Thursday, February 28, 2008


On February 6, a tenant of Forest Arms Apartments set what grew into a five alarm fire, resulting in at least 100 people without a home. Among the casualties was Brad Hales' record store, Peoples Records, which wasn't touched by the fire but drowned by the thousands-and-thousands of gallons of water pumped into the building.

Brad sent out a message on Friday, the 22nd, saying he would finally be allowed into Forest Arms on Saturday to salvage what remained and needed help. Around 4pm on the 23rd, Aaron and I split for Detroit in our nastiest duds.

Despite an entire youth spent exploring abandoned houses and burnt out buildings, Forest Arms, and especially Peoples, was nothing like I expected. The effects of the blaze were still fresh: pieces of the building were falling on workers outside, all windows had been boarded up, and water was in EVERYTHING. Still, it didn't occur to me that we'd be working in complete darkness until I walked into the store.

Shortly before we left, I watched a photo slideshow of Peoples' history. Just before the fire, the store was at its best, looking like the warmest, most beautiful spot in the world with immaculate handpainted 45 boxes, records everywhere, and Brad's endlessly positive vibes. Now, it looked like the musty, unoccupied Detroit basement room Brad moved into several years ago.

Along with about ten other fellows, Aaron and I helped to gut Peoples among standing water, black debris, and lots of smells. Half the stock, maybe less, was so damaged it had to be thrown into stacks for later trashing. When we gave up for lack of daylight around 6 or 7pm, we'd almost emptied one of the two main rooms of the store and stacked several thousand soggy or frozen LPs against two walls. Aaron and I followed Brad back to his house where we loaded into his basement everything that had been excavated from the store.

Brad remained incredibly positive throughout the day. Earlier, holding a particularly pathetic water-logged copy of Pharoah Sanders 1977 album Love Will Find A Way, he said "That's ten less copies of this record in the world." When the other workers slagged the album, Brad laughed and said, "Oh, I really like it!" Holding up another sopping record, he said, "Isn't life funny? When this happened, that's all I could think: life is funny."

In other news, my current favorite record label has a myspace page.

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