Fingerprints Music Lives

By: 
By RJ Singh
DENNIS HUNTER was supervisor of on-air promotions at Fox Television, but a company-wide layoff led him to Fingerprints Music. Hunter said that the layoff helped him return to his roots in music.

As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, members of Long Beach’s Fingerprints Music look forward to their 30th anniversary party in 2022 as they and the community reflect on the significance of physical media in this streaming age.

The Stooges’ “Raw Power” crunches away through speakers from above.

In this all-encompassing center of pop culture, the raw power of front man Iggy Pop’s lyrics don’t need to be understood, but just felt.

It’s the atmosphere of Long Beach’s Fingerprints Music, alive and kicking with the hustle and bustle of cratediggers looking to own their piece of music history as the city heals from the pandemic.

But like many Long Beach businesses with physical media at their core, there was pressure that came with the digital shift of this past year.

“It was the great unknown,” Fingerprints manager Dennis Hunter said. “We had two months’ worth of ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, will we be able to survive?’”

Those months gave owner Rand Foster the idea of bringing the shop to customers by setting up a system where customers ordered online and the skeletal staff delivered orders to cars. This also bought the staff time to re-catalog the entire store and develop a new stock system.

The online shop is still in place, but not as frequently implemented as customers are returning to this haven in the East Village Arts District.

Foster was unavailable for comment.

Vinyl room employee Micah Olsen said that to create an inviting atmosphere, the staff avoids the elitist stereotype of record shop employees popularized by films like “High Fidelity,” which often involve a staff that bares some form of self-righteousness or harsh criticism.

Olsen isn’t a purist, he has his records on Spotify, too. But when he can own, organize, and flip his music to its B-side, he becomes a participant.

“You’ll find a million copies of the same record, but still, each record is going to be different depending on who owned it before, how they took care of it,” Olsen said. “It’s never going to be the same.”

Hunter also accredits the resurgence of vinyl, coinciding with the longing for tangibility, for Fingerprints’ tenacity.

Fingerprints frequenter Justin Mata, 23, finds himself gathering dust on his fingers from crate-digging. Judging which are his favorite Fingerprints digs is like a parent choosing their favorite kid, Mata said. But he hopes to pass his collection down one day.

Music collector David Gonzalez, 22, got his ear for records from remnants of his dad’s time as a DJ in the late ‘90s, describing his adolescence as “a wall of crates stacked on each other from floor to ceiling filled with records” in his dad’s room.

In the form of CDs, books, or records, these childhood reminders and new releases at Fingerprints guide Gonzalez like a map for an overwhelming treasure hunt.

The median age of the customers that drop by is 30 to 60, but visiting record collectors can be as young as 14, Hunter says. Olsen also began collecting as a teen.

“A neighbor of mine was having a garage sale, and I found a copy of the first solo Paul McCartney record,” Olsen said. “That was the first one I had bought and been like ‘I’ve never heard this before; I want to hear it.’”

Hunter recalls being a child in 1975, looking intently at liner notes of his records. His family didn’t have headphones, so he’d lay next to his speakers for total immersion. “I got into record-collecting because of Elton John,” Hunter said.

Ten-year-old Hunter opened Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy’’ vinyl gatefolds to a massive lyric booklet and a poster that he wasted no time hanging on his wall. He was completely enamored by the record’s artwork: a portrait of Elton John in his larger-than-life regalia, uplifted by mythical figures that could’ve been ripped from the world of “Alice in Wonderland.”  “It was like Sgt. Pepper’s times 10,” Hunter said.

Many of his vinyl were sacrificed for the sake of convenience during the CD boom, Hunter says, but he made sure to salvage the one record that started it all.

In terms of endurance, Olsen said that he can only compare Fingerprints to the likes of Amoeba Records in Hollywood, which is also in the process of evolving from a new location.

“Since the beginning of man, it’s always been about storytelling and different means of keeping us occupied, making us smarter, sharing stories, moving things forward, and even evolving,” Hunter said. “It’s always been part of our lives, every single culture has it in one form or another.”

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