Tag Archives: LP

It’s Not a Record…It’s an Experience!

Yesterday I got an order in the mail of an old record.

The mailman, in the 106 degree heat, hand-delivered the box labelled “vinyl record, fragile” to the door.

“Who’s the record collector,” the mailman asked my visiting mother?  “My son,” she told him, “he has a lot.”
“Me, too,” said the mailman, who said he used to work for a distributor in the days when vinyl was king.  Now he delivers them to the proud few who listen to the needle and groove in the mail.

I’ve made no bones about the fact that I still listen to and have vinyl in my household.  But I don’t do it because of the reasons so many people do.  It’s not because vinyl is so much more vivid and dynamic than an iPod.  (That’s true, though, by the way)  It’s not because vinyl has a richer tone and many of the old albums were mixed for vinyl, not iPod or CD.  (That’s true, too, by the way, and also why so many sound odd on CD or iPod)  It’s not even because it’s the cool, hipster vibe that gets people to cringe at you when you arrive with your massive bushy beard reminiscent of a member of the 5th infantry division of the US Cavalry displayed in a Ken Burns Civil War episode.  No, I don’t do it for shock value or crazy indignant ego.  

Vinyl is an experience.

I put it that way because it, too, is true.

Full Moon Fever by Tom PettyYears ago, before my oldest daughter was born, a mere twenty-odd years ago, there was a record by Tom Petty called “Full Moon Fever” that was released.  If you bought the album on CD there was a weird sort of no-man’s-land in-between tracks where Petty, in a joking, snarky comment, says “ATTENTION CD LISTENERS!  We’ve reached the point in Full Moon Fever where listeners who were enjoying on a record or cassette would have to get up, go across the room and then flip over to listen to side to of said record or cassette.  Out of respect for them we give them a few moments to do so.”  The CD then sits, weird background noise ringing for a bit, and then “now side 2 of Full Moon Fever.”

This gives you part of what music on records was and is for me.  It’s not a record, it’s part of your life, it’s an experience.  Vinyl isn’t just vinyl…it’s part of your life, and experience you lived.  I remember saving up money and going to the store to flip through the new releases, looking for that one record, that one musical experience, that I’d been dying to hear.

As a little boy my Dad worked in a chain store much like Target or what have you.  He’d get first crack as the LP’s came out, I guess, because he came home with new music a lot.  When I was little I remember going to a store in a larger town and buying an entire stereo system that we then took home and hooked up.  After that, my father bought new records as they came out.

Fly Like an Eagle by Steve MillerI remember the day he brought home Fly Like an Eagle by the Steve Miller Band.  We put it on the turntable and listened to it.  I spent weeks walking around singing “tick, tock, tick doo doo doo doo!”  I stared at the photo of Miller, face invisible, covered by hair, playing a left-handed Fender Stratocaster.  I was enamored.

Hotel-California by the EaglesWhen Hotel California came out we took it out and put it on the turntable.  The opening salvo of the twelve-string guitar filled the room.  It had a gate-fold album cover with an atypical Los Angeles scene, a hotel on the cover, and the neon sign you only pictured as a little kid must be what LA looks like.

A new record was an experience from the beginning.  You went to the alphabetical bins filled with records.  You flipped through the albums there, looking for bands you knew.  You made it to the one you wanted, bought it, got home, and couldn’t wait to tear the cellophane off and see the artwork and the label.

Paradise Theater by StyxWhen I was a teenager STYX had a record called Paradise Theater that had an amazing artistic representation of what the same said theater looked like in the heyday and what it looked like, decrepit, dying, just before it was torn down.  Inside you got the lyrics and screamed along with Tommy Shaw as he said he had “too much time on my hands.”  But the capper: the laser-inscribed cherubs that bordered the edges of the actual vinyl…rainbow shadows enhanced by the light, the only things decorating one side of the vinyl.  For effect, they removed the record label from that side Laser Etchingso it was all-black but for the laser etching.  The other side had the listings of the songs for both sides of the LP.

Stereotomy by the Alan Parsons ProjcetMy favorite, though . . . was by the Alan Parsons Project.  The album is universally ignored, not critically well-received, and I loved it.  It’s very ’80s, it’s very keyboard-centric, and it’s an odd high-concept album.  But the album artwork . . . it’s AH-MAY-ZING!  If you were lucky enough, as I was, to get a copy of one of the first pressings it was an album that was encased in a PVC cover that was then wrapped in cellophane.  Take off the plastic and the PVC was blue on the front . . . red on the back.  All the front said, in seemingly green letters, was “The Alan Parsons Project” on the top and “Stereotomy” on the bottom.  The back had an odd, crystalline design and nothing else.  Open the flap and take out the album cover, though, and the front is gibberish with a larger design in red and The cover without the 3d lensblue.  The back showed the actual track listings.  The album used the old 3D glasses effect to erase portions so you could only see them with the PVC cover on.  It was radical, had to be expensive, and just…so…cool!

This is the experience.  The act of taking the vinyl out, flipping it over and over again in your hands, and putting the center hole onto the spindle of the turntable.  You smelled the vinyl and the cardboard on the records.  You read the liner notes as the record started to play.  After all that, even, you played the record and you were cognizant of the music flowing through your room.  When it stopped, you got up, moved across the room, and moved flipped the record.  You cleaned it to remove the dust and grime, pulled over the needle. . . and you listened to the other side.

I have most of my record collection at home.  I have more new vinyl I’ve purchased.  I’m no throwback, I have an iPhone.  I listen to music in the car, on the iPod, I use it when I exercise in the mornings.  But music is meant to be experienced.  To that end…my kids tend to pick vinyl over CDs or the iPod when we choose music for the evening.  They look at the album covers.  The latest one by Rush has each side of each record is a clock…showing the album side from 1 to 4 by showing the time on a clock…for the album Clockwork Angels.  Others have clear or colored vinyl.  I have jazz…a Dave Brubeck small microgroove LP from Record Store Day that is all red see-through vinyl.  The music is amazing and the vinyl looks like a clear old 78rpm record.  It’s meant to tell a story before you ever put the needle on the groove and hear the first notes: this is a history lesson to what music was, can be, and should be.  It’s from the ’78 era but re-thought by Brubeck for the then 20th century.

Revelator by the Tedeschi Trucks BandWe are missing the experience today.  Kids, sure, listen to music and go to concerts.  Still, in an era where auto-tune is the norm and perfection is the preference, isn’t it amazing that four kids in a California household will listen – voluntarily – to a vinyl record.  There are pops, hisses, the occasional skip and none of it is auto-tuned.  I have new acts, like the Black Keys and OK Go along with my old Brubeck, Miles Davis, Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Allman Brothers.  Tedeschi Trucks mixed a version for vinyl and then added free digital download of the “mixed for iTunes” version.  It’s brilliant.

As Jimi Hendrix so aptly asked . . . “but first, are you ex…perienced?”  I have to ask you, before you call me a fuddy-duddy, or old, or grumpy or just too set in my ways…have you ever been experienced?  Well…I have.

 

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Why Vinyl is Just Better!

New Tedschi Trucks LP on vinyl!

I’m going to just come out and say it, Hipsters be damned and readers who think I’m being a hypocritically arrogant ass can criticize all the want: vinyl is just better.

I know you’re going to tell me I’m nuts.  “CD’s and iPod downloads are just so better!  They can go with you anywhere,  you can take them with you, all of that.”

And you’d be right.

Yes, you can take the equivalent of every CD and LP I own with you on a single iPod, I’m sure.  But that doesn’t make them better.  You have to understand, I’m not talking about audio quality or digital download rates or even the frequency sweep or response of the audio signal.  Vinyl is just better, particularly for me and my family.

When I was a kid, you waited desperately to see if there was a new album coming out from your favorite artist.  I loved Santana, Clapton, the Eagles, BB King, Alan Parsons, Floyd . . . all of it.  Even when cassettes came into fashion I bought vinyl anyway.  You could always make a copy of the LP, you couldn’t easily (or sonically) make a good copy of a cassette tape.

I remember growing up and going into town to the department store and going through the records.  I remember the feel and shape of the sleeves.  Every LP was like a picture wrapped in cellophane.  Layla is one of the most amazing records ever recorded and it’s got one of the most distinctive album covers of all time.  Led Zeppelin III has a spin wheel inside where the crazy, psychedelic items move through windows on the front cover of the album.  Santana’s Abraxas and III were both literal works of art.  Hell . . . Velvet Underground’s LP was done by Andy freaking Warhol!

There’s also the ritual.  An iPod isn’t shared music.  And LP is.  You have to turn off the TV, the extraneous noise, and be careful not to bounce around and skip the needle.  You have to listen.  You gently pull the sleeve out of the cover and clean the record and let the needle do its work.

When I was little, no more than 7 or 8, my Dad brought home new LP’s nearly every week.  He’d walk in and before we even ate dinner he’d take them out of the bag and we’d go through the stereo ritual.  We’d take the album out, clean it, start the turntable and listen.  I remember the very days he came home with Hotel California; Aja; Fly Like an Eagle; Live at the Regal; Time Out; Kind of Blue – the greatest records ever made and I was sharing the experience thousands – millions – did as well.  The disc turned and I read the liner notes and looked at the gate-folds and reveled in the music.

Don’t get me wrong, I walked around the Black Keys concert I attended with my daughter and had to get a beer in order to chemically calm myself from grabbing a razor and a shotgun and forcibly shaving the awful hipsters around me to act like earthly human beings.  That, and the number of guys my age trying to find girls Abbi’s age who were wearing t-shirts cut to show cleavage and shorts that rode up to reveal far too much of their asses.  I don’t like the idea of vinyl because it’s a status symbol.

At our home, vinyl is put on the turntable for dinner.  We use it to relax.  It’s a shared experience.  I have the stereo set up in the living room and we listen.  Each child gets to choose, and while they have the option of grabbing a CD, we’ve only done that a couple times in over a year.  The kids like the idea of using the records, some old, some new, like the Tedeschi Trucks LP you see up there.

It’s a routine we’d never done when my wife was around.  We used the awful sound from the DVD player or used the Jazz channel from the cable box when Thanksgiving or Christmas came around and it grated on me.  Andrea always wanted me to get rid of the stereo but I wouldn’t.  I’m glad I never relented.  I have the same turntable I did through High School and college.  I have the same stereo.

Having been in the recording studio and my brother and I knowing that the analog equipment sounds better than the digital – I understand the appeal.  But for me it’s not just the vinyl.  It’s the memories.

Memories that are old . . . and now the ones we’re creating.  So you can be cleaner, digital, cold and crisp in its sterility and perfection.  It’s the mistakes and off-key notes that make life interesting.

Vinyl is just better.

We’re only immortal for a limited time . . .

When we are young, wandering the face of the earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth, learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time.”

Yes, I know, it takes some guts to start a post with a quote from the band Rush.  There’s a reason for it, beyond the oddly philosophical bent to the lyric.

My oldest daughter had a brief moment of clarity, a space between the angst and hormonal intensity of a typical sixteen-year-old’s reality.  We were sitting at our kitchen table together, the last two holdouts of our family dinner, an exercise that seems to be growing exponentially shorter by the day.

The whole point to dinner at the table is so that I can talk to them all and know what’s been going on.  I know what little girl takes delight in emotionally torturing Noah, seemingly for little reason.  I know what part of the field trip they just took impressed Sam the most.  I know the long-term plan Hannah has for getting her friends musically educated so they can have a band and play Green Day and Pink Floyd songs together.  I also know what boys are cute and what party Abbi is invited to that boosts her morale and confidence.

I also rotate music choices.  Here’s where we diverge from the path we traveled as a full family.  Andrea hated my stereo system.  She thought it was clunky, old, big, noisy and outdated.  I love it.  Where Andrea loved the convenience of the newer, bookshelf stereo or just throwing a CD in the DVD player, the lack of audio quality bugged the hell out of me.  So one of the first things I did was to set up the stereo, in a shelving set in the corner, speakers on the floor, part of the decor, in a very retro-looking setup I’ve seen on a dozen romantic comedies or so, where the male love interest somehow has an old, expensive turntable and a full LP collection that nobody I ever knew owned.  Even when LP’s were all you had.

Yes, I’m strangely retro now.  Funny thing is, it wasn’t by choice.  It’s cool now to be collecting vinyl and listening to your stereo.  I think we’ve confirmed that I’m not cool.  I just never stopped listening to my vinyl.  Guess I shouldn’t reveal that and just act like I’m cool. (Yeah, I know, if you have to act cool, you aren’t)

There’s a point here, bear with me.  We rotate the music choices.  Each night, a different person in the family gets to pick a record.  (CD’s too, if they want, but I prefer the vinyl.)  This night, we had some new record playing, that expensive audiophile 180g vinyl that Odd Job from Goldfinger could use to cut off your head.  It was a bit melancholy, and Abbi mentioned something I’ve been thinking . . . even posted here . . . for some time.

“It’s been a lot harder this last few weeks, Dad.  I don’t know why that is.  It’s just been harder.”  She hadn’t expected that.  She wasn’t sure why but I was.  I’ve said it before, Fall is our time.  Andrea and I just loved everything that came with it.  Her birthday is also the 30th of October.  How do you face an occasion you never got right without the person you disappointed for so many years?

As we reviewed how we’d trudge through the rest of the month Abbi went to her room, likely to commiserate with friends.  I noticed that the old cassette player had a tape in it, one I’d put there when we moved and forgotten.  It was an old “mix tape”.  For those unfamiliar, a “mix tape” was a way to show you cared for someone without getting hurt too badly if they said the feelings weren’t mutual.  You took the time and effort to find songs and artists that you thought the person would like, timing out two sides to a cassette, positioning the songs so that there’s no dead air at the end of a side, perfectly placed so the last notes fade, the leader tape streams over the heads of the deck, and the clunk of the mechanism stopping signals the listener to rotate the tape and see what awaits them on the other side.

This tape was one I had made for Andrea when we first started dating.  I know it was for a trip she was making, I think to visit our mutual friend Annie, on the East Coast.  It was all music we’d listened to at work.  but there were hints of things we’d played while wiling away the evenings in those intense, romantic first weeks.  It also had the song quoted above, seemingly out of place other than it was from that era.

But it fits for two reasons.  First, I had taken Andrea on our first official “date” (I’ll go over why it’s in quotation marks on another post) to see Rush.  She could have cared less, I know now.  It was cold, with black ice all over the pavement.  We walked together toward the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Andrea in a bright red, full-length red coat that had a big scooping hood that draped off the back, framing her shoulders as it hung below them.  She slipped slightly, grabbing my elbow as my arm went around her waist.  It could  have been filmed, that moment, where she leaned there, in my arms, the briefest of eternal pauses as she steadied herself in my arms.  And then she smiled, laughing in her eyes, telling me “it wouldn’t surprise me if you did this on purpose, just so you could see the California girl fall on her ass!”  It’s one of those moments you are sure was in a John Hughes film, the California girl meets the Midwestern boy.  It’s either that or a Bob Seger song, not sure which.

I was walking 2 feet above the ground the rest of the night.  I didn’t know until later she could have cared less about the band, she went because I asked her.  Some Romeo, right?  Ask a girl out and the venue is one where you can’t talk because it’s so loud.  It’s either stupid or it’s genius.

This song, those two albums: Presto and Roll the Bones, were more commercial and probably most accessible to her.  We ran into friends at the auditorium, pulling the romance out of the moment quite a bit.  But I never forgot the night.  I guess she didn’t either, because in years since, her family and friends all recount that night as one she told them about.

Now, I see the whole picture.  Andrea was a flaming burst of energy in those days.  Where I was this sort of gangly, geeky, quiet and calm kid, she was was antimatter released!  She partied hard, drank heavily, but that wasn’t a bad thing.  She made me happier, boosted my confidence and just enveloped me with emotion.  I don’t think I ever saw her in those days without a brilliant smile, her eyes just sparkling.  It was such a counter opposite to how things deteriorated in the last few years.  Not between us, but for her.  The flame wasn’t as bright.  I had seen it coming back, but now it’s extinguished.

The lyric is a strong metaphor.  We spent nearly every possible waking hour together.  As Neal’s lyric says, we were “wandering the face of the earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth…”  Andrea blew through life like she was immortal.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, the hell with the consequences, we will do this and come through on the other side.

I won’t say Andrea was like Jimi or Janice.  She wasn’t doomed to die, because we had plans.  We were going to take a little of that lightning back out of the bottle again.  We had never thought this could happen.  It wasn’t on the horizon.  We were getting older, ignoring the lessons of our misspent years, when we thought we were going to live forever.

It’s the one lesson I hope my kids don’t ever learn.

I don’t want them to know that we’re only immortal for a limited time.