Passing of Raconteur: Stan Erickson

stanBY Blaine Schultz

On June 17th Stan Erickson passed away at his home in Appleton at age 61.

Among his titles (Raconteur, Record Maven, Trivia Baron, Fellow Traveller, Crossword King, Clip Art Genius, Compiler of Obscure Songs, Drinking Buddy, Recorder of Bootlegs, Bowling Shirt Aficionado), Erickson is best known as co-owner of New Frontier Record Exchange. 

From the outside it was simply a used record store, but anyone willing to dig deeper discovered a counter-culture hub located on Durkee Street in Appleton. It closed in 2008.

To me, Stan was the older brother I never had — the guy who gave me license to discover all the music and books that never existed in Menasha. He was the person who steered me even deeper when the muse was taking hold as I began getting articles published.  And later when Fred and I cranked up our amplifiers and guitars in the basement of that store, wailing into the night like Aborigines discovering fire, Stan was there with words of encouragement. It makes me happy to know he had a photograph of my band, The Aimless Blades, in his last work space.

This article offers a brief sampling of tributes from his friends.

Erickson’s long-time business partner Fred Burts shared some thoughts.

“For the first couple of years of the store, there was the excitement of the startups. Our idea started out gangbusters, but within two years a raft of lawyers descended on us, and renting records was over.”

Turns out you could rent a lot of things, but vinyl LP’s was not one of them.  Following a stream of cease and desist letters, they ceased and desisted renting records.

“Getting our clientele to consider buying was hard. We always had a small group that wanted the unusual, but we had to expand on that. That’s where Stan came in. He could convince someone to buy that Wall of Voodoo album instead of a Kajagoogoo, while I couldn’t sell a life preserver to a drowning man.”

Burts, a lifelong craftsman and artist, branched the store into guitar repair and sales, while still serving up records and the newfangled compact discs.

“I always said it was time to open a new store when one got too full and within the first three years we had five stores (Appleton, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Stevens Point and Kaukauna), had a company car  and had bought out eleven failing stores.

A peak of almost 100,000 albums was kind of scary at first, but we rolled with it. Stan bought records, cleaned and priced them and held court with the customers. I did some of that too, but mostly found, fixed, and sold guitars, and did the bookwork and taxes. This gave us separate duties and kept us kind of sane. Those first five years were all growth, both in finances and customer base. We had a great time being business moguls!”

Burts and Erickson would also later collaborate when Tom Hintz (another early New Frontier presence) opened Tom’s Garage, a nightclub in Appleton that featured live music. While Erickson designed flyers for upcoming shows and helmed doorman duties, Burts installed the house sound system and also ran live sound for most bands that played the venue.

It seems like Green Bay’s Norb Rozek (AKA Reverend Norb) has long been a fulcrum of that city’s music scene.  Like Erickson, he wears many hats: songwriter, frontman, author, roller derby announcer – to name but a few. His homegrown music zine SickTeen was known worldwide in the pre-internet era.  His bands Boris the Sprinkler and Rev. Norb and the Onions have left their mark with live shows and impressive discographies. He speaks fondly of Erickson’s influence.

“Among the tens of thousands of awesome things Stan is, was, and did, one of the more notable, in my eyes, was his being the first guy to really not look at the punks funny when we brought our weird DIY merchandise into his store to sell. When you went to a record store in the past, and brought in, say, five copies of an album you had pressed up with the money you saved working at your after-school job, and the name of the band was ‘Suburban Mutilation,’ and the cover art was made with vinyl mailbox letters, Xeroxed photographs, and a Sharpie, record store personnel tended to raise an eyebrow, chuckle a little, and say something like, ‘oh, easy listening, huh?’

“They were nice enough, but they always gave you the feeling that they were humoring you. ‘Oh, look what those zany kids are up to now!’ This contributed to our already-held belief that we were operating completely outside the margins of society; that what we were doing had absolutely no parallel or relation to the rest of the world.”

Stan was the first guy – that I remember, anyway – who was different. When you brought your weird, crappy punk stuff to Record Exchange (we never got into that whole “New Frontier” bit in Green Bay), Stan didn’t bat an eyelash.

He saw nothing abnormal about it. “You have made a record, and I sell records, and I will sell your record in my store, and you get this much, and I get that much. Great! Thanks! Good luck!” 

He never rolled his eyes or snickered or gave any indication that he thought we were a bunch of weirdos. Everything was as it should be.

I think that’s part of the reason why people tended to have such an emotional bond with his stores:  it was a sense of community there – a community that included YOU, the weirdo – that hadn’t really existed before.”

Award winning documentary film maker and musician John Whitehead knew Erickson for decades.

Stan had a profound influence on me. I can only compare what I got from him to a second college degree. He had big ears and very Catholic tastes. He was always open to new sounds and ideas.

He was the first person I knew who thought critically about art. He didn’t have just knee-jerk likes and era loyalties. He listened with both his heart and his head. Stan read everything and saw stuff in a broader context.

It’s funny how people grieve. A couple weeks on from hearing the news of his passing, I found myself compiling a list of the artists and/or albums that I associate with him. These were sounds I either first heard about from him or that I knew casually but hadn’t really gotten until he infected me. I stopped counting at seventy-five artists or albums.

As I wrote the list I could still remember where we were and the conversations we had. It’s uncanny. Stan did this for hundreds of people.

When Susan Howe began writing original songs, Stan was among the first to offer encouragement and they shared a great bond.

“I always knew this party was coming.  That the multitudes in the Stan-tourage would help me to understand this question I’ve pondered for 22 years of having Stan as a central figure in my life – ‘What is the true meaning of success?’”

His mother Ruth said,  “When he started wearing those bowling shirts I knew it was over for Stan.” It was funny because we both knew she was wrong. It was different for Stan. Not over. 

What old friends may have lost sight of in the last decade of his particular journey, newcomers could still recognize and value.  Jeremy, an Appleton cab driver told Stan’s brother Jim,  “Stan’s money was no good I’m my cab. It was an honor to give him a ride.”

My very conservative parents cherish the memories of having Stan join our family Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday’s last year, most especially because their grandchildren got to experience the fine example his gracious brilliance. Far from over! 

Those who knew Stan can’t imagine their lives without having been charmed, informed by him, and led down the path he blazed? Who now do you ask what you would ask him? Who now do you tell what you want to tell him?  “We’re in this together.”

I’m writing this from Catherine Street, at the home I shared with Stan for four years. The smells of vinyl records and squirrels; archives and entropy, dried blood and dead flowers, poetry and politics. The smell of home.” 

I’m marching against Vietnam, waving my freak flag,  counting 1,2,3 what are we fighting for? I’ve got tubas in the moonlight as my motor boat skims over lake Winnebago, my film reel flaps in the living room, my loves weigh on my mind as I  fail to sleep.

My Final Jeopardy  pre-guess scores me double drink chips. My friends meet me at Pat’s Tap on a thirsty Friday night. My ancient unwashed jacket and bow tie bedazzle the wedding part. Dallas and Ruth pick up my empties for the can goat and adopt my newest friends into the family.

I’m cursing Bin Laden out of a dead sleep at 9:10 am on 9/11. I’m loving the music. I’m remembering everything. I’m texting Jimmy I’ll see him at NRBQ in August. I’m  driving the Valiant (with ‘Jim’s Place or Bust’ written on the hood). It’s rusting in the yard. Scrap metal in the landfill. Bills unopened underneath these letters and ticket stubs. Underneath this 1967 promo 45 of Keep On Lovin’You by Johnny “Guitar” Watson. 

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