I was at work when I my email dinged that I had new mail. The about.com ska newsletter that was waiting for me didn't have the usual article links and message board quotes in it; instead, there was just a simple announcement that Moon Records, the oldest U.S. ska label, had closed its doors.
It wasn't entirely unexpected. Rumors had been circulating for at least a year about everything from the way Moon dealt with its bands to the way it dealt with its employees (and its growing roster of ex-employees). Message boards across the Net had been abuzz for months about Moon's future, with most people gleefully declaring that it didn't have one. That rancor towards the label was surprising, seeming at times to put sole blame for the implosion of the ska scene on Moon's shoulders. The bubble had burst and unlike more diversified labels such as Jump Up! or Hellcat, Moon seemed doomed to go down with the trend.
I can, and did, speculate with the best of them – about mismanagement, over-saturation, over-expansion, and on and on. Zinesters and scenesters can Monday morning quarterback all we want, but the truth is it doesn't resurrect Moon or make us any smarter than the people who ran it. Would we have known better in the early '90s salad years?
When I read that Moon closed I called up my roommate Yana and broke the news. "How could that happen?" she asked, and all of a sudden the years disappeared and I was a fan again and it was just very, very sad. No more Moon Records. No more Moon releases. No more trips to the Moon Mecca for out-of-town friends. No more dropping off zines there, or buying a new pin for my flight, or pawing through the shirts for the millionth time, even though I never bought a single one.
Moon represented so many things to so many people and yes there is resentment and anger and weariness towards the label. The ex-employees who contribute to easy*life all declined to write Moon's epitaph. Too much good and bad was mixed together, the subject too loaded for them to feel comfortable eulogizing. That's understandable. But Moon was seminal to the growth of ska in the U.S. and it deserves a eulogy. As a fan more than anything else, here's mine.
I don't remember when I first discovered the Moon Records label as a signifier for ska music. Did it leap out at me from the pages of Evan Dorkin's Pirate Corp$! (the comic artist who went on to do covers for loads of Jump Up! releases)? Was it mentioned to me by the one other ska fan in my high school? Maybe I just noticed the name appearing on most of the albums I was buying.
What I do remember is the day the catalog arrived. I lived in Massachusetts and the New York postmark alone hinted at something bigger and more exotic than my dad's suburban living room. It was just a few pages in those days, not yet the zine-sized Skazette the next few years would bring, but those few pages made a world of difference to a burgeoning ska fan. That catalog represented not just good music and a place to throw my hard-earned dollars, but a community. I knew, of course, that there were other ska fans, but in my town in the early '90s they were few and far between. Here, on a few sheets of paper, was the proof that not only were there more people who loved ska, but there were enough to put together bands and record labels and catalogs. Other people appreciated what I had just discovered, and though I couldn't articulate any of it at the time, I felt I had finally found a culture that I connected with.
My freshman year of college in New York City I rarely strayed past the five city blocks that made up my campus; dorm, class, bookstore, park. It was always a trial going to shows, since my sense of direction was terrible anyway and I was far too nervous about what lurked in the Big Bad City. At the time, Moon's storefront was in the then-drug-infested Lower East Side, and my timidness kept me from making a visit for nine months. My first trip was on a spring day and Yana and I walked ten blocks to Avenue A and Alphabet City (past the dog shit and the strewn needles) and there it was, a tiny storefront probably 10 feet by 20 feet. We had to buzz to get in and Big Abby glared from behind the counter and yes I was intimidated (I would continue to be intimidated every single time I went into the store, with the counter help staring me down as I shopped). But on the wall were rows and rows of ska CDs (probably only 100 total) and it seemed like the music went on forever.
Moon always seemed to me a treasure chest of ska, from the stuff they had for sale to the shows they sponsored, and as a fan it was a dream come true. That changed of course, as the music got watered down and more labels arrived on the scene, but Moon's existence during those lean years made all the difference in my love for ska. It allowed it to grow.
Without Moon Ska Records there wouldn't have been a '90's resurgence. There wouldn't have been any bands to play in it (bands who were influenced by the Toasters and Let's Go Bowling and all the other '80s bands that the label gathered under one roof) or a coherent fan base to support it (fans who knew they were getting quality ska when they looked at the Moon Records label). Yes it would have been nice to have skipped the blow-up and blow-out that happened, the exploitation of ska on commercials and MTV and the mad rush to sign every upbeat, good or bad. But I wouldn't trade in a minute of it if that meant I had to give up the rush of excitement I got when the new catalog arrived in the mail.
The day after I heard Moon was closing I took my lunch hour and went to the storefront to grab what I could of the symbols of my youth before the doors locked for good. A twenty-something in a suit was standing by the counter, drinking his way through a six-pack of Guinness and soaking in the last days. I commiserated with him and the guy behind the counter and bought what I could for memorabilia. A key chain, some stickers. And after ten years, I finally bought a t-shirt. "Moon Ska Records" the front reads, and the list of bands on the back are a testament to the importance of the label to the U.S. ska scene. Rest in peace.