Vinyl and the point of a gun
Not that you care.
But that's cool. I don't really care, either. I mean, it's fun to dig through my crates and lopsided bookshelves of old vinyl at home and yank out some little gems to write up in VR. But I know you guys could give a shit, and that's actually kind of liberating for me. Half the time, it's stuff I totally forgot I even had, and I'm rediscovering it myself even as I'm trying to force your jaws open to take just a little nibble. Acquired tastes, after all, often come at the point of a gun.
I'm speaking figuratively here, of course. But at the same time, I never would've latched onto, say, the sweet, sweet sound of roots if I hadn't worked behind a counter with a rabid reggae fan for years. Day in and day out, playing that same fucking record–or maybe it just sounded like it–over and over. But a funny thing happened: By being forced to listen to reggae for oodles of hours on end, I started to pick up its nuances. Burning Spear, Jacob Miller, and Linton Kwesi Johnson all of a sudden sounded as different from each other as The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who. And I started to feel that yearning, that stoned apocalypse, that colossal gorgeous sadness in the gut of roots.
And I didn't even have to smoke pot. I guess I'd call that art.
To me, records–the big waxy slablike platters of black plastic, that is–are more than a particular way to convey sound from one place to another. They're a way to spend some time with music. To pay some attention to it. Like my reggae-loving coworker, records take a little getting used to. See, this coworker of mine was–if I may steal a term from my old friend John Reidy–a bellicose hippie. Crusty, cranky, erratic, anachronistic. Kind of like LPs. But I was forced to share a portion of my life with this dude, and I wound up being thankful I did.
It's the same with records. Hey, I ain't a Luddite. I own a laptop and an iPod and an obnoxious handheld device that looks like a graphing calculator glued to the side of my face whenever I'm making a phone call on it. But that's exactly why I collect and listen to records. I need a break from that shit every once in a while. I need to put the future down, sit my ass in a chair, fish through a pile of vinyl, and physically throw some tunes on. You don't do that casually. I mean, you do, but you don't. You pull it out, fiddle with the paper, put the needle on, adjust the little knobs and stuff. Then you read the thing (and, if you're an aficionado of old punk albums like me, you play with the fun posters and lyric sheets and catalogs and read the massive thank-you lists that punk bands love to put in their records).
You turn the thing over in your hands.
You burn calories.
And you listen. You have no choice. Okay, sure, you can get up and skip through the record or change the thing entirely every 15 seconds. But it's not worth the effort. And what do you know? That song you might've instantly deleted had it ever popped up on your iTunes starts to grow on you. And the more it grows on you, the more you sit still and absorb. It's an upward spiral. Frantically stabbing the skip button on your iPod like a wired lab monkey trying get another zap to his pleasure center never made anyone wiser.
A reader named Alex sent in a question to our Ask The A.V. Club feature this week. Basically, he wants to know how to start collecting records. How to acquire the taste. He doesn't want to dive into the classics, he says. He doesn't want to recreate the mildewy stack of James Gang LPs his dad had stashed in the wood-paneled den of Alex's youth. (Okay, I totally made that last sentence up.) Instead, he wants to find out A) where he can buy new albums by current artists on vinyl, and B) if current artists even make vinyl. I'll save that answer for ATAVC (sorry, Alex), but I will say this: That made me kind of happy to hear. Maybe he'll read our upcoming response to his question, order up a batch of fresh wax, and experience, say, the new Beck or Girl Talk in a totally different way than he would've otherwise. Not a better way, necessarily. But definitely not worse.
One thing, though, Alex: I know you say you don't want the classics. But promise me you'll go down to the thrift store and paw through all the mold and Perry Como and find yourself some fucking James Gang.