Skip Groff has taken the path of record-shop in the neighborhood. He is dead.
According to his family, Groff died after suffering a seizure earlier this week. He was 70 years old. If you did not grow up in the DC area in the '70s /' 90s and desperately wanted to import the imported custom before everyone else, Groff would not mean anything to you.
But his business, Yesterday and Today Records in Rockville, MD, meant the world generations of cool kids. He left his career as a major label and pop-radio guy to start a business in 1977 that took children away from them just as punk on the American shores began. He transformed an otherwise shabby suburban strip-strip center into a cool kids' gathering for the next several decades, offering customers the chance to get the rarest vinyl record of their record safaris in England.
But Groff, who had produced the debut CD of MacKaye's band Minor Threat in 1981, planned the event for a Tuesday and had not considered the impact of the school week. "Maybe 10 or 15" people were there when the band's tour bus drove up.
The Damned were upset – until they went to the store and saw Groff's operation. "After they went to the record store, they were quite surprised," said MacKaye. "If you're stranded somewhere for an hour or so, Yesterday and Today is not the worst place."
Back to me: Groff's record shop will always be personal because as a review here I was a memorable story I've ever worked on. In the spring of 1994, I received a phone call from a Washington Post editor and I was told that they had found Kurt Cobain's body. The editor wanted me to get the news from young people. She thought the coolest record shop would be the best place. She sent me to Y & T Records.
This was also a school day, and I left my house in D.C. a little before the schools left the house. When I arrived, the store was emptier than the record record at Damned, but soon more and more young punks appeared.
That was in front of the internet or the cell phone, so I would bring the bad news to the kids. Cobain's death made me sad, but no sadder than a celebrity suicide. I'd bought Nevermind the day I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (really!), But soon after, I'd given that and my punk and cool records to my Danish cousin because I felt too old for the youthful fear. When he died, I listened to new, more mature, friendlier country acts like Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, and the Mavericks.
However, I quickly learned that for the children I met in Groff's shop, none of them was more important than Cobain's reaction, as if I had told them that JFK had been murdered. The first kid I approached was dressed in a time-worn Vietnamese army jacket with punk slogans that were anything but cool than anything I'd ever worn and looked about 14 years old out.
"What do you think about what happened to Kurt?" I asked.
"He deserves it!" Says the boy. So I think, Wow, that's kind of tough, but a fine punk pose. "He deserves it?" I ask. "Yes, he messes around with drugs and overdoses. He has to stop. "
Then I realized that the boy thought I was asking about Cobain's OD in Rome a month before, what was still the talk of the rock world. "No, he's dead," I said. "They found his body."
And the blood just rushed out of the child's face as he stared at me and started to cry. He asked if I would tell him the truth, and when I said yes, he walked to the pay phone in front of Groff's shop to make a few calls. Every other boy I talked to in the next few minutes reacted with a similar shock. And soon there is a line on the same pay phone of about five children, all in punk insignia, all crying and waiting to make the same call. I had to wait until they were done to call my quotes for the early edition. Pearl Jam played a show on the DC market that evening, and the Cobain story in the post office of the next day used quotes from this show and blew mine out. The only record on which I even worked on this story is the Pay Stub.
A photograph of the row of young punks waiting on the pay phone outside of yesterday and today when Kurt Cobain died would have been an amazing artifact. especially this week. But when Skip Groff's record shop was the place to hang out, there were no cell phone cameras to take this shot. It was a different time.