I’ve been listening to records all my life. My parents had a solid-state hi-fi in an octagonal cabinet in the living room. You could stack several records on the turntable, and as it finished one side, the next record would automatically drop down and start to play. Records I remember from this era: Supertramp, Breakfast in America; Waylon Jennings, Ol’ Waylon; Harry Nilsson, A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night; some collection of Disney songs that included my favorites, “I Wanna Be Like You” by Louis Prima and “He’s a Tramp” by Peggy Lee.
I still have all of these records.
At least, I will have them for a few more days until a pal picks them up and drives them to his new house in Michigan. Yep, I’m getting rid of my vinyl.
I can hardly believe it myself, but it’s something I’ve just got to do. It’s time.
I still love my records but I rarely listen to them. I’m still not sure it’s the right thing to do but I feel like these records are weighing me down emotionally. Baggage. It’s a big change, but I think it’ll end up being appropriate for how I actually listen to music as opposed to how I used to listen to music, or how I imagine that I might want to listen to music someday, or how I think the cool people are supposed to listen to music. 90% of the music I listen to is on my iPod on the El. Of the remaining 10% that I listen to at home, probably half of that is on my computer and the other half is divided between CDs and records with CDs getting the bulk of that action. I probably average one side of one record per month. And it’s just not enough to justify the baggage. Sadly.
I started buying my own records as a kid after a thankfully brief foray into eight-tracks. My first LP was The Game by Queen, which I bought for “Another One Bites the Dust” and was pleasantly surprised by “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Was that my first exposure to rockabilly? Not sure, but that record is currently sitting in a box labeled “M—R” in the storage room in the basement.
Cassettes were the big thing for a while, but I went back to vinyl when my mom bought a new stereo that had a built-in phonograph. My first records of this new era: Duran Duran, Notorious; A-Ha, Scoundrel Days; and the Beatles, 1967-1970. Somewhere along the way, I lost/sold/tossed the first two, but that blue double album is down there in the “A—C” box.
My record collection didn’t really start to grow until I got into the Smiths. Every week during my junior year of high school, I’d take my dishwasher’s wages to Vinyl Solution and allow myself to spend $9.99 on an imported Smiths single. These usually featured rare, new b-sides and always had cool artwork with photos of new (to me) cult celebrities for me to research. By the end of my senior year, I owned the complete discography. I bought Morrissey’s first solo release, the “Suedehead” 12-inch, at Recordtown in the mall.
I sold off most of my Smiths stuff while I was in college. I had grown disillusioned with Morrissey, I was broke, and I found two Latina sisters who agreed to sign over their entire paycheck to me every week while they gradually took over my whole Smiths collection. This money allowed me to drink Bacardi 151 for a few months and buy a decent set of speakers.
I love flipping through crates of used vinyl, hoping to stumble across something amazing. Back in college, I used to buy every copy of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights that I saw for less than fifty cents. The idea was to wallpaper a whole room with the greatest album cover ever. I accumulated about 40 copies over a few years, but eventually got rid of all but nine of them, which I finally framed and hung up.
I’ve accumulated a fairly exhaustive classic rock discography from browsing the 50-cent bins. Dylan, Stones, Zeppelin, Eagles, Elton John, Blondie, Steely Dan. Over the past few years, I’ve given up on the cheapo racks, realizing that I’ve already got enough of that crap. Lately, I’ve been willing to pay up to $9.99 for vinyl-essentials like the two New York Dolls albums, and both of Gram Parsons’ solo albums.
The last new album I bought was Come, Come to the Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats, a limited-edition, vinyl-only collection of demos and outtakes. Used, I recently picked up Muswell Hillbillies by the Kinks and a multi-record collection of Sir Laurence Olivier reading the Bible, but I haven’t listened to either of those yet. And I probably never would have. And that’s the problem, and it’s the reason I’m letting it all go.
I just don’t have time to listen to records anymore. And I’ve come to realize that I’m never going to have that record party where my pals all sit around smoking doobs and listening to deep cuts off Skynard’s second album. If someone else wants to throw that party, I’ll be more than happy to show up, but it just can’t be at my place.
This makes me very sad. But it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to get rid of stuff. And it’s okay to miss stuff you no longer have. I’ve spent a lot of time defining myself by my possessions, and what kind of shit is that? That same line of thinking is why douchebags drive Hummers. I can still be who I am even if I don’t have a turntable. But that’s hard for me to accept. I’m very skeptical of people who claim to be music lovers but can’t play vinyl. Can you even be a decent person if you have no way of playing that new Babyshambles seven-inch?
Having that option is what’s kept me lugging boxes of records from apartment to apartment over the years. Having options. The option to listen to stuff that I never actually end up listening to. So why do I do it?
There’s a word that people in the garage rock community use for people who buy up rare singles just to horde them or maybe sell them years later at a marked-up price: coll-scum. These are collectors who don’t even necessarily like the music, but just feel the need to possess all the rarest, most obscure records. I don’t want to be coll-scum. And if I’m greedily holding on to all these records and rarely, if ever, listening to them, then am I any better than those assholes?
One thing that makes this decision a bit easier is the recent advances in CD mastering technology. I’ve always been one of these guys who says (loudly) that vinyl just sounds better. I can back up my argument with facts about sound waves and midrange frequencies, etc., and I believe that analog is simply superior to digital. I remember the first time I heard Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night on vinyl after being disappointed by the CD. I felt like I’d been ripped off. The vinyl had so much more life, so much more presence. I threw the CD in the trash, and started giving copies of the record to all my friends who only had it on CD.
That’s when I stopped buying 70s music on CD. That period lasted until the 2002 Rolling Stones remasters. After hearing good reviews, I picked up Beggars Banquet and did an A-B comparison with my vinyl copy. I was amazed that for once the CD sounded as good as the record. It can be done.
Another reason is the recent reissues on CD of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Body Workout and the Dukes of Hazzard original TV soundtrack (featuring Roscoe singing “Flash” to his dog). I have both of those on vinyl and have always showcased them as prime examples of weird shit that would never get released on CD. Now that I’ve been proved wrong, I’m guessing it won’t be long until my cherished Webster: Good Secrets! Bad Secrets! Teaching Children to AVOID Molestation! gets the cd-reissue treatment.
So that’s why I’m giving them to my pal. He’ll actually listen to them. He’s a stay-at-home dad/journalist who recently busted out his own record collection after keeping it in storage for several years. I love the idea that my records might have some kind of an impact on his daughter. Who knows? Maybe being exposed to Funkadelic during infancy could help shape her into a cool little person. Unlikely, sure, but what the fuck do I know about child development?
And just so I don’t lose my mind altogether, we’ve got a deal worked out where I can ask for my records back at any time over the next three years. But after three years, they’re all his, fair and square. For keeps. Forever. To lug from move to move. Or to sell online. Or to donate to Goodwill. Or to give back to me as a big-ass birthday present someday…
Several years ago I started a personal tradition: whenever I realize I’m in the middle of a serious, life-altering situation, especially when big plans fall through or when I’m experiencing a major loss, I always listen to “Star of Bethlehem” by Neil Young. Neil knows: “Ain’t it hard when you wake up in the morning / And you find out that those other days are gone?” I have the two albums that include that song, American Stars ‘N Bars and Decade, on vinyl but not on CD. I guess this time I’ll have to go download the MP3.