Vinyl is musical art. Just as the notes are engraved into individual grooves, music in its own right is etched into a city. Steve “Bumpy” Cape, the owner of ‘Cosmic Debris,’ satisfies a need that Harrisonburg and every city in America still needs and that is music in its most original form.
“This is a real record shop,” he said definitively. “Not a store, a shop.”
When entering Cosmic Debris, shoppers are met by low ceilings, blaring tunes and a collage of wall art ranging from Capes’ autographs, to album covers, to a Lynyrd Skynyrd flag. Exploring the store feels like rediscovering a vinyl collection in a dusty attic. The cozy feel of the shop is something Bumpy sees quite fitting.
“This is what a record store looked like in the seventies; posters on the wall, clutter,” Bumpy reminisced. “It’s kind of messy, but it’s an old school record shop. People like clutter because they like to dig through clutter.”
Besides being greeted by the clutter, customers are also greeted by Bumpy, who can be found wearing his typical jeans, old band shirt and flannel. The jolly storeowner is usually behind his desk fiddling on his vintage desktop PC with vinyl constantly spinning in the background.
But what’s up with the name, “Cosmic Debris?”
“That name does not tie me down to records. I could have anything that I thought [was collectible] and it would still fit under the name, ‘Cosmic Debris,’” he said. “It’s all cosmic debris,” he added.
“Cosmic Debris” was a Frank Zappa number off his 1974 album, “Apostrophe.” The song inspired Bumpy to name the store after the legendary guitarist’s number.
“People see the name ‘Cosmic Debris’ and they know that it’s a record shop,” Bumpy said.
When it comes to selling records, the only things that matter are experience and knowledge. Bumpy is one of the most qualified people to be selling records and flaunts over 35 years of experience in the business. Inside the shop, customers can find vinyl from almost every era and genre, as well as the timely addition of multiple crates of compact discs. Prices on vinyl start as low as a dollar, while some rare albums may go as high as $45.
“My price guide is from 1994,” Bumpy said. “What would I pay for it? I’m in Harrisonburg, Va. That’s the way I look at it.”
Well into the 21st century, a music revolution was underway. Vinyl was being phased out by compact discs and eventually eclipsed by the media evolution of downloading through Napster and iTunes.
“The music industry realized that they could put CDs out cheaper and sell them for money. So it was all about the dollar,” Bumpy said. “It was not about what sounded better.”
He was introduced to this medium back in 1982 by a journalism professor. The instructor told him that vinyl would become obsolete because the compact disc was proven to be indestructible and last forever.
“Bullshit,” Bumpy yelled. “How can they tell me it’s going to last forever when it’s a brand new format?”
A scratched compact disc is about as valuable as a car without keys.
He also has a philosophy that bands these days don’t really have to ‘earn it.’
“They don’t have to pay their dues, let’s just put it that way,” Bumpy said. “You don’t even have to have a band anymore. Everything you can do digitally. You can write and record a song, put it on iTunes, make a million bucks and not even leave your mama’s basement.”
Bumpy’s fervor for music and collecting started at a very young age.
“One of my earliest memories is running around the house singing, ‘Light My Fire,’” he admitted. This, of course being a top hit of the iconic seventies band, The Doors with iconic front man, Jim Morrison.
During high school, Bumpy started frequenting ‘Wuxtry Records’ in downtown Athens, Ga., which has since been voted one of the “Top 25 Record Stores” in the country by Rolling Stone Magazine.
“It was a little tiny hole in the wall,” he said.
But aren’t they all? Record shops during that time were comparable to dorm rooms in size and space. This was a part of the dedication fans had to the music; digging through piles of dusty vinyl.
In 1980 at the age of 16, Bumpy’s record selling career began as a sole entrepreneur.
“I started putting posters up in the band room selling extra copies of records and buying people’s record collections,” he said.
In 1985, he got his first record shop job when his new friend, Brad, gave him a job in his shop, “Vinyl & Video.” This shop began with Brad hustling records out of his parents’ pants shop dressing room.
Bumpy says the competition among larger corporations, such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, hurt sales over the years that began in the late ’80s, early ‘90s. Most would think this, accompanied by friends opening stores just down the street, would equate to a dog eat dog business.
“It’s like a brotherhood or a fraternity. Record shop owners are not in competition with each other because,” he said. “I’ve got different stuff than [the competition] has. If someone comes in looking for something I don’t have, I’m gonna send you over to him because he might.”
This compassion and love for the business really translates to Bumpy’s personality too. If he doesn’t carry something, he’ll make sure you know where to go to get it.
“That’s the way you should do it with this kind of business,” he added.
Now for over a year and a half, he has been in his current spot just off S Main St. on Newman Avenue.
“This place was where I wanted to be from the beginning.”
Bumpy says he will continue to sell vinyl records for as long as he physically can, simply because it’s his life.
“It fills a need,” he says. “For the music lover, it’s really pretty much the ultimate format. You hear things on it you don’t hear on MP3 or even on CDs.”
While he says his time on this earth may be limited, Bumpy is happier than ever and is satisfied with all he’s accomplished.
“I’ve done what I wanted to do and I’ve been happy doing it. Not many people can say that,” he said. “That’s why you always see me so happy, man. Be happy. Live your life to what makes you happy.”
‘Cosmic Debris’ is open Monday — Saturday, noon — 5 p.m.