recession, and after numerous moves in an ever-evolving music industry, this dynamic still emanates from the freshly constructed scene at the store’s new location, 2226 Bardstown Road.
Though the office of one John D. Timmons is sidled right up against the sidewalk – in plain spectacle of all the Bardstown Road traffic and heat and noise and chaos – somehow the atmosphere in the room has retained a tranquil stability; the walls gray and blank, the carpet spotless, three chairs dormant in front of the desk, the desk covered shoddily with papers and a computer monitor somehow sticking up and out. Framed records lean against the baseboard waiting to be hung on walls, the classic Herb Alpert whipped-cream vixen eyeing visitors from the corner.
“I loved the spot that we were in for the last 15 years. I would’ve done anything I could to stay there. But business dropped off – the reality is that music business is not what it was,” says Timmons. Through this actuality, Timmons thought forward: “Finding this space – it felt right from the start. The neighborhood is what’s key. Walking around the Loop, people would say, ‘hope you move here!’ Everybody has been so supportive and glad that we’re actually here.”
The new 2226 address is an interesting, inspiring sight to see – everyone should see it. What used to be a drab netherworld adhered to the FedEx Corporation has now been superseded by a village palette grown from a section of Bardstown Road a little further north. Each week, the same lanyard-clad record bugs from the old 1534 address scamper about the floor with armfuls of CDs and records. The same 8-year-olds make a racket with the poster racks in the back corner. The same baseball-capped, balding, messenger-bagged middle-aged men peruse the Smokey Robinson CDs. The same greasy-haired, ripped-jean, patchouli dudes sit criss-cross apple-sauced at the magazine rack with their heads furrowed in High Times and Thrasher. New faces come in too, flipping their fair share through the racks – some trailing the loot earned from mowing a whole block of yards on Woodbourne, others on their lunch break, a little time to kill before they meet with a peer at Heine Brothers. One trimly dressed businessman sprints across the ear X-tacy parking lot, pink polo blazing on the pavement, flailing to catch up with his associates, huffing, “It’s too hot to be running!”
Timmons says of his vibrant clientele, that when starting ear X-tacy in 1985, he realized there was a niche that hadn’t been filled: “I was the only store that carried Misfits records for all the little punks – we were selling alternative, out-of-the-norm music. I don’t know what that means now.” The important point, Timmons insists, is that “we always try to expose people to things they might not have heard before.”
“Music is a vital part of everybody’s lives, whether they realize it or not” says Timmons. “To a lot of people, it’s just a background. There are so many things out there vying for people’s attention right now, it’s easy to get distracted. But it’s out there in everything you do ... I think it’s as important now as it’s ever been.”
One dynamic surely pervades: The same soft, archaic, omnipresent boom still radiates from the sales floor speakers – the new Best Coast album, the new Devo album, the new M.I.A. album, the new Bret Michaels album. John Timmons and ear X-tacy have given – and continue to give – to Louisville: The Great American Record Store.
“I’m grateful that the business is around 25 years later,” Timmons says, but admits, “The last thing I ever intended to do was be a business owner. It did turn into a business; and for better or worse, I have a lot of numbers to look at. But we’ve always been a record store. We’ll always be a record store.”