If there's a record store in heaven, Ron Rooks is probably swapping tales with the angel at the counter about procuring rare 7" singles from all around the world, maybe even the universe.
Today's late-breaking news on the music scene is that the legendary gonzo owner of the Music Exchange has died. The Pitch has received confirmation from Rooks' family.
When I heard the rumor around 4:30 p.m. today, my first thought was to head to Dave's Stagecoach Inn. Rooks referred to Dave's as the north branch of his office, back when his store was on Broadway, and also at its first location across the street from the popular Westport dive. Walking in, I half expected to see Rooks sitting at the bar, a handful of Keno cards spread out in front of him (he was famously addicted to the lottery bingo game), raffishly telling his fellow patrons that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated. Instead, just about everybody said it was true — he was indeed terminally late for his date with a cold drink and some jukebox tunes.
When I saw him last, back in May of this year, he was setting up shop in the West Bottoms, having been driven out of his Westport location by high overhead. He talked of persevering and having found new energy to start again. He also made more than a few references to a nasty fall off a ladder he'd had the previous Christmas Eve that had made him reconsider putting the business to bed once and for all.
Ron knew his music. The day I spoke with him in May, I watched him point a techno DJ directly to the boxes where the dance music 12-inches were being kept in his still-unpacked new store. The guy never failed to amaze, both in his capacity for reckless behavior and in his ability to stay squarely on top of the music world.
The crowd at Dave's today was definitely affected. It seemed that people were either wrinkling their brows at the news or taking the opportunity to remember a few colorful stories of Rooks. One woman was in tears.
Spend some time down at Dave's this week. Drop Rooks' name and ask for some stories (though you probably won't even have to ask — the stories will pretty much pour out). And as soon as we know anything about a memorial service or, better yet, an ass-wild party to commemorate him, we'll let you know.