So, back in the day when Times Square was still a sewer and littered with junkies and prostitutes and X-rated theaters lined the street there used to be this place you could visit called a head shop. Now, this wasn’t something just Times Square had. No, I was merely using that as an example of a simpler time when things weren’t so PC, and you didn’t have to tip toe around those things you wanted. No, there were head shops in my neck of the woods. Some were record stores, and some were also magazine stands.
Wait. Who here doesn’t know what a head shop is? You. Do you know? Well tell me. What?! Get your mind out of the gutter, boy! No, a head shop was a place you went to buy smoking products. Papers, pipes, bongs, and sometimes they’d sell sex toys and other oddities. I can remember a head shop that was up in South Bend right behind Witmer-McNeese Music Store where my cousin and I used to go and drool over guitars we couldn’t afford. We went into the head shop once just to see what it was like. Sorta what I imagined; creepy looking dudes buying pipes, rolling paper, bongs, and something called a “double dong” for their “old ladies”. My 18 year old mind was already confused and in need of some guidance. That place didn’t help. But what it did do was make me aware of a counterculture I wasn’t familiar with.
Sure, I was surrounded by the counterculture my whole life. I just didn’t realize it. “Hey, why’s dad and uncle Donnie going out into the garage? Why does it smell funny out there?” I can distinctly remember my dad rolling his own “cigarette” at the kitchen table. Maybe it was a cigarette. He was in the service(Army Reserves), he was a marksman, raced cars, dug Jan and Dean. Maybe he just liked his smokes fresh. We also had quite a few Cheech and Chong and Richard Pryor albums, my parents owned matching ‘Strohs’ t-shirts, and he always had a muscle car. Well, I guess I’ll never really know. Point is, my mom’s brothers were younger and liked to party. It was the early 70s and it was the culture. My uncle John was in a band called Magi. It was the early to mid 70s and they were very much influenced by Aerosmith. I’ve still got a copy of their album they cut at Uncle Dirty’s Studio in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the mid-70s. It’s pretty damn good, for the times. They had the double guitar thing down pat. My uncle was the lead singer. Long flowing hair, handlebar mustache, leather jacket. He was the shit, brotha. And he had a hell of a voice. He would always come over to party at my parent’s house. We had a pool table in the basement, some beanbag ashtrays, and a great console stereo where plenty of Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Doors, and Deep Purple spun. Oh, and Aerosmith.
Point I’m trying to make is that I was in the middle of the counterculture and never realized it. I grew up with a mom and dad that loved each other. Dad worked a full-time job and mom stayed home to take care of everything. Where’s the counterculture in that? Well, they were my parents. They’re supposed to protect me from all that. You know, the beer gatherings in the basement. The cookouts where there was hardly and empty can of (take your pick). Drunk idiots on the back porch smoking. Thing is I saw a lot more than they thought I did. And I’m perfectly fine.
Oh yeah, head shops. Well there was one head shop in particular that I loved dearly. My wife and I would head to Merriville, Indiana once in a while for their giant mall and their Giordano’s Pizza(best stuffed pizza..anywhere). One stop we always made was Hegewisch Records just on the outskirst of Merriville. It was a little record shop/head shop where a guy could find Procol Harum imports, Husker Du, Boomtown Rats, and Megadeth 45s. Plus, if you had the need for some “tobacco products” they had you covered. I never did, but that’s beside the point. From a distance this place looked like a carpet outlet store, but once you got in you knew what it was. Kinda dark and dank with concert posters lining the walls(except for where they had a wall of nothing but cassettes). I’d gotten into a Procol Harum phase in the early 90s for some reason. Greatest Hits wouldn’t do. I needed original albums. These were hard to come by at that point. Well, Hegewisch had me covered. I remember buying my copy of OK Computer there on CD as well. There were countless other albums I bought in that little stinky record shop. Hegewisch closed many years ago. Supposedly there was another one in Michigan City, but I never went to check. We went to Merriville sometime in 1999 and we stopped at that brown building only to find a hand-written sign that said “Sorry Closed Forever. Check Out Our Michigan City Location. Thanks For Everything.” No, thank you.
Nowadays, head shops do still exist. They’re referred to as “Smoking Establishments” selling “tobacco products”. Bongs are “water pipes”. “Double dongs” are, well, still double dongs. And I’m sure “rolling papers” are still rolling papers. The seediness and dank musty smell is gone; replaced by incense, piercings, and skateboard accessories. That creepy guy scouring the porn rags is replaced by a 20 year old tattooed skater looking at Vans t-shirts. Or a 40 year old father of three searching for some vinyl.
That’s creepy enough I guess.