Long-playing Memories

The records are back!

The Connoisseu: I got mine in a Cambridge, MA, stereoshop circa 1977

The Connoisseur: I got mine in a Cambridge, MA, stereo shop circa 1977

Some of them, anyway. But the rest will be, the 500 or so albums I’ve saved since I got my first LPs back in grade school. Over the years, I’ve lugged them from house to dorm room to house to apartment to house, ad nauseum, through the course of some two dozen moves, even as I switched over to CDs and got rid of my fairly sleek British turntable (Connoisseur was the brand, with a wooden base and simple operation. When the belt broke, no one carried them anymore) and replaced it with a bare-bones cheapo Technics (now about 23 years old and in desperate need of an upgrade).

For the last five years, the records gathered dust in my parents’ basement, and even as CDs gave way to streaming audio and MP3s, I thought about them. I longed for the day I could once again surround myself with them, lining bookcases and the stereo stand my friend David built decades ago, a self-designed cabinet built to withstand a nuclear blast. These aren’t the special edition, super-duper heavy vinyl pressings of devout audiophiles. Uh uh. They are, in many cases, scratched and filled with the noise we were taught to abhor as compact discs made their entry. Covers are frayed, sleeves are torn. (In one case, a plastic sleeve has begun to crumble, as I found as I played Squeeze’s East Side Story for the first time in probably ten years.)

This and Eat a Peach - good party!

This and Eat a Peach - good party!

But the imperfections don’t matter. The records aren’t just records. They’re artifacts of my youth and young adulthood, tracing the development of my musical tastes and marking significant events in my life. The copy of Hot Rocks? Bought after I attended one of my first co-ed parties, in seventh grade, at Shelley Rentsch’s house. Her family lived in a mansion and had a trampoline outside. The Stones and Allman Brothers played all night, and I’m sure Shelley’s older sisters and her friends were getting high, something I knew almost nothing about at the time (but I would learn…).

"one, two..."

"one, two..."

Then there’s Revolver, one of the first albums I ever owned. This copy is a replacement, as I wore out the original long after my older sister gave it to me as a birthday present. She also gave me a copy of the Box Tops’ greatest hits, which I also enjoyed. For a while. At some point in my late teens I decided the Box Tops were not cool, and the record was expunged from the collection — not the first I got rid of during periodic purges. Some that I dumped I later replaced: Sly and the Family Stone’s greatest hits, Tres Hombres by ZZ Top. The Box Tops have not made a second appearance in the collection, though I did download “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby.”

I know there has been something of a small resurgence in the popularity of albums, but I also know there is a generation of people who have little clue what an album or LP is. Although I don’t have the kind of equipment that really demonstrates this, audiophiles know that analog records have a warmer sound than digital discs or downloads. I’m sure some people, though, because of space or convenience, have gladly dumped their records, even if there is that aural benefit. And let’s face it, without meticulous care, those pops and clicks start to punctuate the music pretty quickly.

Guess which one I own

Guess which one I own. And $3.99 - such a deal!

But putting on my first records the other day – an REM single, a cut from the second Psychedelic Furs album – the defects didn’t matter. The act of placing the tonearm on the platter (platter, god, I love it) brought back those memories of the first turntable that was truly mine: a tiny, portable Panasonic with a radio. I lugged it to Hopewell Road Elementary School along with my little box of 45s and played DJ at breaks and recess. My sister had the identical model, and we both took our little players almost everywhere we went. I pretty much abandoned the 45s for the LPs and quickly surpassed her collection, looking for bargains at Korvettes’ and Caldor.  A special treat was going to the 9th floor of G. Fox in downtown Hartford, though their prices were never as competitive. The grandeur of an old-style department store was even enough to impress a ten-year-old kid basically just looking for a bargain on the newest Beatles’ album.

I don’t remember the last record I bought. I know a 12-inch single by Hüsker Dü (“Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely”) was near the end of my vinyl days. But I kept bringing them with me wherever I lived, space allowing. Now, with the new house, I’m carting them over in many trips, stuffed inside real peach crates, not those ersatz knockoffs from the defunct record chain. During those years in Chicago, I planned for the day when my collection and I would be reunited; when my receiver died, I was sure to get one with a phono preamp. Getting that new turntable is the next luxury purchase, once we get out from all the household expenses (of course, if it were up to me, that new component would already be spinning, and the garage repairs would, just like Cubs’ fans, wait till next year).

I think some day I’ll start a vinyl marathon. Go through the entire collection from A to Z, see what pleasant surprises await in records long forgotten – or what tortures unfold from records best left forgotten. But, as with so many of the things that sustain me during the Crisis, the comforts of nostalgia might be the best reward.

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~ by mburgan on August 5, 2009.

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