Photo by Jeanne RiceMike Lefebvre stocks a lot of weird crap in his record shop. Like Liberace bobblehead dolls. And Jimi Hendrix fridge magnets. And Bettie Page action figures. And, for some reason, cello strings.
Nobody comes into Pepperland for any of that, though, certainly not the people who've journeyed all the way from Japan, Spain, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia to this Orange strip mall. For Pepperland is one of the largest Beatles specialty stores in the country, around for two decades now, or, as scrawled across the commemorative T-shirt Mike wears on this afternoon, "It was 20 years ago today." Cheeky!
Twenty years is fairly ancient for any indie record shop, and if it weren't for all the bug-eyed Beatlemaniacs who've kept Pepperland going, Mike's store probably would have died a long time ago. Pepperland stocks Beatle everything: the expected Beatle CDs and vinyl records, posters, shirts, zines, books, collectible and pricey 45-picture sleeves (A Love Me Do sleeve will cost you $150—and that's sans record). There's also plenty of Beatle kitsch: Magical Mystery Tour bus cookie jars, Ringo figurines, the complete Beatle cartoon series that ran on Saturday-morning TV in the '60s, mock Beatle driver's licenses. He usually has at least one copy of that Holy Grail of Beatle collecting, the "butcher block" cover of Yesterday and Today featuring the boys sitting among dismembered baby dolls.
The Beatle business is humming these days, Mike says, and it's not just spurred on by nostalgia. Kids who normally get emoed-up every weekend at Chain Reaction have been coming in lately, curious about this long-ago-splintered band whose name they keep hearing about, even if it's just through TV commercials.
"It's always something," says Mike. "It could be the death of someone like George, or it could be a new release like the 1 album. People are just discovering the group on a mass scale. The kids have a run with it for awhile, and then they'll move on to something else. I've had kids coming in here over the years buying Beatle shirts, and then a year later, they come in for Ramones shirts. It's pretty interesting."
Pepperland isn't all-Beatles-all-the-time. It's a good place to go if you need a Sham 69 T-shirt or a ready-to-sew Crass patch or a Reel Big Fish sticker and you're too far away from a Bionic Records. But it's the Beatles that Mike's built his rep on, though he's not nearly as obsessed over them as people might think. He doesn't wear Sgt. Pepper jackets when he's working the counter, doesn't spin all-day marathons of "Revolution #9" (though that would keep away cockroaches and Shakira fans). Half the time, he doesn't even play Beatles music on the store sound system, which is probably a good thing. Mike is a fan—one of a jillion who caught their first Ed Sullivan gig back in '64—but to him, the Beatles are also work, and he knows enough to leave his work behind.
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"People think I have an amazing Beatle collection at home, but that's not true. Most of my collection I put back into the store. My wife didn't want me to keep a Beatle shrine at home, and frankly, I didn't either—I had already went through that phase, and there are other things in life. I usually only listen to music when I'm at the store—on the drive home, it's almost always talk radio."
Mike's in his mid-50s now, and his wife just had triplets, which keeps him busy (one more, and he has a band). So he doesn't know yet if he'll be able to go to Friday's Paul McCartney show at the Pond. He's been to Liverpool during Beatle Week, though, which was a lot of fun. He has never met a Beatle, unless you count Pete Best, though people who've worked with Paul McCartney have dropped by Pepperland, and he once saw George Harrison being interviewed in the back of a car, so that's something. But he doesn't have to meet them—he feels like he knows them. Twenty years of John, Paul, George and Ringo staring at you from album covers every day can do that.
"I think what I've been trying to do here is make Pepperland like a 365-day-a-year Beatle convention, where people can come and meet and talk with one another. And that happens. People see old nostalgic stuff, items and records they grew up with, stuff that's 35 years old that they never knew existed. Some guy came in here the other day, told me he saw a Beatles album down at the Wherehouse, but he drove over here because he said he'd rather buy it from a real record store. And that felt good."
PEPPERLAND MUSIC, 850 N. TUSTIN ST., ORANGE, (714) 639-0909; WWW.PEPPERLANDMUSIC.COM.