Georgetown Music's Axe Men

Because you still can't download a guitar.

Less than a minute after I walked into Georgetown Music Store recently, Michael Hitt, guitar in hand, shot me a grin and encouraged me to "feel free to have fun."For musicians, this is akin to telling a 6-year-old at Molly Moon's to stick her hands into as many tubs of ice cream as possible. But here, this sort of behavior is not only expected, it's encouraged."We let people crank it loud," says shop owner Michael Smith, also the founder and former owner of The Trading Musician in North Seattle. "We call it 30 seconds in hell. We just don't let it go on forever."Record-store employees had their moment a decade ago in the film High Fidelity, when Jack Black dressed down a father in search of a copy of Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Prior to that, music-store kids got their propers in Wayne's World, when Mike Myers' title character got only two notes into "Stairway to Heaven" before being shushed by a longhaired staffer who directed his attention to a sign on the wall: "No Stairway to Heaven." "No 'Stairway'?" Mike Myers exclaimed. "Denied!"There's no such sign up at Georgetown Music Store, which opened in the old Georgetown Pharmacy space earlier this month. "We're going to put up a sign that says 'No Teen Spirit,'" Smith says. "Because '[Smells Like] Teen Spirit' is played five times as much as 'Stairway to Heaven' in Seattle. Even kids nowadays walk into our store and grab a bass or a guitar, and the first lick that they've probably learned is the bass line for 'Teen Spirit' or the guitar part. That's as popular as 'Stairway to Heaven' ever was."Stereotypical employees at music and record stores—and reality's not far from perception here—differ in one critical way: taste. Walk into a record store in Seattle, and you'll run into skinny-jeaned kids talking about Deerhunter and Fleet Foxes. Walk into Guitar Center during the work week and you'll find extras from the "Girls, Girls, Girls" tour tending to the flock of would-be patrons who are noodling on Ibanez and Gibson axes, discussing the finer points of Frank Zappa.Likewise, at Georgetown Music Store the employees are musicians, into gear the way your average record-store snob is into the Pixies. This is a necessity at a place like this, where employees act as salesmen, repairmen, and sometimes teachers. Patrick Grey, for example, used to operate a recording studio, Private Radio, in town, and has been schlepping gear with Smith for 18 years. All the employees are players—Smith himself mans several projects, including his reggae band Dubcar. And the accountant in the back office is the most accomplished musician of them all: Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth fame."I couldn't ask for a better accountant," Smith says. "He's smart, honest, and he keeps me in line. To have a business, you've got to have really smart people doing the back end, too."While record stores have historically been meeting places and avenues of musical discovery for anyone with loose change and a pair of headphones, that culture has been challenged by the digital age like almost no other business. But you can't download a guitar. And music stores are still a place where musicians meet, sharpen their craft, talk shop, and get their gear repaired.A good local music store has the ability to be a catalyst in a local music scene in a way that clubs, bars, and record stores can't. "It's a gathering place," says Seattle Drum School owner Steve Smith. "It's just a hang, kind of like a coffee shop would be for students. It's a fun social atmosphere and for networking."Georgetown Music Store occupies a corner of the city rife with musicians: Studios and practice spaces abound in the neighborhood, and students take lessons on instruments of all kinds at the nearby Seattle Drum School outpost.But the traditional store's not without its predators. Every day, stores like Costco, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart—retailers that historically have had nothing to do with picks and sticks—are beginning to stock guitars and drums."I think in the long run, you go into Best Buy and these places where everything's in a box, nobody can tune a guitar, and they just hand you the product—that's not going to start bands or build up players or get people into music," Michael Smith says. "You need a little more than that. You need lessons. You need somebody to show you the basics of it."What happened one day in 2000 at Smith's Trading Musician is a classic example of the uniquely personal touch a good music store can have. A family came into the shop looking to replace the strings on a violin, and their elementary-school-aged daughters snuck over to the drum section. They were enchanted by a sparkly red drum set, and the salesman sweetened the deal by promising to throw in some lessons at the Seattle Drum School, where he taught. They left with the set, and both daughters took lessons. The salesman was Jason McGerr, now the drummer for Death Cab for Cutie, and the precocious young ladies were Asy and Chloe (their last names are a closely guarded secret), who went on to form Smoosh and put out records with local indie label Barsuk."It's really weird, because if we had never went to The Trading Musician at that time, I don't think we ever would have been in a band," says Chloe, who's releasing a new Smoosh single, "We Are Our Own Lies," on Jan. 31. "It's a weird thing to say, but I think it's true as I look back."Smith's plans for contributing to the neighborhood's music scene include opening his doors for jam sessions during Georgetown's monthly Art Attack and hosting an outdoor stage at Seattle Weekly's Artopia and the Georgetown Music Festival, June 25–26. And he's always on the lookout for a new musician or two to jam with himself.Anybody know "Teen Spirit"?

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