My New Record Player

I had no idea record players were cool.

I don't remember when I got my stereo.  It consisted of a turntable, two tape decks, and a radio, so it was older than CDs, at least.  I remember having it in middle school, which means I could not have gotten it any later than 1988, which means I held on to that thing for at least 14 years.

I was late to the CD party, but that stereo had an auxiliary input, so when I got a CD player I could still keep my stereo.  The fact that there was a turntable on top of it wasn't something I ever really thought about.  I listed to tapes, mostly.

But in high school I joined the Ten Club, the fan club for Pearl Jam, and every year they released a 7" for members, and suddenly the turntable had purpose.  And then I went to college and started listening to punk rock and indie rock and discovered that records were the preferred format of the working class.  Every band with a 4 track and a few dollars could release a 7", which made it the great equalizer.

And now I had records to go with my record player.  Now the tape deck was irrelevant and the turntable got all the love.

But I was never really a collector.  Back then, a record was a record was a record.  There was no reverence for vinyl.  I knew that people claimed it was better than a CD and that was fine, but it wasn't really an issue for me.  I bought records because a lot of the bands I listened to were releasing music on records, often a week or two before the same album came out on CD, and I wasn't famous for my patience.

Plus, god bless the 7".  Before MP3s, the best way to see if you liked a band was to buy a 7" for two or
three bucks.  I have a stack of 7"s that probably seem completely random, and it's because they were cheap ways to try out a band.

In 2002, I moved to Los Angeles.  I had, at the time, been living in Atlanta, a place I was able to drive to after graduation from grad school in Athens, Ohio.  Driving to Los Angeles didn't seem to make much sense, although I'll be honest that thinking about it now, I wish I had, as that would have been a hell of a road trip.  But I suppose since I was putting so much distance between my new life and my old life, I had to cut myself down to the minimum, and the stereo was not going to go on the plane.

I would spend the next 11+ years without a record player, which wasn't really a big deal, as the MP3 had made a big splash and digital was clearly the musical format of the future.  I think I was in Los Angeles for only 2 years before I sold all my CDs.

I love digital music.  I love the freedom of it.  I love that we live in an age when a band doesn't even need a record label to get their music to the masses.  I love that I can make mixes and play lists without having to hit stop and start on two tape decks over and over again.

But let's be honest: digital music lacks something.  Call it "life" if you want, but digital music often exists in a void.  There's no context to digital music.  Even a song on an album is just an individual song that happens to be numbered a certain way, but can be listened to very easily on its own.

Records force you to listen to the entire side (fine, I guess you can skip if you want to, but given what a chore it is, why would you?).  They force you to appreciate the album as a whole which, in theory, is what the artist is going for.  While I have no doubts that your average top 40 artist looks at music as a collection of singles, your really good bands put a lot of time, thought, and creativity into what a complete album is like.  It doesn't even have to be a "concept album."  There is a flow to an album that requires real consideration.  In many ways, it's an art form on its own.

And let's not forget the packaging.  There is no packaging with digital music and I'm sure the earth is happy about that.  Hell, I'm happy about that, more or less.  I'm thrilled that we can buy music and not be forced to hold on to CD trays and cardboard inserts that will eventually end up in landfills.  I'm glad that the mediocre album by band x isn't going to take up space in my house or in a landfill.

But the packaging for vinyl is important.  It's essential.  It will never be thrown away, never add to our growing landfills.  The packaging for a record is classic.  Pulling a record out its cardboard sleeve, then pulling it out of it's paper sleeve -- there's just this wonderful, tactile feeling to it.

I guess that's what it's all about, actually.  For as much as I love digital music, it's sterile.  It removes context from music, or at least context from an album.

I love the smell of a vinyl record.  I love the smell of the record player itself.  I love the sound of pulling it out of its sleeve, and the sound of the needle hitting it.  I love the cracks and pops that tell you the music is on its way, like an usher taking you to your seat.  I love the feeling of a record in your hands, this physical thing that represents sound, that encapsulates your music and how you feel about it.  And, particularly these days, I love the look of it all.  The packaging for vinyl has become gloriously high end, because that's who is buying these albums.

After ten years, I have a record player again.

And all is right with the world.