Sunday, April 17, 2011

Memory Monday: I Heart Vinyl

I thought it would be fun to center my Monday reminiscing around my love of vinyl today since this past Saturday was Record Store Day and independent record stores across the country celebrated with in-store music, sales, and the release of limited edition albums that drive music buffs like me into a frenzy.

That's right, I still go to record stores. I particularly love the one in my town, The Old School Records, which is run by husband and wife, Peter and Jodi. They are some of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to music and they are friendly and welcoming to every one. None of that indie rock snob attitude you may have seen in High Fidelity or dealt with at other stores. I know that I've gone to a lot of stores over the years where I feel afraid to even ask for what I'm looking for because I think I'm going to be judged. Not at all the case at Old School. It feels like hanging out at someone's house that happens to have wall-to-wall CDs, vinyls, and even cassettes. If you go on the right day, Peter and Jodi's babies or dog might be there. And I can never run in quick because I always end up in a conversation with Peter about something, a great show he saw in the late eighties or early nineties, a band he discovered and thinks I might like, tales from when he had a small record label and almost got a Nirvana song to put on a comp. They also have been very supportive of me as a writer and since music figures into my books, have invited me to do readings at the store. Here I am at one a couple of summers ago. (I'm at the far, right, reading behind the counter.)

This is not the kind of personalized experience you get when you download something from iTunes. Also, this is one of those rare moments when I'm gonna get patriotic on your ass, indie record stores, especially family-run ones like The Old School Records are one of the truly amazing things about America. That's the American dream right there. Someone being able to pursue their passion and open a small business. We cannot let that sort of thing die out just because technology is convenient. So if you have a local, indie record, book, clothing, hardware, WHATEVER shop, support them!

Now don't get me wrong. I love my iPod for the convenience factor. It allows to me to take my entire music collection with me anywhere. This is highly convenient for traveling, driving, running, and when I was working a regular job, commuting. But the sound quality of an MP3 just isn't the best. Also, I am a very tactile person. I love to flip through liner notes. Hell, I love the smell of them. For me, when I'm extremely passionate about something, I want to immerse myself in the experience and that's why I heart vinyl.

My love for vinyl started around the age of nine or ten when I went through the rite of passage that so many rock 'n' roll fans seem to go through: a massive Beatles obsession. After enduring my pop phase of Madonna, Janet Jackson, and the really bad late 80s dance music that they played on B96 in Chicago, my parents were very pleased by this. My dad had been a hippie after all and though as far as I know my mom never dabbled in pot and psychedelics like my dad, she enjoyed the music and the politics of the late sixties/early seventies. They also both loved The Beatles and had my favorite albums-- Abbey Road and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band-- on vinyl. The centerpiece of our living room was this brown cabinet that housed my parents stereo, complete with a record player. My dad even rigged it up so that there were speakers in the kitchen too. They had two big crates of vinyl, some of which were kept upstairs, some in our basement--which was an unfortunate decision because this resulted in many of them ultimately getting ruined by our elderly cat peeing on them-- and when I entered my Beatles phase, I discovered the experience of listening to vinyl.

I don't know how better to describe that experience than I did at the beginning of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, which actually came from a journal entry I wrote about my own love of music in March of 2002, a few months before I started writing that novel. I thought you might get a kick out of reading that original entry so here it is. Bust out your copies of the book and compare my experience to Emily's if you like:

Altars. Saviors. Rock 'n' Roll. I brave my fear of spiders, dust plumes as thick as a bad smog day in LA and the smell of piss from the house's last owner's cooped-up dog. I feel the cold, gray painted cement through my jeans like I'm sitting on a ice cube, but regardless of everything, I dig, feeling the perfect square edges of each album prod between my fingers. The slap of plastic dust cover against plastic dust cover as I flip through is so satisfying, but not as good as it will sound when I find one I want, slip it out of it's paper jacket and on to the record player, the needle skipping and skittering for a few seconds until it finds its groove, the first chord scratching its way through the speakers, a catchy chorus reverberating in my ears. Altars. Earthquakes. Rock Gods. They have to have something good in here. There must be a Beatles album somewhere in this folk crap. "That's rock too," my father chides me, displeased that I am not finding nearly as much satisfaction in his old record collection as he did. But I want something that you can feel in your throat when you play it loud, something that churns down through your stomach, shaking you to the tips of your toes. Something that scrapes out your insides and makes you dance without them. He shuddered at how I wanted to make the windows rattle and the floorboards creak with blasting speakers at barely ten years old.

Yeah, so that's my experience. Pretty close to Emily's, so you can see how I drew from my own love of music to create her. This also describes my transition from Beatles-loving kid to punk-loving teenager. I forgot about my parents' record collection for a while then and after my graduation from eighth grade when I received my own very first stereo, with GASP! my first CD player--a five-disc changer no less that allowed me to shuffle songs on five different albums--I forgot about their stereo for a few years. But the deeper I got into punk rock and especially into riot grrrl punk, the more I realized that vinyl was still king. Many of the bands I loved put out 7 inches, not to mention that whole scratchy, needle drop thing just made punk sound better to my ears. Since my parents had also transitioned into CDs, I stole their old stereo tuner and record player and brought it up to my room. I also raided the old record collection again, discovering with great dismay that they'd given those Beatles records that I'd cherished to my younger cousin who was now entering his requisite Beatles phase. As a result the only records of my parents that I still have are some classical albums and my mom's old Billie Holiday record.

But then the coolest thing on earth happened during my junior year of high school. A punk rock, mostly vinyl record store opened a few blocks from my high school in my lame-ass suburban town. It was called Earwax Records and run by a young couple in their mid-to-late twenties (being sixteen at the time, it was hard for me to approximate the ages of adults, especially when said adults had bleached hair and facial piercings like me and my friends). I don't think it even lasted a year, but while it was around my friends and I went there every day after school. Since they couldn't afford to hire us as staff, we volunteered to work there. I discovered a bunch of amazing bands and spent all the money I earned working at a grocery store on vinyl like this (and you can click on the photos to make them bigger if you are a geek like me and want to see details!):

Around that time, the needle on my parents' record player went bad, so I asked for my own. I think I was one of the only teenagers in 1996 who asked for a record player for her 17th birthday, and then, six months later asked for a typewriter for her high school graduation. (I graduated a semester early, promptly moved out of Oak Park hell, but needed a way to continue doing zines without my parents' computer. Knowing they couldn't afford to buy me one, I went the old school typewriter route.) By 17, I was growing jaded with the punk scene and getting into goth and new wave. Records proved a very cheap way to build my music collection because I could find a lot of the stuff I wanted used for a couple bucks--except in the case of that Concert- The Cure Live album, which was in pristine condition and hard to find (and that find, my friends, marked the beginning of my impending record collecting obsession).

At some point in the early 2000s, electronics manufactures began to realize that people were interested in vinyl again, so I got a reasonably priced Aiwa stereo system that had both a CD disc-changer and a record player to replace my bizarre non-integrated set-up with my parents ancient tuner and the record player that they bought me that was either pre-amped or not pre-amped, I can't remember which, and wouldn't integrate into my CD stereo system. I have to say of Aiwas system that I got in either 2000 or 2001, the CD component started acting up a few years later and at this point only the record player and one of the dual cassette players still work. But that doesn't matter to me because the record player is all I want. It and my record collection are the centerpiece of my living room:

It's not a massive collection (though check out the way the shelf is sagging!). I still daydream of John Cusack's shelves upon shelves of vinyl in High Fidelty. But I have some gems. In my mid-twenties when I had a little bit more money to play with, I started seriously collecting on my favorite bands and it became a bit of an obsession. I wanted all of the limited edition Nirvana and Hole vinyls that I could possibly afford (and someday, when I write that big blockbuster novel, I will complete the Nirvana collection by purchasing the original Love Buzz single and Blew EP which go for over a thousand bucks a piece.)

Here are some of my Hole limited editions. The white Live Through This was limited to 3000 as was the Miss World picture disc seven inch, which is hand numbered. The Beautiful Son 12 inch, is a difficult-to-find green vinyl version, but I have the black as well. The Pretty On The Inside isn't even opened because it's the very, very rare blue vinyl, though I have the black as well, which I listen to. The Violet 7 inch isn't all that rare, but I've always loved the artwork:

The following picture shows exactly how carried away I got with collecting all of the different versions of especially the very first Hole singles. I have both the 12 inch and 7 inch versions of Teenage Whore, as many of the different sleeve and vinyl color combos of the Retard Girl 7 inch as I could get my hands on (and I'm pretty sure I got them all) and the different colors of the Dicknail vinyl which was a Sub Pop Singles Club release and my copies have the coupon to join the singles club intact, making them more valuable. Yes, like I said, I am a vinyl nerd. This is my equivalent of the people who collect Star Wars action figures and don't take them out of the plastic, though as long as mine aren't too rare I do listen to them.

Pictured here are my favorites of my Nirvana collection, including the vinyl I paid the most for, the blue-swirl limited edition Incesticide in the middle right, which cost me 75$ on eBay, and my best find of all, that clear pink Bleach in the bottom left, which I found at a used record store in Ann Arbor for 10$, bought because of my Nirvana obsession and went home to check the value of it and found it was going for nearly 300$!

For the most part now I don't buy rare stuff (since I can't afford the super rare vinyl for the bands I love that I don't already have), but I buy just about every new release that I can on vinyl. I can't tell you how happy I am that most of the bands that I listen to now put their releases out on vinyl with a digital download. That way I can have my full music geek-out experience with the convenience of being able to put it on my iPod for travel purposes, and perhaps most important of all, I can support my local indie record store by buying it there because they need my support a lot more than a big corporation like Apple that is charging a ton for all of their computers and various devices. Peter and Jodi from The Old School Records know that when I request a new release, I want the vinyl version because that's what I'll listen to whenever I'm home. They also know the bands I love and let me know who was released rare stuff on Record Store Day. I got something to add to my Nirvana collection and one for my punk rock 7 inch collection:

So I will continue buying vinyl as long as they keep making it. To me, it's the way music should sound and I love the full experience from the feel of the album cover, to the size of the liner notes, to the smell of it all. It;s the same reason I will always love books. Aside from reading my critique partners' manuscripts and taking books with me when I travel, I don't see a place for an eReader in my life yet, but maybe if they start selling paper books with a free digital download....

What about you? Do you buy vinyl? Would you if you could? What are your favorites in your collection?


marina said...

I lack a record player but my boyfriend does have one. I also want to get one to have in my college dorm because I'm a super hip kid. The point here is that every time I come to Chicago, or anywhere for that matter, I buy him a new record. The best one I think I got is either Minor Threat or Husker Du. Both of which came from Reckless in Chicago. The point is this: punks still and will probably always love vinyl. I view it as the same sort of concept as older movies. New movies are too perfect. I don't want to see every pore on someone's face. I love the slight grittiness to mostly 80's and 90's movies. I stand with you on the idea of "I Heart Vinyl".

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

What a perfect comparison to movies you made, Marina. I agree, I also love that slight grittiness to 80s and 90s movies and its what I love about vinyl too. I hope you get a record player for yourself :)

Josh said...

I love your article. Its true now that music equipt places have realized the resurgence of vinyl records which makes it easier to find a good turntable nowadays. And i also love to go down to the local music stores and have discussions about albums that never made the crossover. I just love the sound of Vinyl and will always be a supporter of these small shops that encourage my buisiness.