07 October 2008

Revisiting The Vinyl Frontier

Not too long ago, my daughter was cavorting around the living room, tossing stuff around, and she threw a toy (a little bear, I think) behind the TV set. I heard her rummaging around back there, and then she said, "Daddy, what's this?" I turned around to see her holding my vinyl copy of "A Different Kind Of Tension" by the Buzzcocks. She was holding it up and waving it around like a Frisbee. I stifled a yelp and made a slow-motion grab for it before it broke. Safely in my hands I put it back in the milk crate that was holding it.

Wait. Did you catch that? No, no, not 'Buzzcocks' (heh, heh..shut up Beavis!), I said 'vinyl'. That's right: VINYL. I still have a small crate full of full size albums, cardboard sleeves and all. Okay they aren't all mine, some of them belong to my spousal companion. I won't embarrass anyone with THOSE albums. Instead, I'll embarrass myself with my albums.

Once the wee lass was safely out of range, I rifled through the remaining albums in the milk crate. I was pleased to see my copy of 'Dark Side of The Moon' still there, and I felt a little weirded out to find a Black Flag Album and ‘The Record’ by Fear. Leftover relics of my punk influenced dissolute youth. Oh, and I think I threw away my Flock of Seagulls album. Whew!

While I am not too sentimental for the sheer bulk that vinyl took up, I do miss the album covers, and the great art and the liner notes that read like a book (instead of like something inside a matchbook cover). Funny, having a turntable and having to buy needles (phonograph needles, you stoners) didn’t seem that cool when that’s about all we had. 8-tracks were a complete pain in the ass, and cassettes weren’t that much better (how many times did I accidently unspool the tape? Too many!) But I realized a few years ago that there really was something special about the needle hitting the groove. You got that little bit of scratchy sound, a few hisses and pops, and then BAM: a good fat sound. It was a Robert Johnson collection on CD that gave me that epiphany. I think it was ‘Stones in My Passway’ that I listened to first. What a weird experience to listen to vinyl recordings that had been mastered to CDs! The scratchiness of vinyl with the clarity of digital audio. Weird and how postmodern can you get?

Most of my collection is on CD now, and while it is convenient, it does lack some of the cachet of vinyl. My brother still has a lot of vinyl, with album covers hung up on the walls of his computer loft at home. Pretty cool to see that stuff hanging up. That is one thing you definitely don’t get with digital music; who cares if you are carrying an iPod or an mp3 player? You can’t really tell anything about the person, and while the gadget is cool, it seems more like a fashion accessory than anything else.

True vinyl story: One of my uncles, a Vietnam vet and a low-key hippie, had a pretty cool record collection. He gave me and my brother a copy of The Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, a second edition (I think) when we were just old enough to start appreciating the music. I had it for a while, but between college and moving around and just generally trying to stay employed and be an adult, I LOST IT. To this day, I still don’t know where it went. My uncle is gone now, passed away about twenty years ago. I never told him about the album; I didn't get the chance.

Uncle Harry, I’m sorry, bro. We were young and stupid…

(Note: This is a longer version of a very short essay I posted to a local newspaper blog back in May 2008)


  1. Isn't it amazing how the records fit perfectly in the milk crates? It's as if the crates were designed with that purpose in mind.


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