A Fond Farewell to a Friend

They're only passing through you in the end...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.

34 thoughts on “A Fond Farewell to a Friend”

  1. Tears just rolled down my face.

    Good luck to you Jake, and to your records, may they have peace in their new home.

    I still have all my vinyl, my very tiny collection I’ve had since I was about ten. But I just can’t part with them. It’s the memories.

  2. Hah, what’s funny is my mom just sold her house and I offered to relieve her of her hundreds of old records. Maybe I’ll be saying this same thing in another 15 years.

  3. Jake, I applaud you for a step I’m not (nor may I ever be) in a place to take. You did what was true to you, and like your tag said, you probably have more room for more stuff… stuff that WON’T define you.

    For me, recently, the opposite has held true; I acquired all of the vinyl from my grandparents/ aunts/ uncles, and I feel I did so for posterity’s sake. My father always tells me that I got my love of music from my grandfather, who had a deep love of classical music and an ear for a good tune. Recently, the apartment building on the South Side of Chicago was finally sold. I knew all this time that there were not only my grandfather’s vintage classical records (he was a fan of Jascha Heifetz, a love I’ve since acquired), but also a lot of late ’60s/early ’70s singles from my aunt, all languishing in a garage neglected. I kept imploring my father; please rescue those records and get them to me, so I can preserve them as a family vinyl archive, and digitize as warranted. About a month ago, he came through, and about 75 records were delivered to me. A lot of Irish music and show tunes, but also the classical masterpieces, and more Jascha Heifetz. And I don’t consider myself collector scum; I’m just sorta proud that I can give these records a good home. Maybe someday they’ll be passed on to my little dude, along with an enduring love of vinyl.

    Thanks for sharing that, Jake.

  4. Not sure why, but I never acquired much vinyl. I was a cassette man and then switched quickly to CDs. Now I’ve ripped all my CDs to my PC and I’m looking at a wall full of discs that are (now) basically backup media. Do I unload them all? (Which is actually something I’ve wondered about for a while — with many people ripping their collections, will the used CD market become overrun? Hmmm.)

    A big decision to unload your LPs. Vinyl seems to have a greater “cherishable” aspect to it. A wall full of vinyl inspires quiet awe and reverance. A wall full of CD jewel cases inspires concerns about unnecessary spending.

  5. I’m not a fetishizer. So while I still occassionally play and enjoy vinyl, if I had the same stuff on CD, I wouldn’t bat an eye. But I certainly understand the meaning these things take on.

    I work in a place where people are often trying to either sell us their record collection, or donate their collections with a hushed reverence that is meant to suggest we should be very grateful. Sometimes this is touching; these collections meant a lot to people. Sometimes it is annoying (they want to be congratulated on their “largesse”).

    I have to tell them that if their collections are worth anything TO THEM, they should find a better repository for their stuff, like Goodwill, or to find private collectors, because we will simply carry their boxes out to the dumpster.

    Usually they will ask us to assign a dollar amount to their collection. Legally, we can’t do this, and so we tell them the value has to be what THEY think they’re worth. They’ll often press and say “OK, you can’t officially give an amount, but just between us, what do you think it’s worth?” I have to tell them, from what I can tell: next to nothing. I am no expert. But it is rare to the point of unique that these people were ever “serious” collectors. Those people (usually musicians) are very selective and it would be obvious to anyone on this board who was selective, and who were simply ardent consumers.

    Occassionally I’ll see something that interests me, like a Hank Williams or a James Brown, but what never ceases to amaze me is that it’s inevitably the same stuff: the ubiquitous Herb Alpert, Jackie Gleason, musicals, The Weavers, The Lettermen…you get the drift. And Squaresville, baby! Makes me wonder about the Dave Matthews/Spin Doctors/Hootie/Will Smith/Jimmy Buffett/Natalie Merchant deluge of the future.

  6. I remember going through that phase…time to grow up, time to move on. I just “don’t have the time to listen to those records anymore.” Too bad I sold off so much of that vinyl I’ve since been buying back. If you really are so busy that you can’t enjoy the finer things in life- good wine, time with family & friends, playing with the kids or dog- maybe it’s your work or other priorities that are the problem. I went through it as I approached 30 and as I approach 40 I find myself reevaluating again. Why do we have to give up something just because a sleeker, lighter (ipodier) version exists. Those records DO sound better. Don’t kid yourself, it ain’t hipster bullshit. Everything about them except the convience of playing them in your car is better. Records made 50 or 75 years ago will probably still be worth listening too long after cd’s have deteriorated or been replaced. Keep your records man, you might find yourself growing old enough to love them again.

    Bob

  7. Lovely article. I applaud your courage, I can only guess how hard this decision is for you.

    And despite what Bob says, I think many times circumstances necessitate changes in your life that aren’t always the most enjoyable, but being practical and/or responsible usually isn’t.

    I’m off to Neverland Ranch – who’s with me?

  8. Jake,

    I can’t believe we were talking about this not a month ago in New York, and now you’ve done it. You’re a man of action. Whereas I still have that very Donna Summer double lp that I said bit the big one when I finally played it (a year or so after I bought it at a stoop sale).

    Maybe the next time I move I’ll make the same decision. Meanwhile, I occasionally move piles of cds off my turntable to play the eponymous Velvet Underground album, and I love the pops and scratches it makes as it launches into “Candy Says.”

    “Can’t repeat the past? My dear fellow, of course you can!”

  9. Point of fact: the media should never becoem more important that the content. A great book doesnt lose it’s meaning if it’s on paper, audio tape, or text display. You place a sentimental value on the thing, but that doesnt affect the content. People take too long to let go of things and move foreward and that’s a big issue across a lot of different spectrums these days. I applaud this step not becuase it’s “brave” but because it’s necessary. When you can no longer make room for new things or new ideas you stagnate. Bravo for stirring the pot a little.

  10. If those records have become a burden and the joy is gone, it’s time to let them go. Just one step closer on the path to enlightenment. ;-)

    BTW, if you haven’t seen [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120454/]Vinyl[/url] yet, it’s a must.

  11. I look at most of these posts and the ones regarding the selling of songs to commercials and wonder…why are most of you wasting your time on a music message board? If you really don’t value music and records as works of art then why do you bother? Is looking at a photo of the Mona Lisa that you snapped with your fucking cellphone the same as standing in front of the actual thing? Do you really get the same pleasure from reading a great novel online as you would curling up with a nice print copy of the “actual book?” I download music and love my Ipod but I sure do value them less than a well worn copy of a record with actual artwork and liner notes. A record that someone actually made. A record that I can remember when & where I bought it and what was happening in my life at the time. A record so great that I carried it to friends houses or lent it out. Is it really the same as having those songs programmed into a sleek little piece of plastic? Maybe I’m an out-of-touch old fart but I think a lot of people are kidding themselves here. Tell me somebody here is with me…

    Fuck it. Send me an email if you’ve outgrown your records. I’ll come and take them off of your hands. You can dig “Radio City” or “Revolver” on your ringtones.

    Bob

    “tell me…who shot ya Bob?”

    “It was the TV babies.” -Bob

  12. You go, Jake. I’m struggling with the same decision right now, but unlike you I don’t have a happy home to pass my vinyl on to…the thought of dumping them in some anonymous Goodwill bin after spending thousands of hours poring over them is just painful.

  13. Bob, I agree with you 100%. That’s what makes this decision so hard. Albums are better than CDs. CDs are better than MP3s. 70mm film is better than a DVD. But if I enjoy movies and don’t really want to have a movie projector and giant screen in my living room, what am I going to do?

  14. “Good Secrets/Bad Secrets”? Tell me you kept a small stack of keepers (holy grail).

    I have sold some of mine over the years, regrettably, but it’s only crossed my mind in the middle of a move. Ugh, books and records. But once got a house of our own, our collection only grew – thanks to the rummage sales.

    I don’t thnk I could part with what’s left. All of my babysitting money went to them. They were my high school boyfriend, my sign of life outside a small town. They were in a crate under my arm as I ran down the street in screaming twenty-something break up. They were what I had custody battles over, what I brought to share with friends, what I spent hours studying, what I had to re-purchase when they were stolen.

    True story – years ago, I’m in Milwaukee’s [url=http://www.atomic-records.com/index.html]Atomic[/url] records and I see on the wall, the Lords of the New Church’s 12″ of Like A Virgin…MY Lords of the New Church’s 12″ of Like A Virgin, autographed years earlier at that very store. I asked the owner, Rich, to hold it for me and I’d be back as soon as I had the $50 to buy it. I told him it was mine once, stolen by some druggy friend of my roommate, I had pictures from the Lords instore, yada yada. He said to bring the pix and he’d give me a good deal on it. When I did, he GAVE IT to me, along with a stern warning about hanging around dope fiends. Nice guy (but don’t try this at home).

    So how could I ever part with them? Granted, I never saw my Patti Smith White Christmas single ever again, nor my Plasticland’s Euphoric Trapdoor Shoes, or my Electric Warrior picture disc with lyric sheet I typed myself. But the ones that I managed to save, are priceless. Oh my God. They are me.

    Jake, I don’t want to make this any harder but save a few of them. There, I said it.

  15. Prior to my last move, I had ALMOST decided to get rid of all my vinyl. Thank gawd, I didn’t, Jake. When my two-year-old niece, Cayla, comes over, she rather enjoys Aunt Teresa playin’ records, dancin’ ’round the livin’ room and singin’ “You-u-u. I wanna be like you. I wanna walk like you, talk like you, too.”

    Besides, I can’t go into my local, favorite record store now and purchase some of my albums on CD. I’d simply die of embarrassment, if I walked up to the counter and professed my undyin’ love of the Bay City Rollers, John Denver, Trini Lopez, Barry Manilow, etc.

  16. This piece made me cry — no, nothing dramatic, just leaking tears. My family didn’t have the drop-down stereo system. But I used to spend almost all of my babysitting money on vinyls. Unfortunately, when I went off to college, my parents said my stereo (which I’d bought by then) wouldn’t fit in the car. I left my LPs in my room at “home.” While I was gone, my (BLEEEPPP!!!) brother sold them off to his friends! (I think I know what he used the money for. Can we say “pot”?) I still haven’t gotten over it. That’s why I cried when I heard about the sale of this collection.

    Barb (now exiled to Athens, GA — but hoping to make a fast break fairly soon!!)

  17. Over the years I’ve probably owned 1,500 albums. Way back when I used to trade or sell one’s that I did not care too much for. I had about 1,000 or so when I started buying cd’s. Slowly I have been replacing some albums with CD while continuing to still buy new music entirely on CD. Over the last ten years or so I’ve sold off maybe 7 – 800 of my albums and retain 2 – 300. I have not played an album in 17 years so other than the simple act of posession, they really have no practical value for me anymore.

    I’m not too sentimental about them but do remember my first purchase Wings- Venus & Mars. I also remember other significant purchases, Led Zep IV, All those Neil Young Releases in the late 1970’s, My first Replacements & Husker Du. The first time I bought U2 and REM (Both at US Army PX’s). I’ve owned and worn out multiple copies of Born to Run and Dark Side of the Moon.

    Lots of nostalga there, not too much sentiment though.

  18. how ’bout a youngin’s perspective?

    I started buying records after cassettes were already on the way out. Inspired by some extremely kick-ass selections from my dad’s collection – Band of Gypsys, bunch of Zeppelin, Yes’s finest, Doors S/T, Axis:Bold as Love, Who’s Next, etc. – I bought a used turntable at a stereo shop. My first LP purchases were Soundgarden’s Superunknown, AFI’s Black Sails in the Sunset, and a Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s record. Since then I’ve bought probably 30 records – a couple new, but mostly I tried to see what kind of a vinyl collection I could piece together from $1 and $2 used records. And the answer has been a very nice collection, which I sample probably a couple times a month. I’m more stuck in the past than some of you twice my age – don’t even have an MP3 player. :)

  19. Hey Bob,

    This sounds like “Funeral to a Friend.” My first three vinyls were KISS ALIVE,QUEEN and LET IT BE. Years later the collection went up to more than two thousand records. That included 60’s 70’s and 80’s. My records are of different genre, from jazz, world music, all kinds of latin music, some classical all the way to Heavy Metal. America, Bread, James Taylor, Jim Croce are records that you just can’t stop listening to. Today 95% of my vinyl lives in boxes, my 500 tapes are in shelfs and my 1000 CD’s are up in my wall on other shelfs. Just like you when I’m in my computer I play the music that I have down loaded from the internet. I really don’t know when I will let my vinyl music go, one thing for sure is that in the mean time they live inside boxes with plastic covers and they look totally new. Good luck with your decission.

    King Willy

  20. I agree with Michael up above on Oct 12. People seem to place too much emphasis on the method of playing the music, rather than …uh…the music. A good song is a good song, whether it’s on a stage or an AM radio. Half the songs that mean the most to me I first heard in mono, on a single speaker. The only part that sucks is having to re-buy stuff that you actually like!

  21. Ha, I was looking back at the message board archives and found [url=http://www.gloriousnoise.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=888]this old post[/url] from 2003 that shows I’ve been thinking about this decision for a while!

    So far, no real regrets. There have only been a couple of times when I would’ve liked to have been able to play something I only had on vinyl…

  22. I’m almost there myself. The vast majority of my vinyl was sold during college to help fund my growing cd collection. The trend, at the time, was for me to unload a lot of that kid stuff that I thought I had outgrown. Saxon, Judas Priest, AC/DC, and a lot of other heavier shit that I was embarassed to have next to “Hatful Of Hollow” were sold back at a huge loss, only to have me repurchase it again in a digital format. The RIAA can suck my cock: the people they supposedly represent have made a mint off of me and my retarded obsessions.

    I have about 300-400 12″ & 7″ left, but I have no explanation as to why I still have ’em. Some of the stuff is rare, to a point, but the reality is that I probably fire up the Technics turntable a handful of times during the year. The last time (probably a couple of months ago) had me spinning Dumptruck‘s “For The Country,” and then had me wishing that I had a copy of it on cd.

  23. Good call on spinning Dumptruck‘s “For The Country”, one of my all-time favorites. Yet, despite owning this on vinyl, I end up breaking out the superior Ryko re-issue of the same album, complete with better liner notes and extra tracks. After awhile, it gets hard to justify having multiple format copies of multiple things.

  24. I have to say that my favorite obscure track from Jake’s personal collection is the “convoy around the world” song from the Convoy movie album, which I couldn’t find in All Music Guide (which means it doesn’t exist).

  25. Well, mercy sakes, good buddy, we gonna back on outta here, so keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your…tail. We’ll catch you on the flip-flop.

  26. Yep, the vinyl is nostalgic, but not practical. As far as the “sound quality” question, I still would rather NOT listen to wow and flutter and clicks and pops. I don’t care HOW good a pressing you got, those factors come into play with the vinyl. And the ripping, well, I STILL like to have a medium I can hold in my hand, like a CD, so I can tactile the product. If your hard drive crashes and your ipod is run over by a tank, where is your collection, my friend. SAVE YOUR CD’s!!!!

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