I once spent 45 minutes agonizing over which DVD to purchase: a collection of Billy Joel music videos or a collection of Toto music videos. I loved them both back in high school (don’t worry—my musical tastes have since evolved) and the choice was difficult. I was spending an afternoon with friends at ear X-tacy – a common hangout spot back then. Hours were spent browsing CDs, flipping through music posters or trying out vinyl on the turntables upstairs.
Panera Bread sits in that location now, and whenever I pass by I feel revulsion that a chain restaurant now occupies the place formerly occupied by this once-great establishment. It feels wrong.
Alas, ear X-tacy is gone, but not forgotten: The Louisville Science Center IMAX Theater was packed Saturday evening for a sold-out screening of the world premiere of “Brick and Mortar and Love .” Local filmmaker (and Lebowski Fest founder) Scott Shuffitt gained access to the behind-the-scenes workings of Ear X-tacy as it began its downward decline, and this documentary is the end result.
The mission of the film is twofold. It has an important message, one of which anyone living in Louisville is well aware, but which bears constant reminding: shop local. John Timmons, owner of Ear X-tacy, is also the founder of the Louisville Independent Business Alliance, and his store was a perfect model of the kind of intimate experience available at an independent store versus a chain. If someone has a question about music, the ear X-tacy employees had a depth of knowledge on the subject. If a Best Buy or Wal-Mart employee knows anything about their music section, it’s purely incidental. The experience is impersonal.
The reason for this, as is discussed in the documentary, is that music isn’t a money-maker for these big stores—it’s merely meant as a draw. They price their music at just above wholesale price, or slightly above, knowing that people will come for the cheap music and hopefully pick up a couple of other things while they’re there. It may be cheaper to buy a CD at Target, but the personal experience is completely lost.
While the message is the essence of the film, there is also a story being told. The business world can be cut throat, and it can be difficult for a small independent store to survive among the big fish. ear X-tacy is the focus of this film, but it is a plight which has been shared by countless other small business across the country (and, in fact, the film contains many interviews with owners of notable record stores across the country). We see Timmons’ attempts to hold onto his dream: efforts included moving locations, benefit concerts and two YouTube pleas for people to come “Save ear X-tacy” (the second of which, many will remember, did not go over well; Timmons received criticism for coming across as begging and guilt-tripping).
Unfortunately, all the efforts accomplished were to prolong the inevitable. ear X-tacy closed in the Fall of 2011.
Timmons was present for the screening and participated in the Q&A following the film along with Scott Shuffitt. Currently, Timmons spends a lot of time listening to music. He would often be at ear X-tacy seven days a week and so didn’t have a lot of time for casual listening. He has been revisiting old favorites from his high school days. He is currently unsure of his next move, career-wise; while he has received suggestions such as opening a music venue or starting a radio station, none of these has appealed to him.
I ventured to inquire as to where Timmons purchases his music nowadays. Timmons has only made a couple of purchases since the closing of ear X-tacy, and it pained him to say that both purchases were downloaded online. He tried out a couple of local music stores, he said, but neither had what he was looking for.
Throughout the Q&A, many people took the time mainly to express gratitude to Timmons for what he brought to the community or to share stories from their time in the store. There was a lot of love in the theater; Ear X-tacy was something truly special and the city’s music lovers can only hope that something will come along to take its place.
As for the film, it’s hitting the road, traveling south towards Atlanta throughout the month with several screenings along the way. Shuffitt is currently looking for DVD distribution. There have been some interested parties, but nothing is confirmed yet.
In the meantime, we, the people of Louisville, can continue to support our local economy by choosing to shop at small businesses rather than large chain stores whenever possible. It’s better for us, and it’s better for our community. For more information, check out the Louisville Independent Film Alliance .
Illustration: Sara Lewis