Last November my wife surprised me with a gift. It was going to be my Christmas gift, but she can’t ever keep a surprise for that long. She gave me a record player. She had heard me talking to someone about the newer players that can be hooked up into your computer by USB port. She thought that would make for a nice gift for me, so she got on OverStock.com (my wife feels that it is a moral sin to pay full price for anything) and found a record player. When she gave it to me I was overjoyed and amazed. Not because the turntable was awesome (it is actually a cheap plastic piece of shit), but because she gave me a present that she truly thought I wanted. That little turntable was by far the coolest gift she could ever given me. As I child I played records constantly, mostly my parents 45 records, when I got older music became the bonding agent for my friends and myself.
I grew up in a podunk town in West Texas. The nearest town with a decent record store was a forty minute drive away. Going record shopping was a big deal. I would spend hours in the stores trying to make up my mind to what I would purchase. Then the drive back home looking at the cover, reading the liner notes (but never reading the lyric sheet, I could only do that as the song played), that drive always seemed longer coming back than going. Once home I would lie on my bed and listen to the album, usually twice and if it was a really good one I would then call up my friends and invite them over for a listen. I recall having my bedroom full of people when I got the first Clash album on import.
And then came the compact disc. When CDs started to take over the floor space in the records stores I was fine with that. The sound was without the flaws of the pops and clicks that no matter how well I seemed to treat my records were always there. They were easy to transport and I still gave my attention to the music (the graphics were harder to read, but whatever). And over the years I sold off all my records. Got a nice price for some of them in the early days of ebay. I guess I had a few rare items I had picked up over the years.
Then along came MP3 and flac files. I remember the first time I downloaded a song on my dial up internet. It took 20 minutes, but damn I had a song. I could create a folder on my computer and store all my music files on it. I could play whatever I wanted whenever with just a click of the mouse. Then I signed up with this service called emusic. They offered (at the time) unlimited downloading. They had a small but decent collection of jazz and obscure rock and roll available. The day I got DSL service I went on an ‘unlimited’ download spree. The next day I got an email from emusic explaining that unlimited was going to be changed to 90 songs a month…I had downloaded four times that in one night.
I moved on to other services (some legit and some not so legit) and I amassed a big music file collection. Then my hard drive failed and I lost it all. So I started again and amassed an even bigger collection. I started buying external hard drives to back it up. This was my childhood dream come true. I had all the music I could ever want at my fingertips.
And then along came Spotify. With this service I did not even need to have the files. They were in ‘the cloud’. All I needed to do was think of what I wanted to listen to, type it in the search box and then I could listen to it. But more and more I noticed I was not listening to music…I was sampling and moving on. Music surfing my wife called it and she would remind me how much she hated having to listen to me doing it. I would play twenty or thirty seconds then click on to something else. When I did listen to a complete new album I wouldn’t even know the names of songs I had just listened to. That being because I didn’t look at my computer screen to see what it was. Cover art? Get out of here.
Back in November, when my wife gave me the turntable, I had two 45’s that I had bought on Record Store Day with the thought of reselling them on ebay but I never got around to it. As I pulled the vinyl out of the sleeve, placed it on the table and dropped the tone arm I felt this feeling that is hard for me to put into words, but I guess I must try. It was a mixture of nostalgia and belonging. It was the feeling I had forgot. And you know what happened? I listened song…LISTENED. Then flipped it over and listened to the other side. I had this feeling of real enjoyment of listening to music. This seemed to be the way I needed to play music for total submersion.
My wife told me the other day that giving me that record player was a bad mistake. You see I have gone a little bit crazy. First I upgraded the turntable to a nice mid-priced Technics. Then an amp and speakers. And then came collecting records. It has been four months since I started my spree and I have collected 738 albums. I am discovering some damn cool music. Reading the liner notes. Reading along to the lyric sheet if they are available. Just generally falling in love with vinyl all over again.