I grew up in the world of cassettes and vinyl records where the only virtual alternative was the local AM/FM radio station. The logistics of consuming music in that way, was frankly tedious, expensive and fraught with danger; single bump could ruin a perfectly beautiful album.
Yet that is all we had. So when digital music arrived (hands up who went through the LimeWire/Napster period) it was more than a breath of fresh air. It was a revolution, allowing us to not worry about our car stereo chewing up the tape if we played it too often, or to play the track we wanted having to wade through a whole album of content just to get to track 7.
Yet, as I get older with over 20 years of digital music amassed, I wonder what I really have to pass onto the next generation. Will my son’s look up my old WinAmp (exactly!) playlists and fondly think of their father and his wild tastes? Of course not. Such memories will be lost forever. Spotify/YTMusic/Plex/iTunes playlists are for a moment, not a lasting legacy.
When my mother died a couple of years ago, I found myself a drift a little, like most sons do when they lose such a pivotal figure in their lives. As I was going through boxes, I discovered my old records that I collected as a teenager. In there was a couple of my mothers records and then it hit me. Here I was touching something that connected me with her – it wasn’t just an Elvis Presley album, it was the ACTUAL Elvis album mother would put on, while doing the ironing while we played around her feet. The sounds wasn’t a digital copy, but a result of the actual grooves in the physical format making the needle bounce up and down, reproducing the same sounds she enjoyed so often.
It was recreating a moment in time.
There was more. Records need housing. This packaging, there to secure the core offering, is donned with beautiful artwork, sometimes with notes, or lyrics all to make up an experience. The same experience that is recreated every time you slide out the vinyl record prior to spinning. It is here, I discovered some hidden gems. My mother, who at the time annoyed me she would graffiti my beautiful record, with the date and time.
Yet what my pimpled, testosteronal teenage self couldn’t fathom, was that my mother was creating a legacy for me.
Sitting there going through all my (and her) old records, I noticed all the little notes she left, some have faded forever lost, I finally realized the true value of this medium. Forget all the bullshit about superior fidelity, or richer/fuller sound. It was about packaging up an emotion and feeling that only music can bring someone, in a physical format that can be enjoyed for years to come. Something the digital format can never come close to delivering.
For the first time, I fell in love with vinyl. 30 years ago it was a necessity, now it was emotional. Yet this new love affair was going to be more than just amassing a large collection. Oh no. Each album was going to be carefully curated and chosen based on the feelings it evoked.
When I add a vinyl to my collection, it isn’t a purchase. I see it more as a lease, a temporary hold if you will. I see it as capturing a moment, a sequence of emotions, to package up and pass onto the next generation. I want my sons to know, when they pick it up, that their old man enjoyed not only that song, but that ACTUAL song. Just as I did with my mother.
One Christmas, my son asked what I would like, and seeing how I was building up a collection, records would be an easy win for that year. While I supported this, I did hit him with a couple of conditions. I asked that he only buy a record that he knew that we both enjoyed, and secondly, he sign it personally with the date and the occasion. Upon receiving the gift, I said that I wasn’t taking ownership of it, merely holding onto it, to enjoy listening to it until such times I was no longer walking this planet and he would take it back under his stewardship.
I listen to music every day. Even in a video conference meeting, there will be music playing in the background, only loud enough I can hear. That is digital music.
Often though, I push the keyboard away, and go and make a point of spinning up some vinyl’s, taking the time and effort to truly switch off from the screen and allow myself to be immersed in the sound produced by that needle bouncing around the grooves. Reconnecting with memories and creating new ones along the way.
I love the physical tactile experience that playing records brings me, upon an evening, with a glass of single malt, just enjoying where the mood takes me.
My advice – get yourself a record player and start spinning up some memories.
BTW I make no apology for my Leonard Cohen records 😉