The Vinyl Solution
The romantic ones recall stories of love at first sight. I don’t have one of these stories, for I didn’t recognize my love’s presence with the aid of my eyes. Instead I was seduced by sound. I guess the romantics can say music was my first love. Songs seemed to understand me, as I had understood them, and in return I was their faithful appreciator, always willing to listen to their stories. The marriage of words, melody and rhythm became my secret ménage a triox, and it was my passion to make them the center of my world.
As a child, I would often entertain myself by singing in the woods behind my house. My small world grew infinite through the imaginative world of song. In school I was involved in both the choir and concert band. As I reached adolescence, my heroes and idols all wore guitars as their armor. I would stay up late to watch 120 Minutes on MTV, and spend my allowance money on CDs at the local Wal-Mart.
I used to be a pirate. Music was my treasure.
Traditionally, music was a performance art to be shared. Music was used to entertain, share with others, or pacify the listener in harmonious isolation. At times, music can relieve the ailments of a broken soul, or has the ability to alter the mood of its listener like a drug. Through an insatiable thirst for sound, many music lovers became pirates, setting sail to discover new musical horizons. Once technology discovered a map to unlimited music downloads, the pirates could no longer be held at bay. My own love of the sonic world couldn’t be contained within my own headphones. I had to share it with others. Sometimes this would involve playing music for my friends in my home, and often as a parting gift, I would burn them a disc of what they had enjoyed. Occasionally, they would return the favor, and eventually my music collection read at over 10,000 songs, 40 Gigabytes, and clocked in at over 25.9 days of music without repeat.
Mortality of Music
The primal human fear is death, becoming obsolete. My music collection was invisible to my own eyes, yet was so delicate it could be gone in an instant; cause of death: computer crash. The thought of losing my music filled me with a pain that could be equated to losing a relationship – only hundreds of them at once in a single technological massacre. Backing up the music on my I-Pod wasn’t enough, and burnt CDs had lost their romanticism. Once cherished, their status devolved into yet another piece of meaningless trash: scratched vessels forgotten on the floor of a car.
The Vinyl Solution
Just like many relationships, the importance of my affair with music would soon be questioned. Had I shown love and appreciation to the muse that was equal to the satisfaction she had given me? I began to have a musical identity crisis as I realized my digital music collection wasn’t entirely mine. Instead the invisible sound waves were the phonic phantoms of friends and acquaintances. I had abused my relationship with music, had been too liberal in our harmonious polyamory. If music was my true love, I wanted to hold her. I wanted to truly listen to her. I decided my courtship would become old fashioned; I would begin to collect vinyl records.
One of the first pieces of vinyl I bought was Los Angeles by X. I saw it tacked to the wall of a grimy record store my girlfriend and I had gone to. That night, the shop was crowded with bodies; a live punk rock show was about to begin. The black record was listed at $20, quite a price to pay when you’re working part time at minimum wage. Still, I dug into my pockets to dig out the bills to release it from the counter’s hostage. After all, it was a classic. I could smell the dust upon it’s cover as I held it’s cardboard sleeve to examine it’s artwork. Two wooden stakes were displayed criss-crossed into an X, emblazed with fire. The album was recorded Ray Manzarek (most famous as the Doors organ player), and in 2003 celebrated a #286 slot on Rolling Stones top 500 records of all time. It seemed to be the perfect soundtrack for summer. I was just about to graduate from high school, and enjoyed its upbeat polished punk rock quality that seemed to scream sweet freedom. When my friends and I would drive up to LA, it was a ritual to put on a tape we had made of the album’s title track, “Los Angeles”, as soon as we reached the city’s skyline.
At times record collecting can be quite obsessive. Just as a wild animal stalks its prey, the chase of finding a particular record can be exhilarating. Many of these hard to find artifacts can be easily tracked and obtained on eBay – however, I view that as cheating yourself out of an magical experience of finding exactly what you had been looking for all along. Somehow this feels less painful than losing a gamble with an invisible person, who also has their eyes on the prize.
Spiritual Moments in Consumerism.
A. During the early 1990’s, vinyl production lost popularity as compact discs became the new vessel for music. This makes it very hard to find bands from this era on vinyl. I hold a fond nostalgia towards 90’s alternative rock, and have a ritual of searching for particular artists whenever I enter a record store. One day, I was doing some casual record shopping at Music Millenium. I had scored some key choices that day, yet as I was about to walk down the stairs to checkout, a force drew me back towards the racks of dusty vinyl. For months, I was on the hunt for a record by Veruca Salt. I had searched for them before, without luck, and wasn’t expecting to find anything today. Much of our fate is determined by luck and chance; being in the right place at the right time. Such an existentialist perspective took me to the V section, and I searched for the band’s place card. It didn’t exist. I decided to flip through the random V section. I began to visualize the record: an image of a dingy cream colored dress with hearts down the center floated into my brain capsules like a Buddhist’s meditation. To my surprise, the next record I flipped over was exactly what I had been looking for.
B. Whilst reading the ads in the Portland Mercury, I spotted the fine print in an advertisement for a downtown hipster bar called the Tube. The ad featured its upcoming events including a record swap. It was Tuesday. I had just finished a hectic day at my day job, and was in dire need of a drink. Miraculously, I remembered the vinyl swap at the Tube. It had been a few weeks since my last record binge, so I decided to head down for cheap stiff well drinks, and to browse at most. It was late August in Portland – that meant sunlight until late night – yet, as always, the Tube was a pit of darkness. Half a dozen record vendors took over the perimeter of the claustrophobic bar – making the tables and booths their storefront. I flipped through a selection of crust-punk record bins, uninterested. One vendor had a beat up copy of Bikini Kill’s Reject All American, and despite my offers, ultimately decided it was “not for sale” after all. If it weren’t for my thirst for cheap whiskey, I would have left, empty-handed. I did find a couple of seven inches including Blonde Redhead’s Valentine, but was only moderately excited about it. At only $3, it seemed like a wise alternative to another drink. As I reached the end of the line I sifted through one last milk crate, and there it was: the record I had been searching for ever since I started to collect. I held up the black and gray sleeve in glee, emulating a fat kid astonished to find a golden ticket within a chocolate bar. It was Radio Ethiopia by Patti Smith.
Save the Soul, Heal the Mind
It was a Sunday morning in San Diego, but there was nothing sunny about it. The fog had set in; the sun needed a vacation. I drove my old, gray Volvo through the Ocean Beach neighborhood, the window rolled down to allow cool, salty ocean air to dance with the smoke of my cigarette. I remember heaviness in my chest, and a slight melancholy was in the air as I drove the deserted beaches. I seemed to be going in circles, passing through empty parking lots watching a few people play fetch with their dogs, the bums going through the trash looking for glass gold, and a few lone surfers drifting in the morning tide. Even though I had spent the previous night with friends, I was lonesome. I exhaled a smoky sigh and tapped a cassette my friend had made for me into my tape deck. With the first hiss of feedback, before falling into a break beat of slow moving drums, I felt a warmth surround me. Then the girl’s voice came in, as smoky as my morning exhales, to sing a song called “American Flag”. Her name was Chan Marshall, and performed under the name Cat Power. Her album was entitled Moon Pix, a collection of songs that told stories more down and out than my own. I would be consoled by the singer’s distressed voice, as I would drive through the desolate Sunday freeway, etched with skid mark ghosts. The faintly happy beats of “Cross Bones Style” would be the soundtrack as I drove further north, down the dusty back roads of Lake Elsinore, past broken down rusty cars, and churches offering Salvation and change through eternal love. I didn’t need this sort of redemption; instead, I would listen to Moon Pix religiously. When I finally found the record, I took it home like a lost lamb on a rainy day.
The Musical Mistress
My wife doesn’t fully approve of my affair with vinyl records. My musical mistress is demanding of my attention during a dinner party, tempts me to spend money I should be saving, and enables obsessive compulsive behavior. I justify her presence stating “I am building personal collateral”.
Agent Ribbons, Björk, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nirvana, The Amps, The Breeders, Bat for Lashes, Wanda Jackson, Gene Krupa & Anita O’Day, Man Man, Pit Er Pat, Louis Armstrong, Blonde Redhead, The Dodos, Slant 6, Captain Beefheart, Veruca Salt, Smashing Pumpkins, The Dandy Warhols, Young People, Julee Cruise, Radiohead, Cat Power, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Edith Piaf, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, The Pixies, Bikini Kill, Scout Niblett, Helium, Black Mountain, Mary Timony, Velvet Underground, Duke Ellington…
To Have and to Hold
Music was my first love, and I wanted to hold her. Music was my drug, and I always needed a fix. Since I have started collecting vinyl, I have acquired over 200 records. Each signifies an important moment in time – when the artist immortalized their craft. I may never see many of these artists live, but forever their words, melody and rhythm will be mine to have and to hold. Sure, the records are just another thing to own and consume. Though it is through these circular discs I have found a partner in realizing the tangible nature of the music itself. Just as a wedding ring signifies a relationship that will never die, each spin of the record is infinite, indicating an unconditional love for the music itself. Each record is the body that carries the soul of the music – yet nobody is perfect. The record is delicate, and sometimes it has flaws you can hear in tiny scratches, hisses and skips. Sometimes the sleeve is worn from the love that was finally let go by the previous listener. I don’t mind these tiny flaws, because the record’s beauty is arresting in each rotation.