Desert Companion

Zia Records

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Photo of Zia Records
Christopher Smith

The place where I first heard the sound of the person I wanted to be


I remember driving past Zia Records with my mom on our annual visits to the dentist.

“Do you think you can take me to that store?” I’d ask as we zoomed by.

“Not today, mija, we have things to do.” This is usually something parents say to give their nagging kid some false reassurance, but I always knew she meant we’d visit eventually.

That today finally came one hot summer morning in 2014 during one of our planned outings (yes, my mom and I would actually often spend time together when I wasn’t going through a teenage mood swing or dealing with a supposed life-or-death high school social situation). Never mind that I thought it was uncool to go to a record store accompanied by a parent. It didn’t matter. As I walked into Zia Records that first time, I felt like I was approaching the very source and foundation of Cool itself. The first thing I noticed — the smell — is permanently etched on my olfactory memory: a blend of old cardboard, plastic, and PVC (you know, the stuff vinyl records are made of). The decor could best be described as organized chaos, the store’s shelves and walls cluttered with books, CDs, records, band T-shirts, DVDs, posters, and art. The music playing on the store speakers was a smorgasbord of unfamiliar tunes. I’d try to mentally match songs to the employees, guessing who queued which tune. (The girl with the thick-rimmed glasses and floor-length duster cardigan? Definitely chose the indie alternative pop. And the long-haired guy with the blank expression must’ve been responsible for the droning stoner metal.)

On those Zia trips with my mom, I’d spend hours wandering up and down the aisles. I’d always start with the CDs, snake my way through the wooden shelves, and end up at the opposite end of the store, where I’d scour through the movies. I wasn’t just shopping. The Zia Records on Flamingo and Eastern served as a sanctuary for me during my adolescent years in Las Vegas. It’s where I developed my musical identity, and even my personal identity.

That’s why my very first purchase was such a big deal. Whatever I chose to buy, it had to be something I’d be proud to carry up to the cashier — something that showed my undeniable good taste. I chose Disintegration, The Cure’s 1989 album. To this day, I take pride in this record. I don’t care if it’s the modern, mass-produced pressing, all shiny and new. It was my first album purchase and it was mine. From there, I began to build my vinyl collection on rock classics: The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath, The Stooges, The Zombies, Cream. Later, I’d try and just wing it when shopping, a gamble in which CDs were the cheaper option. That’s where I picked up music from artists like King Krule, Nouvelle Vague, Mobb Deep, and Alton Ellis.

Eventually my mom started throwing me a few bucks (and her car keys) to get me out of the house, knowing exactly where I was going and what her money was going to be spent on. (Luckily, she encouraged my new hobby, and even let me play my CDs in the car with her. She loved The Strokes and The xx; hated Black Flag and La Dispute.) But there was nothing more liberating than plugging my iPod into the aux port of her car and taking off on a solo trip.

Returning to the place where I spent so much of my seemingly never-ending free time as a kid doesn’t hit quite the same in adulthood. It’s funny, but when it comes to having to spend my own money on a record these days, it makes me second-guess the purchase. My visits to Zia have dwindled significantly since then, and I’m not ashamed to admit that most of the music I “discover” nowadays is handed to me by an all-knowing digital algorithm. But I still feel a sense of excitement when I walk through Zia’s double doors to aimlessly browse the aisles. I’m not just excited to find a new favorite band or new beloved album; I’m excited to discover something new about myself. Φ

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