I’ve reunited with vinyl, and it feels so good.
Like 90% of you reading this, I grew up in the vinyl era. I spent long hours gazing in reverence at my album covers, reading the 6 pt font liner notes to decipher the meaning of lyrics, trying to interpret the mysterious dedications, using my arms like I was playing trombone to study the photos and layouts. I never had a vast record collection, but it was deep: I bought every Split Enz album issued, including imports, from Fantasy Records one town over. Albums meant a lot.
Then cassettes came along.
It was all so precise and small and modern! No more lugging around crates of albums: your music could fit in a much smaller space, and be funneled straight into your ears via a Sony cassette Walkman, rather than seeping north into your brother’s Rock Room, or south into your sister’s Country Music Cavern. It was all the way efficient, and I loved it. At some point during the college years (ugh, I hate this part of the story) I took every LP and EP I had and sold them back to Fantasy Records. Actually, that’s not true. I kept the Split Enz stuff. But I even sold the canary yellow record cabinet that I’d stored my record collection in at a garage sale.
Then MP3s came along and even the CDs were too much of a bother. It is all so precise and small and modern! You could fit your entire music collection onto one device! We didn’t get rid of the CDs that overflowed from drawers and shelves, but we didn’t listen to them much anymore. Everyone in this house played his/her own music choice into his/her own ears, one downloaded single at a time.
Then last April the Oakland Museum opened a new exhibit called, “Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records.” I decided to go check it out one Saturday afternoon when the family was otherwise occupied. The exhibit was pretty simple: while there was some “history of vinyl” type stuff, mostly it was turntables, and milk crate upon curated milk crate of albums. You browsed, you popped an album onto a turntable, you listened to one of the pairs of headphones. Repeat.
Oh my goodness. I got teary.
There was something so visceral, so satisfying, so nostalgic in using my index finger to flip each album in a crate forward as I looked through “California Surf Music” and “MTV” and “Motown” crates. A feeling of victory when I spied an album I wanted to hear. And then, those seconds of anticipation listening to the crackles as I watched the needle move to the first song. I stood and pored over the album covers and liner notes while I listened, but I didn’t stick with any one album too long. There were too many other albums to get to: Ike and Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, St. Vincent …
At one point I was playing The Housemartins’ London 0 Hull 4 and a young woman came up, glanced at the album cover in my hand, and pulled on the second pair of earphones to listen with me. “They’re great,” she mouthed at me. “I KNOW!” I said, pressing the album into her hands. When I left, she was still listening and reading the liner notes.
I stumbled out into the Oakland sunshine, ready to PREACH for vinyl.
A few weeks later my birthday and Mother’s Day arrived. My husband gave me a turntable. The only albums I had on hand were my Split Enz collection, but that was a perfect start.
But the thing I like best about our new old vinyl hobby is that to properly hear an album, you need to sit in the same room with it. So when someone pops Squeeze Sweets from a Stranger onto the turntable, everyone else gravitates into the room and sits on the couch. Even if we don’t say anything, the simple act of sitting in the same room together, at a time when busy-ness is epidemic, feels like an unexpected payoff.
So if you need me, I’m probably in the living room, sliding Split Enz Waiata out of the sleeve, carefully setting it on the turntable, and hoping for company.