I’ll never forget my parents taking out binders of 45s for me to flip through and see the 60s bubble gum pop they used to pick up at the five and dime, some nice gems from the Kinks and Elvis and Cream and Shocking Blue were buried among the 1910 Fruit Gum Company. My Grandfather’s 78 ceramics included an original pressing of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. I might not appreciate any of the other polka and Portuguese folk music but that was a find I cherish. My uncle’s basement had boxes of it I remember plowing through to get my hands on Sabbath, Chicago and the Beatles.
Then, there was my trip to Moscow where I found boxes of Cyrillic printed Pink Floyd and Ac/Dc and Deep Purple. Sadly, as some of my parents friends went through mid-life crisis divorces I was around for house cleaning but the finds there including some interesting 60s jazz, and the troves I was able to trade at Princeton Record Exchange including children’s records (I’ll kick myself over that later, bye bye Rudolph and the Brair Rabbit & the Tar Babby were pretty cool too, which is a don’t get me started on all my record store stories…)
Although a quaint throwback drawing ironic popularity in the hipster set and still cherished by audiophiles my love of vinyl goes beyond the typical excuses for holding on to these massive black discs. Sure, they hoard the space on my shelves and in boxes in my parents basements waiting for a needle drop that is all too infrequent. But, as with most collections, they serve a much grander purpose, and a much simplier one. They are a connection to part of who I am that I otherwise would not be without them.
There’s that musty smell the pressed paper sleeves had. Even the most pristine kept collections hold that faint odor in the background while on display because there’s always that extra worn one tucked in there with the rounded corners and faded artwork where fingers continually slipped the disc in and out of the sleeve. Cassettes never held a smell like that and CDs definitely don’t. The plastic cases and glossy booklets just don’t seem to absorb humanity the way those old vinyl sleeves always do.
And speaking of the sleeves there the over-scaled artwork. You never need to squint or unfold it to cherish the joy of details. And oh there were so many hidden treasures on those sleeves. Roger Dean, Derrek Riggs, Robert Fraser and others never looked as good as their 12″ selves and even today the best Derrek Hess and Paul Romano works are the ones adorning vinyl even in it’s 7″ form. If you’re going to enjoy the art of music, you really shouldn’t have to struggle with the “art” part.
Speaking of the art of music, there’s the experience of listening itself. That warmth that only can come from analog inflection. The limitations of the studio recordings aren’t worth dissecting when you have all those big, full tones resonating in your ears, unlike that cold, flat, digital reproduction we’ve all come to tolerate. Given enough time, eventually vinyl takes on a personality of its own. The small subtitles in sound imparted by the individual record’s wear. Each record tells the story of it’s life giving up what the real favorite songs were and where one routinely started and stopped in listening. With the dropouts and crackle and scratches comes something subsequent playback platforms typically lack, the tell-tale signs of their owners lives, and thus their own.
Music was an experience through vinyl, not just the soundtrack to life as it fades into the background of our commutes and computer keystrokes. It forced you into full sensory participation and not just the reconfiguration of zeros-and-ones through an earbud. Sure, it was bulky and not very portable with it’s skipping and hopping needle but that was the point. You sat down in one spot and you focused on the music and that was it.
That’s why I love a good box of vinyl above all else. Because when you take the time to enjoy it it’s an affair that stops time. And anything that allows me to crawl into the imaginary world of sonic tapestry for a few hours undisturbed by never-ending modernization is a welcome pleasure.