Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Viva la Vinyl!
For once, we are seeing a positive trend in modern music. No, I’m not talking about The Spice Girls finally reuniting. (It's about time!) More and more artists are making new albums available on vinyl. In addition, older works are being re-mastered and re-released on good old scratchy sounding vinyl records. This is a rare victory for good music.
I think that the modern vinyl revival may have started with the Pearl Jam record “Vitalogy.” It was released on vinyl a few weeks before the CD. So I had already heard it 7,333 times before some of my friends had it in their car stereos. Since then, it has been a novelty for bands to put out a vinyl record. It was pretty spotty. But in the last couple years, more and more artists are making their work available to play on the ol’ victrola. Ben Harper, Radiohead, Jack Johnson, White Stripes (the most devoted to the format), Oasis, U2, Arctic Monkeys and many more have had vinyl releases recently. Just last month, one of my favorite new bands, Vampire Weekend, put out a 12 vinyl. I got a copy.
I know most won’t care, but here’s the thing; I hate MP3’s.
Yes, they are incredibly convenient and easy. The iPod is an amazing invention and I have been lost since mine died, but I still hate MP3’s. I find no joy in digital music. I have fond memories of scouring small, independent record shops in downtown Seattle to find import singles and live bootlegs of bands I love. I would find a Beatles import with songs I didn’t know, Pearl Jam singles with rare b-sides and a live Doors bootleg with a drunk Jim Morrison singing on it. (It’s rubbish, but an interesting oddity.) The search was just as fun as the purchase of the rare music. It was hunting without having to dowse yourself with deer urine and sit in a tree for three days. Not that I’ve ever done that, but I’ve read things. Now, you can type in the name of a song and download/steal it in a few minutes. What kind of fun is that?
There was a jazz record shop in downtown Seattle I frequented when I was a teenager. I can’t remember the name of it now. It was a small place, in a basement underneath an antique store. To get to the shop, you had to go down a steep iron staircase before going into the door that had a bell hanging over it. Inside was a magical place for me. It was very dim, just a few light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker would be playing on the tinny sound system. There was an older black gentleman that ran the shop, he’d always greet me when I came in. “Back again, huh?” he’d say, then he’d ask me who I was looking for that day. A couple times a month, I would go into the city to find blues albums in that shop. It was mostly jazz, but in the far corner was the blues section. I would pour over those records. Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Blind Willie McTell, Willie Dixon and dozens more. I wonder now what the owner thought about the skinny 16 year old white kid wearing Sonics t-shirts that would come in every couple weeks to score dusty old vinyl. From there I would go to a shop called Second Time Around. There I continued to build my library of rock and roll. Led Zeppelin, Simon and Garfunkel, Cream, The Who, The Beach Boys, Dylan, The Doors and so on. It was like bringing home new friends every week.
That’s the problem with digital downloads. They are so impersonal. There is no cool tangible artwork. No cool and cryptic liner notes. Nothing cool to display proudly on a shelf. There is nothing cool about MP3’s at all. They are easy, and that is about it. They are disposable, which I find a strong metaphor for the state of modern music. Who cares if you lose a song, you stole it anyway and the cut is no longer trendy, what does it matter?
Last year I decided to move backwards and I began collecting vinyl more seriously again. I went to my parent’s house and got my old record player out of the attic and the boxes that had the records I bought when I was a teen. I have been going to used record shops and thrift stores and finding some amazing gems. There are incredible record shops in Manhattan, my favorite being Bleeker Bob’s in the Village. And you know what? That old feeling I used to get when I was 16 has returned. It’s incredible. Recently I’ve ordered three White Stripes 7 inch singles for the song “Conquest” (one red, one black, one white), found a 10 inch Arctic Monkeys EP, The Beatles debut album for 50 cents, a narrated version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the 1950’s and a rare Ramblin’ Jack Elliot record from the 60’s. Not to mention a copy of Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues album. (That one wasn’t a bargain.) I also found a website that sells plastic sleeves that will protect my new found treasures.
I’m proud to say my Peter Pan Complex is, for the moment, somewhat satisfied. I’m never growing up. Now excuse, I’m headed out to buy some PEZ refills.
Viva la vinyl. Spin the black circle.