Nearly 20 years ago I took the plunge and began moving all my music into the digital world, ripping hundreds of CDs to MP3. Years later I did the same to my DVDs and Blu-rays, converting everything to video files in one giant library. So basically I abandoned physical media as much as possible, which was great…mostly because back then I moved to a new apartment every couple of years, and it was always such a pain in the ass to pack up, move, and unpack giant, heavy boxes of discs and their little plastic boxes over and over again. Remember those tall spinning racks that held 100 CDs each? Yeah, I had several of those…and every time I had to pack them up and move them I hated them more and more! It was such a huge relief to just dump everything onto my hard drive (or, ironically, CDs full of music files) and just be done with it. So I ripped apart all my CD cases and saved the artwork, slapped all my CDs onto 100-disc spindles, and that was that. Since going 99.5% all-digital I’ve chosen to buy/download digital copies of everything, which has been fine.
But recently I started doing something I never, ever thought I’d be doing: buying vinyl LPs again. No, I’m not a mustachioed hipsterdouche who liked everything before you’d ever heard of it. I’m also not an audiophile, though I do think there’s a difference there. For me, it’s mostly a way to connect to something from my childhood and teenage years that I’d almost forgotten about.
Memory time! In the 70’s, my dad was a D.J. in Los Angeles at the mega-station KFI (his call name was Roger Collins — he died a couple of years ago but his legacy lives on via his Facebook page). My brother and I still lived in Arizona, but my dad would always send us promo LPs when they went out of rotation — so when we were kids we had a steady stream of cool records coming to us, which was how we enjoyed a lot of music that was otherwise hard to come by in our little country-music town. We had a steady supply of popular bands coming in, though I remember The Bee Gees and Donna Summer most.
I grew out of LPs when tapes came along, though I did listen to a lot of records as a teenager when I discovered 12″ remixes. To this day, all those hours spent in my bedroom listening to 45s and LPs on my crappy little player and speakers come flooding back every time I slap the 12″ remix of “She Bop”, the first remix I ever bought, onto the platter. (This was long before the 90’s came along and ruined remixes for me almost forever — they’d take a song you loved and completely annihilate it, leaving barely a lyric or two to remind you of the original. But I digress…)
Back to the digital age. Over the years I’ve mostly dismissed the vinyl resurgence as a hipster fetish for old things, and there’s always that guy you know who insists that vinyl sounds better than anything else. I used to just roll my eyes and continue downloading, downloading, downloading. Who has the space and money for all those records? Why settle for vinyl when you can choose from hundreds of thousands of songs at any given moment and play whatever you like, in the order you want?
And that became part of the problem. After nearly 20 years of amassing digital music with abandon, I have over 75,000 songs, which iTunes tells me would take 205 days to play. Even after converting most of it to more space-efficient formats, it all takes up around 223GB on my system. Not only is that far more music than anyone could ever want or hope to listen to, but it’s a challenge to keep regular backups of it all. I have so much music I can barely decide what to listen to, and that doesn’t even include Spotify which I use often for new music. It’s insane. There’s stuff in my collection that I don’t even remember getting, or why I even have it. And yet there it is.
I can’t remember what triggered it, but at some point a couple of years ago I began to remember how much I used to enjoy playing records when I was younger. It used to be so exciting to get a new record and bring it home, study the sleeve artwork closely, slide a fingernail down the side to open the shrink-wrap and peel it off, and pull out the disc which usually crackled with static electricity. That stuff really began to appeal to me because I have so many great memories associated with it.
So my husband and I said “Fuck it, let’s get a turntable.” Both of us have kept our oldest and most treasured records in storage for decades, hauling them from place to place when we moved, so we were able to pull those out and begin enjoying them again. We buy new music almost exclusively on vinyl now, if it’s something we really want. And we’ve begun filling in the gaps in our collection with new & used copies of our favorite albums from years past. eBay, Amazon, and Discogs.com have gotten a lot of money from our record shopping, as well as some local shops (though they usually don’t have some of the weirder, more obscure stuff we want). We try to find the best deal, though sometimes I go a little crazy. Did I really need that Devo box set? Or that extremely limited edition Okami soundtrack on 4 clear, color-spattered discs which is absolutely gorgeous? Probably not, but goddammit I enjoy it. And yes, most of it does sound brighter and warmer than the cold, flat digital stuff. The hipsters and audiophiles were right on that one, I have to admit.
And you know what? When I play a record, 95% of the time I play it all the way through, both sides, and I actually listen to it. The physical format of vinyl makes playing music a more deliberate act, which somehow makes me want to focus on it more closely. With music from my phone, I can flip through dozens of playlists and genres looking for something, then skip it halfway through and move to something else. Hello, short attention span and instant gratification. With records, unless it’s a super shitty song (and there are some that I used to like but can’t stand now) I actually want to just let it play. I don’t know what that is, but I like it. Even if there are crackles and the occasional skip on the older ones, I’m fine with it. People who grew up on nothing but digital music are starting to appreciate this, too — vinyl is becoming hugely popular with those folks, as the very concept of music on a physical medium is new and novel to them. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. (Unfortunately they’re also getting into cassette tapes, which I was more than happy to abandon on the trash heap decades ago.)
Anyway, thus ends the blathering ruminations of an old fart and his occasional wallowing in nostalgia…for now.