[Best of Silicon Valley 1999]

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Hall of Fame

Streetlight Records

Record store is big enough to shake off chains and small enough to stay credible

By Jim Rendon

On a slow afternoon in Streetlight Records on South Bascom in San Jose, one man paws methodically through the ultra-low-priced used records in trancelike indifference to the dozens of people around him. The thwap, thwap, thwap of record covers only slows enough for him to pull an occasional find from the stack, and then he resumes. Another man, peeking out from beneath a low-brimmed black hat, tugs at his finely pointed Salvador Dali mustache as he browses through jazz, reggae and punk CDs.

Surveying the sprawling room from the back counter, Streetlight's managerial assistant, Alan Salmassain, can't help but remember his own pilgrimages to the store in the early 1980s, when he was a kid. It was worth the trip just to flip through Streetlight's tiny new wave section made up mostly of The Cure albums--stuff no one else was carrying at the time. Today, pasty dark-clad goths travel long distances just to check out the overstuffed goth/industrial rack, one of the best-stocked in the valley.

xxx The Final Word on Vinyl: Streetlight's extensive stock of records has helped set the Bay Area store apart from the competition.

Photograph by Larry Brazil

And though, like any other record store, Streetlight sells plenty of Dave Matthews Band CDs (though for the life of me I can't figure out why), it does its best to promote music that collects dust elsewhere. There is a section for just about everything. Rockabilly misfits like Hasil Adkins rub CD cases with crooning swingers like Dean Martin, and the listening station is stacked with albums that elicit puzzled stares until you slip on the headphones. One collection of 1960s Brazilian pop sounds better than most music on any chart today. Jazz artists and blues men like Mississippi John Hurt make up the majority of obscure artists at the booth.

Streetlight first opened in San Francisco in the 1970s. Though the San Jose store didn't open its doors until the early 1980s, it has always tried to promote local artists, in part by featuring local music at the front of the store alongside an extensive independent section. Also, once a month bands play live shows in the store. Though the punk acts are easier to book because they really don't expect to get paid, the staff tries to bring in blues and jazz musicians, hoping to expand musical taste in the valley past Dave Matthews and his band.

980 S. Bascom, SJ 408.292.1404

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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