Lately I’ve been rummaging through musty boxes in the basement and dusty in the back of the garage, pulling out items stored in those places for decades. Flat round disks of vinyl. Phonograph records. I’ve joined the retro movement and purchased a turntable.
When was the last time I listened to Michael Murphy. Remember when ‘Wildfire’ was a favorite song? The album Blue Sky – Night Thunder still sounds clear and strong. The copyright date says 1975. My God, forty years ago. Does anyone remember Michael Murphy? I Google his name. There he is, a fat Wikipedia entry, still performing, finding a niche doing cowboy songs, not forgotten. Except apparently by me!
And Neil Young, Time Fades Away, one of my favorite albums. Never released on CD. Neil doesn’t like it — reminds him of the torturous tour in 1973 during which it was recorded. The sound is very rough, not a spit of polish — sorta like this blog.
Hey — even the Monkees sound good. With my ancient disc cleaning kit, I wipe away dust and fingerprints from the last century. As I do, I wonder where, when did I last play this record? Who was I went I last touched this record and made this smudge at the edge?
Despite age and the abuse, cheap stereos and worn out needles, scratches and pops, they still sound better than digital forms. At least to my ears.
I was young once and went to record stores, flipping through the bins. Buying Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run, studying the cover, sitting on the college green with my girlfriend even as we were breaking up, sharing Bruce, peeling back the pasted-over label on the cover, the correction to the spelling of Jon Landau’s name. Spelled John in the original pressing. Caught at the last moment. Caught by Bruce himself, we imagine, ordering the costly correction. That’d be like Bruce, we know. We knew so much 40 years ago. And I know so again, spinning these old platters.
I kept all my LPs through several moves, kept them all these years without playing them, kept them for the memory they evoked. Kept them because you don’t get rid of something that is a part of you. Is it only nostalgia? A delusion that vinyl sounds better, a kind of auditory placebo effect? I’d swear not. The sound is warmer, fuller, reaches deeper inside me. I feel it not just in my ears but inside my chest. In my soul. And they say that half the vinyl buyers are age 35 or less. There’s no nostalgia in it for them.
I’ve returned to the record store. Yes, there is an actual, old-fashioned record store still existing near me as if transported from the 20th Century, sporting more and more bins of new LPs. Except that they cost far more than they did in the last Century. I don’t care. It feels like going home and I can’t resist buying…even spending $90 for a six-LP set of Ryan Adams in concert at Carnegie Hall. “This is rare. They didn’t press many copies,” the gray-haired store owner says. “It could be worth something in ten years.” Crazy, an impulse by, but bringing it home, opening it, brought home the feeling of anticipation. Anticipation for the music of life.
How long will I bother dusting off the disks, changing records and flipping sides every twenty minutes, listening to every track in album order? I’m sure I’ll become lazy, revert to the more convenient media, even let some streaming service pick out my music for me while I’m not listening. And I won’t be listening. Perhaps, though, some part of me will remember the unbroken music.