When my parents told me they wanted to get rid of their vinyl record collection–complete with vintage model turntable–I jumped at the chance to own a rather large chunk of my own musical upbringing.
I couldn’t bear the thought of so many of my early musical memories sitting in some landfill, which is where they’d inevitably end up because neither of my parents know how to internet. Selling things online for a decent profit requires a bit of patience and experience. If you just want to unload stuff quickly because it’s taking up too much space that could otherwise be filled with new furniture (says my Mom), Ebay and Craigslist are probably more trouble than it’s worth.
So last weekend my boyfriend Shawn and I helped my Dad load up his SUV with hundreds of albums which now sits in loosely-sorted piles on my basement floor, much to my cat’s delight.
The collection represents 30-40 years’ worth of my family’s diverse musical tastes, which range from supremely awesome to completely WTF.
It didn’t really matter to me WHAT was on those records–my mom’s Jane Fonda workout LPs, my great-grandmother’s weird, obsessive Jim Nabors collection, my Dad’s classic Beatles albums–I wanted it all. I consider these vinyl relics puzzle pieces that, in some way or another, contributed to the wildly eclectic musical tastes I have today.
Dropping the needle.
“You remember how to play these things, right?” my Dad asks, wanting to make sure I knew how to operate the turntable–a high-end Technics model with a diamond stylus, which would have been very expensive back in the day–before leaving it in my care. I had to remind him I’m not as young as he probably still thinks I am. Though to be fair, I did need a little help figuring out how to un-latch the arm without breaking it.
Listening to music on vinyl, with its scratchy imperfections, feels a bit like traveling back in time. From the opening notes of Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ off Michael Jackson’s Thriller that would make 3-year old me spontaneously burst into dance (according to my parents), to the booming, cheerful voice of Andy Williams that officially kicked-off every Christmas morning, I can remember specific moments throughout my childhood punctuated by the music contained in this massive collection.
I can recall, like yesterday, that time my sister and I discovered with intense hilarity the fold-out front cover of Lionel Ritchie’s debut album, which henceforth would forever be known as “Lionel’s Luscious Lips.” These moments are precious to me. PRECIOUS.
Then there’s the smell and feel of worn album covers, not unlike old books; sense memories that take me back to times and places that don’t exist anymore. As entrenched as I am in the world of digital music, there’s something to be said for being able to hold a physical album in your hand. Turning it over to admire the artwork, touching the same materials someone before me touched, getting a sense for how well-loved it must have been. These are things Spotify and iTunes will never be able to give you. Somehow, having that physical connection to the music makes it seem more real.
Judging my parents’ musical tastes, one dusty vinyl record at a time.
Thumbing through the stacks of vinyl is like looking through an old family photo album–the one that contains yellowed Polaroids of my parents as teenagers with long hair and bell-bottoms. With every album, I’m either mildly impressed at how cool they once were, or raise a brow at their questionable taste. When I hold up an album by The Bay City Rollers to call my Dad out on it, he deflects without missing a beat: “Your mother must have bought it.”
When I spy a well-worn stack of records containing The Jimmy Hendrix Experience, Cream’s Wheels of Fire, and The Doors, it’s like I can almost see my Dad through the haze of smoke in his dorm room and I decide these three records alone more than make up for the duds.
I’ve started a new pile I decided to call “Lame Mom Music.” Current contents: The Lettermen’s entire catalog. I’m not exactly sure what I plan to do with this pile yet. The other day I had a vivid flash-forward to my mom’s 100th birthday, in which I take her to go see a Lettermen concert because in the year 2054 they’re STILL making old fart music. Will the soft-pop hits of today like Beyonce’s “Halo” become the Lettermen’s watered down, three-part vocal harmonies of tomorrow? Only time will tell.
Part of me wants to get rid of the albums I know for a fact I will never voluntarily listen to. But the other part–the less practical one–feels a weird sense of obligation to keeping the collection intact. Long after my parents are gone, when my sister and I become old farts ourselves and we’re arguing over which moldy oldie was my Dad’s all-time favorite song–Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore” or Bert Kaemfert’s “Wonderland By Night”–who’s going to be there to whip out his actual record to prove it?
Me, that’s who.