Monday, September 28, 2009

Pier Platters - Learning the Game

So where were we? A quick reread reminds me we weren't very far.

I started at Pier sometime in Spring of '89. For the first few weeks, I was picking up odd hours, mostly in the used album annex on 1st St. And a guy working there at the time, Ray, had me convinced he was in charge. He thought he ruled the used store. What did I know? He was, well, let's just say a wired guy. Putz also springs to mind. But I had to work this into a full time gig ASAP. I quit the job in the city thinking I was being offered 40 hours at Pier. Turns out, I was on my own. Brilliant. Genius.

OK. I clearly had to ingratiate myself to Bill Ryan, who ran the joint. Bill was a scary guy if you didn't know him. And at that point, I did not. He knew who I was. We'd met briefly a few months before when I first visited Pier and dropped a couple hundred bucks on Replacements rarities and similar offerings. Considering the Barn One circumstances we were introduced, I'm pretty sure I did alright on my first impressions. But that certainly wasn't gonna be enough to crash the gates. Thank god I had a winning personality and charming smile. Desperation didn't hurt neither.

My first task in the main store was inventory. I was handed a file cabinet of index cards and told to match them up with inventory stock. Clearly, this was my first hazing. But after my last job, I was prepared for boring make-work. I threw myself into the task at hand. It took some time and some awkward moments clarifying details with Bill, but I did it quick, did it thoroughly and managed to familiarize myself with the stock, which must have been the purpose of this mission. Either that or making me quit. No chance of that. I needed the job. But more important, I WANTED the job! Pier Platters was a record geek's dream.

What nobody knew was that Suzanne, the redhead you were all afraid of, would soon be going out to do lights for Sonic Youth. And then Nirvana. And then Beck. And REM. And numerous other acts that wanted one of the top lighting directors.

When I first started working at Pier, the big front window was framed with numerous copies of the same single. It was in a clear vinyl sleeve and didn't even have a picture sleeve. It was a dirty red colored vinyl and it was by a band called Mudhoney. I didn't know what that was all about. I'd never heard of them, so it couldn't have been that important. But nevermind.

So about the second week I was working in the main store, we received a number of boxes from a label called Sub Pop. I didn't understand why a store as small as Pier would be getting such a large shipment of records from a label I had never heard of. I figured I would have a busy day filing records. But I was wrong. It turned out that all these boxes only held two different albums. One of them was by some band called The Fluid, album called Roadmouth. The other title was some band called Nirvana, album called Bleach. Clearly, Bill Ryan had lost his mind. We'd be sitting on these frisbees forever. That day, we sold about 75 copies of those albums. And we were reordering before the week was done.

This was the first time, but certainly not the last, that Pier Platters blew my mind. In 1981, I bought REM's first single and I loved it. Then Chronic Town came out and I didn't care for it. I decided I'd give Murmur a try, but it was their last chance. I bought The Replacements' Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash album cuz I really liked the title. It was too punky thrashy for my tastes. But I figured I might as well get Let It Be when it came out, cuz nuthin much new was out that week. So you see, I knew everything about obscure underground bands. I even did stints DJing at ECC, ISU and NIU. I was a walking encyclopedia. I was a cup half full at best. And as I was realizing this sad, sad fact, I was also discovering that I was smack dab in the middle of everything. And I would soon be under the tutelage of one Professor William Ryan.

(Special thanks to Bill's favorite poker mark, Darren, for the sweet pic!)


  1. Brilliant, brilliant, Otis!

    Now please move the back crapstand so I can go upstairs and take o'leak!

    Bill was not only king of the hadda see him deal from under the deck while playing poker!

  2. Looking at that photo of Bill I can understand why he scared you!

  3. In all the years I've known Bill, I never noticed the resemblance to Phil Collins. And yeah, I moved the bloody record stand many times in order to visit the bathroom. Hadda have some exercise after eating those pepperoni/mozarella sandwiches from around the corner. Hi Otis!

  4. I lived in Hoboken in the mid-80's and spent a ton of time at PP. Loved Bill, who was always great to me, although it took a little while to get to know him. And Suzanne and I roomed together for a while. A real nice gal.

  5. Great story. You totally nailed Ray in your description. He was so socially dumb and spastic, yet he was a computer programmer--I never understood that!! I was scared, and in awe, of Suzanne and Bill too. To this day, I still don't know why. I think 'coolness' and 'hipness' just oozed off of them, even though they weren't trying. The same with the Sonic Youth band members. I thought they all knew something about the meaning of life that I didn't. After SISTER and all the press they got, especially in the British tabloids, I realized they were music geeks just like me, they just hid it behind artiness. I could talk to Steve S. a bit, and Thurston, though I still got nervous and stammered. Kim was from Venus, and Lee looked like a Manson follower(all respect guys! No respect for Ray though. I chewed him out a few times and called him an idiot, but it was the truth).....