When I first moved to L.A., I didn’t bring much from my old life. I didn’t want to be surrounded by any objects connected to memories that were now obsolete. There is no value in reminiscing about a failed marriage, right? “Remember when we…oh…nevermind…”
Thrift shops were the main storehouses for rebuilding. I intentionally picked one that raised funds for AIDS research and services because its donor base included a high proportion of gay men. Leveraging economic injustice ironically for my benefit, I knew that gay men have higher individual and household incomes walking in the door. I don’t mean to be offensive, but gay men are economically MEN, and worth more than me. Because of more discretionary household funds, their donations tended to be of higher quality, and original artwork was often available. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to raise money to combat AIDS. I had lost my first friend in 1986. But I confess that I needed to make my limited funds go further.
One of the most cherished finds was a turntable for records, REAL records. It was only $20.00, and the store also included a large selection of 12-inch treasured black discs for $0.25 cents. Bach to Billie and beyond. There was a sense that the music business had begun a descent into madness for not valuing the vinyl. Like a contagious disease, it had established a foothold in the general population that seemed impossible to stop.
The first time I bought a CD, I was saddened. Cover artwork used to capture the imagination as it filled one’s visual field end-to-end, if you held it close enough to discover secret details – or if you started flunking vision tests in the second grade and had to hold things closer. Regardless of how epic was the art, it now made a miniscule impact if it was miniaturized for CD packaging. Giger’s nightmare that demanded attention on ELP’s “Brain Salad Surgery” could now inconceivably be ignored. Lyrics were sometimes omitted to save space and help keep the packaging tiny. This was thought to provide more square footage for music stores to sell more. Most of the stores are now out of business. No lyrics was of no help to ignorant fans like me who sometimes needed help to understand the inspiration of musicians, or at least needed help to learn the right words so that we didn’t embarrass ourselves while singing badly in public… “…Blinded by the light…wrapped up like a douche…”
As I put my first CD in, I wanted to play the B side first. So I understandably put the shiny tiny disk in upside down and was rewarded with silence and confusion.
Perhaps my natural proclivity is to bitterness, because I never forgave the CD technology that led to my awkward moment.
But the love of vinyl comes from more than just a bad start with CDs, and the love extends beyond me.
Nielsen SoundScan reported in its last compilation of data that sales of vinyl records reached 3.9 million units, up dramatically since the 857,000 units that moved in 2007. Consequent servicing of vintage turntables and manufacturing of replacement parts, as well as manufacturing new turntables, have led to sales increases of over 25% in the last year alone with some vendors. This has led to turntable owners like me choosing to play vinyls more often because of the new hope of repair/replacement parts.
Demographically, these consumers are described as being either hipsters or, er, broken-hipsters, as Victor the Phoenician used to call them at the club. To their faces, we decided to call older customers…well, those almost exactly like me except for having impressive investment portfolios…’vinyls’. It was a code word that if heard wouldn’t cause offense. The new young customers who wear skinny jeans perhaps embrace vinyl to complete their visual character brand of REBEL. But they also might be authentic, not impressed with embracing technology just because it is new.
There is something delicious about listening to vinyls. Imperfections are reclassified as ‘pre-loved’. Even scratches add to a sound that makes the air in the room thick and golden like honey. It’s as if the sounds created are different if they are released by the touch of needle to pressed circle as opposed to cold laser to a mirrored disk with a space between. It’s a mystery why ‘clarity’ is valued at the expense of ‘resonance’.
By the horn of Gabriel, this is music and not a corporate SEC filing!
Soft edges can be fascinating. Long ago, I was with a bony man. With all due disrespect to basketball/heroin chic, I’m not a fan. I prefer being enfolded, by arms and lips, by warm water, by thoughts and by sounds.
I was talking with an 8th grader about music the other night. She told me that she wants a turntable.
The future’s so bright, I have to wear shades.
Quote of the Blog from T-Bone Burnett: It’s also ironic that in the old days of tape and tape hiss and vinyl records and surface noise, we were always trying to get records louder and louder to overcome that.
Image of vinyl record courtesy of ipadwallpaperportal.com.