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an ode to vinyl…

June 29, 2015

Photo by Monkey Business Images / Rex Features

Photo by Monkey Business Images / Rex Features

I have a confession to make. Well, maybe more than one. But for the past year I’ve been living without vinyl. My records made the move from Minnesota to Colorado with us last summer, along with my turntable, and my sweet old receiver, and my big, warm vintage speakers. But, while the movers managed to only mangle beyond recognition one item of furniture, it seems as though they made a concerted effort to lose every screw, nail, or knob that could be wrested free from wherever it belonged. One such lost accessory was the grounding peg to one of my old speakers. Sidenote/digression: “grounding peg” may or may not be an actual term, I might have completely made it up. But it’s the tiny peg that sticks out from the back of the speaker that you fasten the grounding wire to, with whatever you call the fastening part. While I may love records, I’ve never claimed to be adept at the technical side of record-listening. I’ve spent more time on the phone with my dad in my life trying to troubleshoot my assorted turntables and stereo set-ups because I insist on buying actual old school stereo components that still use tubes and belts and different colored wires and things I don’t understand – instead of just buying the new digital equipment that some 19-year-old at Best Buy could actually help me with. It’s silly, and self-inflicted but it’s the path I’ve chosen.

So anyway, the “grounding peg” is gone – it’s sitting along a highway between Minneapolis and Fort Collins or in the back of a moving truck somewhere in North America, but either way, it’s gone. So my second confession is, I’m also lazy. When I realized the speakers were kaput for the time being I put fixing them on my to-do list and there it stayed for roughly 8 months. I also needed a new stylus for my turntable. But getting it without having speakers to play through seemed silly so I turned to my iTunes library and felt a pang of guilt every time I passed my poor neglected shelf of albums.

The treasure chest...

The treasure chest…

And then, my future in-laws turned everything around with possibly the world’s greatest engagement gift. We went over to their house for dinner a few weeks ago and a huge, colorfully wrapped box was sitting on the table. I assumed it was a kitchen appliance or some other usefully functional household item. It turned out to be about 50 of their old records, in ridiculously good condition, AND their Bang & Olufson turntable from 1986. (I know it’s from 1986 because the receipt is still included in a bag with the operating instructions. $269 from Classic Stereo Ltd. in Kalamazoo, Michigan…) We brought the box of treasure home and, while putting all the records on the Shelf of Guilt, I could almost hear them crying out at me – “Why did you bring us here? To rot on a shelf? Fix that stereo and let us rip!” (If you haven’t noticed, I have a tendency to personify inanimate objects.) So, the gift spurred me into action. Still without a lead on the piece I needed to fix the speakers I jerry-rigged a solution by getting a few connector pieces from RadioShack (yes, we still somehow have one in our town) that would let me run my turntable, through my receiver, and into our digital speakers. Okay, we had sound. Then I got the new stylus and rebalanced the tonearm –woefully out of wack from bumping along a 900-mile journey in the back of a moving truck. I’m glad to report that victory is mine and the sweet, sweet sound of vinyl is now filling our home once again.

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with the added hassle of maintaining a record collection and a way to play them that doesn’t suck. Why not just plug my monster iTunes library into my speakers and call it a day? I’ve gone through other periods of record neglect but something always draws me back to them. I can’t say what, exactly. But I think it’s the whole experience. The multi-sensory engagement with the music that digital options just can’t touch. Growing up, my family played records all the time. I have vivid memories of holding records in my hands, running my fingers over the bizarre cut-out faces on Some Girls, and knowing every song on both sides of The Traveling Wilburys: Vol. 1 without having any sense yet of the legends who comprised the band. I remember nights when my mom would push all the furniture to the walls in the living room and we’d dance (but never jump) to the Born in the USA album. And I knew which one it was because it was the one with the guy’s butt on the front. I remember seeing my mom’s maiden name scribbled across all her many, many John Denver albums and as I got older, even without reading the names, I could start to tell which albums were hers and which were my dad’s. (Gordon Lightfoot = not my dad, Thin Lizzy = not my mom, it wasn’t that hard).

Those memories of flipping through records have always stuck with me and I look forward to someday flipping through records with my own kids. Answering questions about why this one has a butt on the front, and teaching them how to hold just the edges, and how to find the groove for the right song. It just isn’t the same as scrolling together through my iTunes library and trying to explain to them that this thumbnail image actually represents a big, wonderful, musty smelling, 12” square that they can reach into and pull the music out of. So yeah, cheesy as it may sound, carrying on the vinyl tradition means more to me than just having a cool vintage record collection. Or being able to hear songs the way they were first heard. Vinyl records are a big part of what music means to me, and I’m real happy to have them back.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeanne Becker permalink
    June 29, 2015 11:24 am

    I LOVE this!!!!

  2. Aunt Karen permalink
    June 29, 2015 1:08 pm

    I was telling Uncle Tbone the other day about how I can trace my musical roots to my various siblings. John Denver, Lobo, Carly Simon = Jeanne; Bad Company, Nazareth = Mark; and the many other various songs from Becky’s 45 collection. (I can hear Jeanne now “some of those were mine! And so was Bad Company!” I’m pretty sure.) We still play albums from our (mostly Tbone’s) vast collection as well. (I have to add R.I.P. Chris Squire.)

  3. Hunter Marjorie permalink
    June 30, 2015 5:40 pm

    I feel guiity remembering how I literally gave most of my old records away when I moved to my condo. Sorry, sweetie, I didn’t know ten years ago what they might have meant to you.

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