THE STORY OF THE MAN BEHIND BOULDER’S LAST GREAT RECORD STORE
by Adam Perry for Westword, 3/6/2015
“There was a time when there was a thriving music scene in Boulder. At least [there were] a lot of record stores and shows, places with interesting music,” says filmmaker Dan Schneidkraut, whose feature-length documentary Old Man — about his father, Andy Schneidkraut, and his iconic record shop, Albums on the Hill — makes its Colorado debut this weekend at the Dairy Center’s Boedecker Theater.
“People my parents’ age might miss the soda fountain or whatever,” says Dan, “but I think there’s huge value in record stores. This stuff is super important to me, and it ought to be in a place like Boulder, which obviously has the wealth to support it. It blows my mind that it’s not sustainable in a community like that.”
It’s true: There were once small and mid-sized rock venues in Boulder, as well as record shops all over town. Today, there are no small venues committed to developing bands. As for record stores, although Bart’s has popped up repeatedly in different incarnations and Absolute Vinyl excels at selling both stereos and records, the 62-year-old Andy represents a sort of last man standing.
Dan, who is 35, has lived in Minneapolis for over a decade; he visited Boulder in 2010 to immerse himself in his father’s life for three weeks. Dan sold Old Man to his father chiefly as a film about Albums on the Hill and the death of American record stores, but it quickly became what Dan calls a documentary about “someone who’s valuable to a lot of people…the kind of person who maybe doesn’t quite exist anymore.”
Andy, who has owned Albums on the Hill since 1987, was born in Brooklyn, and lost his father in a tragic accident when he was just five years old. He saw a clear path to Fordham University derailed late in high school by an arrest for — go figure — stealing albums. He now calls that incident “the lynchpin for the direction that my life went. It meant so much.”
What really affected him wasn’t so much the trouble he got into that night, which included a beating from his adoptive father. “It may have been my mom throwing out all the records I had at that point,” he says, “and the garbage man going through the records and pulling them out of the trash.” He became a hopeless music fanatic.
Andy still made it to law school, but he quit after a year. He wound up in Colorado in 1976, where he owned an Italian restaurant in Estes Park and was, for a time, the executive director of the chamber of commerce there. He moved to Boulder in the early ’80s, where selling records and spreading musical knowledge and appreciation became his life’s work.
“He’s sort of stuck underneath his dream,” says Dan. Andy claims it’s been since 2005 that he didn’t have back rent. Recently, he’s been watching virtually every business around him fold so that the latest sandwich shop or Starbucks can feed college kids on the Hill while community keystones like Espresso Roma disappear.
“If he backed out he would be fucked,” says Dan, “but if he’s there, he’s screwed. Maybe it’s a metaphor for modern life in America. You can’t win if you’re not just doing something to make tons of money. People have trouble finding value in something that’s a place to exchange ideas.”
Many people who’ve come through Boulder over the years — whether on vacation, during their college years, or to build a life — have found value in walking into Albums on the Hill and entering Andy’s world.
“That’s certainly something in the movie I wanted to express — that he wasn’t just my dad,” says Dan. “He functions as a surrogate father to a lot of people — not just at the record store, but as a guy in the community. He’s always been such a sweet, warm, generous person to a lot of kids who, I imagine, don’t have dads or miss their parents because they’re in college. He takes people under his wing.
“This movie is really me starting to realize the value of a person like him — and imagining the world without a person like him is very difficult. If I can express anything with the movie, it’s that guys like my dad are very valuable people.”
Dan hasn’t always seen his dad that way. He was frequently arrested as a kid on the streets of Boulder, and the resulting confrontations with Andy weren’t easy.
“The fact that it came to violent interactions speaks to the difficulty of our relationship when I was a kid,” Dan explains. “He’s not naturally an aggressive person. He’s naturally a very kind and gentle person. An important part of the story is that this is who he is, and I was so terrible that I was able to provoke him out of his natural state. Whenever he’s been angry or gotten violent or punched a hole in a wall, it’s always been justified. His violence always seemed righteous.”
Andy’s passion for exposing the Boulder community to great music, and also film and poetry, has certainly been righteous. He took Dan to see the Ramones at the Glenn Miller Ballroom, took him to pick up George Clinton at the airport, took him to see Mojo Nixon “when it was inappropriate,” says Andy, and sat through hundreds of films with his son, effectively creating what University of Colorado film-studies professor Phil Solomon calls “The film school of Andy.”
Still, like anyone, Dan rebelled.
“He’s cool, so I had to work a lot harder to rebel than most kids did,” Dan says. “Most kids just have to not go to church or something like that, and you have to get into grindcore and death metal just to psych [Andy] out. But he was cool about that; he would do special orders for stuff like that. He’s pretty hard to piss off with any cultural stuff, so I pretty much just had to end up in jail.”
Dan, whose films have been showing all over the world and garnering serious acclaim, calls Boulder both “a weird place to grow up” and “full of shit.” A lot of Old Man is a stunning, and in some ways chilling, description of the town.
“It just seems more and more like Boulder the brand rather than the actual culture that built the community way before I was there,” Dan says. “I feel like Boulder likes to talk about how it embraces culture and things like that, but it seems very fickle about what it actually values, if it values anything at all in that regard.”
Andy says it’s hard to disagree.
“The interesting thing about the movie,” he says, “is there are a lot of things that people don’t want to hear about Boulder, don’t want to believe about Boulder, but that doesn’t keep them from being true. Maybe the most painful thing about that truth is how much of a blind eye many of the folks of Boulder cast upon that.”
Still, what is most remarkable about Old Man is the simple, clear love between two very complex individuals who endured uniquely troubled childhoods. At one point in the film, as footage of Dan and Andy having lunch at a hot-dog shop in Boulder rolls, Dan expresses that relationship:
“I’m not scared of anything, except losing this guy. If I had one wish it would be that I was gone before him. This might be the sole reason I do reckless things.”
Asked about that scene, Andy has to pause as he fights back tears.
“I have a son who is a person who doesn’t easily show his emotions,” Andy says. “but this film is very emotional, and I think he reveals his feelings about me, and I think it’s a love song.
“All of us are out there searching for that father figure or that mother figure. And the real ones that we have are all going to be imperfect.”