Monday, October 8, 2012

The Music Is In the Scratches

As we worked through our garage yesterday I found a tub full of memories that belonged to another decade - another century, actually.  Inside were three 45s (for the younger generation, those were small records) of singles from when my mother was a teenager.  If you grew up in the age of vinyl, then I’m sure your mind can already hear your favorite song playing from the turntable.  It doesn’t matter what album you had spinning; they all started the same way.  It wasn’t the notes or chords or even the voices.  It was that scratchy sound that came through the speakers the minute the needle touched that round black disc.

I miss those days.  Growing up my mom would open the house when the Florida weather wasn’t melting everything in sight and as she went room to room dusting and cleaning everything my sister and I had tried so hard to get dirty, she would play her stack of 45s, the white noise to her industrious activity.  The record player would hold a stack of about twenty records and when one was finished the rod-like arm would pop up in the air and slide back to its perch while another single dropped down awaiting its turn to fill the house.  The speakers would go silent during this interlude; the only sounds were the click of the record arm and the pop of another song being dropped.  The scratchy melody of the needle on the vinyl was a prelude before the music hit the speakers.  Even then the static hung in the background, an ever-present partner to every musician.

Our boys, the youngest of which is twenty, grew up listening to their parents’ and grandparents’ vinyl.  They were also the generation that saw the rise of the compact discs and digital music.  They were raised with the best of both worlds and can appreciate what little eight-year old Dylan will never experience.  The music today is clean.  There is no static that announces a song is coming, no scratch across the top that causes the arm to bounce and skip over a verse and you don’t need to put a penny on a CD player to hold the needle down.  Bing Crosby, AC/DC, Waylon Jennings, it doesn’t matter who the artist is, they sound better on vinyl.  Not cleaner, just better.

Technology today has made obtaining and organizing your music easier and faster.  Digital music obviously won’t melt in the sun like my REO Speedwagon album, but it also doesn’t have the cover art that we posted to our bedroom walls.  Even the cover art on compact discs is too small to do anything fun with.  When I was in high school one of my bedroom walls was covered with tacked up album covers of Van Halen, Kansas, Fleetwood Mac, and Styx.  Today it’s just not the same with CDs as your wall looks like it is covered with painted index cards.

Playlists are easier to create today than the mix tapes of my childhood, but not nearly as much fun.  Back then you would play the album while hitting record on your tape player and pray that your timing was right.  If you were just a few seconds off, you would miss the beginning of the song.  You could also record songs off the radio, but usually you got the disc jockey talking over the beginning or ending of the song.  It was a painstaking process, but when you handed your girl a tape you had created just for her, it was worth every minute.

I’ve heard people say that a whiff of a certain aroma can take them back in time to a certain memory.  It’s true.  Certain perfumes remind me of certain people and a fall breeze with a hint of jasmine can sometimes transport me decades into the past.  However, the same is true with sounds and none more so than the scratching backdrop of a vinyl album.  You don’t need a DeLorean to go back in time.  All it takes is a 45 and an old record player.  Oh, and perhaps a penny for the needle arm.  It’s music that can’t be reproduced even though the songs already have.

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Suggested Reading ~ Growing Up or just Growing Old
                                 When Did I Grow Up
                                 Mom, Technology, and the English Language

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  1. Great post Robbie.

    I was born in the eighties but do remember having a record player for a time before CDs took over.

    I always had someone else put the records on for me for fear of scratching them.

    1. Thanks, David. We still have a record player in the house for those moments of nostalgia.

  2. Absolutely brilliant post, enjoyed it tremendously. :)

  3. Wow, this really brought back some memories. I could never figure out how the record player knew to drop only one record from the stack, instead of the whole thing. I always found it amazing!

    1. I'm amazed as well by what people can do when inventing things. I miss the old scratchy sounds at times. Thanks for visiting!