Monday, October 5, 2009

She Blinded Me With Vinyl

I make no bones about hating i-Products, maintaining suspicions on mp3 formats and generally whinging about the deteriorating-mazationings of actual, physical things that I can touch. When Y2K hit, my response was to start buying up manual typewriters, like some kind of ironic literary survivalist. When Douglas Adams wrote words to the effect that "And you thought digital watches were pretty neat," I was that guy, but I would have preferred things had stopped with Ms. Pac-Man and that four-player Dungeons & Dragons game, Gauntlet. However, Time Has Passed, and now Elf needs food, badly.

Food for thought, that is, and music that requires neither one, nor zero. (Note that analog music reaps metaphorical benefit from the other 8 digits.) The awesomest sound I've ever heard from a cone was in my parents' basement, when my audiophile brother, Matt, was testdriving a dbx-encoded jazz LP. (Think Dolby Z-Cubed...) I know crates of records are a pain to lug around, but it's not only worth it, it's essential.

And so.... I invested in two classic Technics 1200 turntables, and a mixer.* The Technics 1200 Mk2 is the shark of turntables.... essentially unchanged by evolution for millions of years (OK, slightly more than 30, but you see my point.) The rig is powered by the Panasonic dual-cassette Boom Box with which my parents bundled me off to sleep-away college in the late 80's.

Its left channel is intermittent, and comes and goes like Mary Poppins--when the wind changes. Sometime last week, it healed itself again, and I'm living large in stereo. One has to make the most out of an uncertain world.

And so my 9-year-old son and I are nurturing a weekend ritual: Sunday brunch a la vinyl. A most recent utterance: "Daddy, what's Styx?" ** (He already has something of a foundation in mythology, so he knows about Achilles and the River. Now he's learning about the concept album, a concept that's all but gone the way of the dodo.)

Here's what else I'm finding so fabulous about this trend: Not only is it a joy to dance around with your 9-year-old to rockin' tunes, but his ear horizons have stretched global. That is to say, up to now, he's never thumbed through all the CD's to find something new and interesting. But put him in front of a crate of vinyl, and he's doing exactly that, and here's why: It's fun. It's fun to put the needle on the record; it's fun to play with the pitch, or play a Bruce Springsteen album on 45 rpm so that the Boss sounds like an indignant chipmunk; it's fun to look at the photos on a jacket sleeve--many of them are as large as an entire CD case, nevermind the ridiculous dwarf-photos that show up on someone's i-Product.

Maybe the point is that running around with earbuds and paper-thin music players belies an essential truth of music: Rock is large. Power chords mean more when played on a 12" disc. The Magical Mystery Tour is trippier when flipping through the "24-page full color picture book" included inside. In fact, I'll go ahead and say it: Digital is synthetic.

Disc-uss below: As always, thanks awfully, for reading. And remember, if my busmates on our senior class trip to Washington, DC, hadn't ruled the music choices under threat of extreme violence, I might never have come to fully appreciate AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long, which we listened to, in its entirety, 37 times straight.

* Full disclosure: the mixer also sports two CD players with adjustable pitch. When we're playing vinyl, we play vinyl. When he graduates from Mixing 101, we'll entertain other media. I'm not a total crank...

** And lest one think I'm a purveyor of cheesy pop music alone, get hip to other parts of my vinyl catalog: Bob Dylan, Marlene Dietrich, Lady Day Holiday, Herbie Hancock, Joni Mitchell, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bil Cosby, as many Beatles as my son can eat.


  1. " parents bundled me off to sleep-away college in the late 80's"


    my parents didn't love me. i didn't get a typewriter....

  2. daisy -- maybe not, but you're quoting Vonnegut on your blog now, so they must have done something right ;-)