Peter Chianca: Spinning into middle age on vinyl records
People sometimes ask me why I collect vinyl records, and there are actually a few reasons:
1) It’s at least a marginally more respectable hobby for a grown man than collecting comic books, which I begrudgingly gave up in the ninth grade, because I figured I would eventually want to date.
2) I’m convinced that in the case of an apocalyptic development that left the world without power, I could rig up some sort of makeshift device to play records using an old bicycle and a series of belts and pulleys, like the Professor did on “Gilligan’s Island.” Just try that with your fancy MP3 player.
3) It’s a shameless, unrepentant attempt to recapture my youth as I trudge inexorably through middle age.
That last one is probably the key factor -- I’m certainly not doing it as an investment, since my household budget and personal stinginess limits me to album purchases of $4 and under, meaning most of my collection is not what you’d call museum-grade quality. It’s more the idea of reliving the years when I first discovered many of these albums, and specifically the close-to-forgotten sensation of dropping a needle down onto spinning vinyl and hearing that telltale crackle burst from the speakers. God, I’m old.
I won’t go into the details here -- my parents have one story, I have another -- but regardless, the records I bought during my teen years and stored lovingly in my parents’ attic have basically shuffled off this mortal coil, and for the last several years I’ve been rebuilding a record collection from scratch. About the only requirement for purchase (other than the under $4 thing) is that my brain issues a “whoa, cool!” message when I come across it in a record bin, preferably in the voice of Otto the school bus driver from "The Simpsons."
But I’ll admit that if a long-lost record held a special place in my heart prior to when I graduated high school in 1986, it’s more likely to wind up in my pile at the cashier. For instance, here are some of my recent actual record purchases:
“Hello I Must Be Going” by Phil Collins “Glass Houses” by Billy Joel “Picture This” by Huey Lewis and the News
If you’re detecting a predilection for melodic, not-especially-challenging pop rock, welcome to my early teens. Within a few years I was listening to Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and The Clash, but a guy’s gotta start somewhere, and “You May Be Right” is as good a place as any. (Actually I was in my 30s before I got into The Clash, continuing a long tradition of discovering artists when they’re practically deceased. Watch your back, Leonard Cohen!)
Another case in point: I recently picked up the 1973 soundtrack to the film “American Graffiti,” which you’ll recall was the George Lucas movie that convinced 20th Century Fox to green-light his next project, a little film called “Star Wars.” Unfortunately that movie was all spaceships and robots and very little drag-racing and Brylcreem, although both did have Harrison Ford, so there’s that.
Regardless, this soundtrack -- featuring 41 classic songs from the late ’50s and early ’60s and the most awesome gatefold cover ever, featuring a giant roller-skating malt shop waitress -- got massive airplay in our household, thanks to my parents’ fondness for that era of music. I loved it, and even taped it to cassette and introduced it to my high school friends during the ‘50s revival period of the mid-’80s, establishing me as a hipster nerd before it was cool. WAY before.
So how could I not pick it up again, given the chance? It may have not been my original copy, but there’s just something appealing -- mind-blowing even -- about the fact that the record I just bought had made the rounds of someone’s, and maybe several someones’, stereo turntables over the past 41 years.
In fact, I recently unearthed a picture of me from 1983 that shows, in addition to my startlingly poofy bouffant and my dad’s killer hi-fi, a clearly visible copy of the "American Graffiti" soundtrack on the bottom shelf. Pulling the record out of the sleeve last week and putting it on my turntable brought me back, however briefly, to that moment, when possibilities were endless and music was still something you could touch.
Not bad for 4 bucks.
Peter Chianca is editor in chief of Gatehouse Media New England’s north-of-Boston newspapers and websites. He writes about music (among many other topics) for Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog at northofboston.wickedlocal.com/section/blogs.