It’s the ending of an era. In February 2011, Tampa’s Vinyl Fever (4110 Henderson Blvd. Tampa, FL 33629) will be closing its doors for the last time. Its significance to (roller) derby-dom? Besides selling records, concert tickets, and the usual music memorabilia, Vinyl Fever also served as one of the last non-internet places to find out about upcoming shows and events. Events such as derby bouts. It was here where I had my first introduction to modern roller derby, and one has to wonder how many others were clued into derby’s existence within its doors.
Vinyl Fever’s end, sad as it is, also provides the perfect illustration of the growing schism in roller derby. Kasey Bomber and Axles of Evil mentioned it in passing in their book, Down and Derby: the Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby, and hinted at it in the latest Blood & Thunder (issue 15; the Rat City DVD review), but the basic derby player is now undergoing a fundamental change. Skaters are shifting from being bored ex-punks who still had too much aggression left over to make a smooth transition into motherhood to ex-athletes who still want to compete. Girls who were once speed skaters, ex-track stars, etc. who now have no options left open after college.
Both sides are coexisting peacefully right now. With one side bringing artistic sensibilities to the front, with the other teaching everyone the proper way to distribute their weight through the turns.
(I can’t be certain, but I’d bet that most of the cool fliers you’d find (at places such as Vinyl Fever!) come from the artistic camp. Not that ex-track stars can’t be artistic, but my years in college did show that the art crowd was never too big into organized sports.)
This divide is widened by roller derby’s own governing council, WFTDA. Whereas before, one’s jersey “number” could be anything, including but not limited to numbers, now one has to have an integer as their number to skate in sanctioned bouts/tournaments. Gone is Punkin’s, one of the Tampa Tantrums’ powerhouse blockers, “number” the pi symbol. Replaced with a decidedly less “puny” 666.
Which brings us to a pivotal junction: will the loss of places like Vinyl Fever have a meaningful effect on roller derby’s popularity? Will the rise in athleticism bring about a decline in artistic fliers? Do we want a roller derby without Faster, Rollergirl! Hit! Hit!? Or is there an upside to this shift? Surely a negligible amount of money will be saved on printing counts, as well as time saved on traveling around town dropping off fliers, etc. Has the internet, that vast depository of porn, celebrity gossip, and dietary tips, finally supplanted our glorious, tactile, panoramic reality with its miniature, pixelated graphics?