Clarence Lidster was the owner and proprietor of a little shop called C’s Records. It was in the outer rim of the city, deep out in Dixie Highway, the locale known -either ironically or not, I’ve never been quite sure- as “Lively Shively.” A simple storefront, an old register, small color TV behind a counter that housed a stereo connected to CD, record, and tape players. Three tables loaded with 45s. Albums on shelves lining the wall, along with maybe about a hundred CDs in the old long plastic theft proof devices. To the untrained eye embedded in the head of an unassuming person, it was nothing special.
To the enthusiast of mid century popular music, particularly one whose quests for specific forgotten relics had proven elusive, the items you would find there were those of a utopia. This was the infancy of the internet as we know it. Neither merchandise nor information was as attainable as it has become today. So if you wanted, for a very specific example, the complete Capitol recordings of Gene Vincent, one of a myriad of once revered American artists that only Europeans care much about now, you would have to find out somehow that a complete box set was available in the United Kingdom and have someone who knew how to acquire it for you. Almost impossible in the middle of the country before the ascendency of the internet.
I first came to meet Clarence in the mid-nineties, after I had exhausted every source close to me for the sounds that sent me. I was a teenager who had the somewhat ill fortune of becoming obsessed with old Rock & Roll at a time that it was nothing doing for literally anyone else I knew. “You like Rockabilly?” Clarence asked me the first time I sauntered into his place. The question was a mere ice breaking formality. One look would tell you the story. I walked around daily back then dressed like as much of an exact reproduction of Brando in The Wild One as I could muster. When I challenged him to cough up some Gene Vincent I hadn’t seen, he pulled a dog-eared catalog out of his cabinet and laid it on me. Six disc set, complete 50’s-early 60’s recordings, import only. “Just disregard those last two words. I’ll have it for you in a month.” It took him two, but I didn’t hold it against him.
He in short order became my mentor, teacher, second father, and trusted friend. After High School I was ostensibly a student at Jefferson Community College up the street, but I spent most of my time at that shop.My collection grew by leaps and bounds, particularly as I gravitated towards Soul Music. One after another he introduced me to the key players of The Good Music. I would pretend to have already known the names of the artists, but 95% of the time, I was bluffing to save face. No matter how hard I tried, I could never alter the cruel fact that I wasn’t born until 1978.
Clarence lived during the time I had romanticized and obsessed over. As a person who did not grow up self-conscious about his tastes, which at the time of his youth was music both revolutionary and popular, he had an authenticity to his approach to music (and thus, to life) beyond what anyone my age doing an excavation project could have. In essence, he never stopped to wonder if he was the real deal- because he was. Young punks like I was are continually concerned about what’s cool and what’s not cool, to their continual detriment. Case in point, Clarence was a huge Elvis fan. I wasn’t, not back then, for a host of reasons that are common among pretentious blowhards. Little by little and very subtly, he got me out of that. One song played at a time.
Old friends of his would stop by to visit or occasionally for council on personal matters. I saw Clarence have a direct positive influence on his community. A man in his 50’s who had been on the music scene for just about every bit of that time, I admired his standing in the community and strong sense of self that brought him.
Unconsciously, I followed in his footsteps. As the years ticked by, I found myself running a music store across town. I made the pilgrimage to his store less and less frequently, but would sometimes send my own customers out to talk to him when either something became too elusive for me to pinpoint or I encountered a person who could stand to learn a thing or three from him, always with the clear instructions to tell him who sent them.
It was one of those people who reported back with a thing Clarence had said when my name came up. “Yeah, he’s got his own thing, now.” My heart broke a little bit when I heard that, so I took a book on Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick that I liked and put a real mushy inscription in it, and made a day out of revisiting Dixie Highway recast as Memory Lane. I will always hold our conversation that day in particularly high esteem. I will share with you the end of it:
“I don’t think I’ll be in this business much longer” he told me.
“Are you leaving on your own terms?” I asked. The answer was yes, and so I said “You should be very proud of what you’ve done here.”
He sent me home that evening with a handshake, a hug, a stack of Elvis records, and the most precise example of life and how to live it I’ll ever know.