Confession: I’m a vinyl person now. I bought a music-platter-spinning machine, and am spending actual dollars on music printed onto archaic physical discs. I am fussing with cartridges and alignment and dust and suchlike.
You’ll recall my enthusiasm for streaming, and perhaps you are familiar with my general love of technology, especially in its newest forms. What happened?
Deep background: I have quite a few vinyl-type friends. Some collectors, some DJs, some miscellaneous. My wife and I have in fact never gotten rid of our records – we have been holding onto them with no means of playing them until a few months ago. The collection includes some passed down from parents or siblings who divested themselves of their music-circle collections. Some I bought during the last time I had a record player, during college, at fire sale prices when music was actually expensive and paying for it was not optional.
There is certainly a nostalgic angle to all this. At my parents’ cottage when I was a child, the rotating music device was in the garage, and when the weather was bad I could spend whole days out there, playing Elvis, the Beatles, Wings, Fleetwood Mac, Dylan. I have many fond childhood memories of experiencing music, and this is one of my fondest.
I also have always loved the record-playing experience. The large art. The focus on albums as opposed to songs or mixes. The way the listening must happen in the foreground. I think there are limits to the value of convenience, as well captured in this article, and that physical constraints can focus the mind in important ways.
The crackle and scratch are familiar and almost comforting to me, but I don’t actually believe vinyl sounds better. I am uncommitted on this issue.
Because my daughter is old enough to be forming musical preferences, and with the birth of a brand new kid, I have been thinking a lot about the value of a personal music canon. I want to transmit to these kids my favourite music, but more importantly I want to pass down the value of treasuring music. Streaming has been great to me, especially for finding new music. But with easy access to almost all music, I find myself rarely listening to the same thing twice. I look through my “library” in Spotify and I can’t remember what half of it is. I have become skittish, manic in my listening; easily distracted by new and shiny things. Do I want to pass down a collection of 10,000 virtual albums I’ve barely listened to? Where is the value in that? Perhaps we only really value things we have spent money on, or more accurately things that do not come easily.
So I’m buying fucking records.
There’s a lot to be said about this world – the lure of crate-digging, the characters inhabiting record shops, the rare finds, the bizarre character of a marketplace where sales of a century-old medium are spiking while CD sales are tanking. I’m doing a mix of buying cheap shit at thrift stores for kicks, and gradually amassing a collection of 100 or so personally cherished albums. It’s ludicrous perhaps, or maybe it makes sense.