Sunday, February 10, 2008

As the Table Turns

I just got my turntable repaired. It wasn’t cheap. Why?

I am not an audiophile. My ear has never been finely tuned to sound quality—my basement full of audio cassettes is testimony to that fact. Years ago, I subscribed to a magazine called Stereo Review and, try as I might, I could never get engaged with the details of a new set of Danish speakers or some German receiver. (Loved the “record” reviews, however.)

Still, my turntable, receiver, and speakers are top-notch thanks to a friend who did appreciate those details. I must admit a frisson of pleasure when an Asian fellow, holding the door for me as I emerged from the shopping plaza with my turntable in hand, spied the name on the lid and remarked, “Ah, Audiophile! A classic.”

Yes, a wise investment when I purchased it used from my friend over twenty years ago. But wait, how can I say that? In this day when you can have your music collection in your hand and your stereo unit on your counter or shelf, how can I believe that I’m still receiving a return?

My storehouse of vinyl, audio cassettes, and CDs raises serious questions for me about my character. If you’re even a quarter of the pack rat that I am, I’m sure that you have some possession that you can gaze at and wonder (like I do), “What if I invested in Apple instead of buying the complete ouevre of Carmen McRae?”

But that raises additional questions—What would I be like if I hadn’t let Carmen into my heart? What riches has she afforded me? Is it worth more than money?

Strangely enough, money does enter into my decision to get my turntable repaired. I have over a thousand records that I’ve lovingly taken care of through the years. I steadfastly refuse to buy a CD or digital version of what I already have. There’s too much new music to reach out for. Anything I buy will be something new, and everything will be playable.

My records have trailed me through all the apartments where I’ve lived—some go back to my teenage years. You know how Method actors were trained to call up an emotion in a character by reaching into their past for a similar feeling? Well, sometimes records are the emotional trigger for me. Put James Taylor’s Walking Man in my hand and I’m back in Pittsburgh, scaling a hill, pondering the Energy Crisis as I trudge through the slush to my nearest record store. “Canada’s rooftops were lovely to see,” James croons and, as I listen, I think about how lovely it was to hear that same voice as I warmed myself after the walk.

Just sitting and listening to music—nothing else—is such a revolutionary act these days. We always have to be doing something, don’t we? You feel this imperative all the more the older that you get, but Lawdy, how it wears on you.

My records are a counterweight to this pressure. My “entertainment unit” (itself an antiquated piece of furniture) sits prominently in the family room, with a couch and a couple comfortable chairs in front of it. It’s the sunniest room in the house. Absolutely perfect for reclining and listening while you hold the jacket in your hand. My time-honored way of finding peace.

My records were collected during many hours spent alone, bopping from one used-music store to another. I was obsessive, and perhaps I only got into that state because I lacked focus in my career and I wasn’t committed to any woman at the time, but this realization doesn’t diminish their value to me. They fed my soul back then, they still do today, and they will in the future.

I am fortunate enough to have married someone who appreciates my passion for music. Lisa prodded me to start this blog. She set it up for me and patiently shows me again and again how to post on it. She allows me to have all that vinyl on the main floor of our home. Heck, she even got me a transmitter that allows my vinyl to be projected throughout the house. (Amazing—this gadget looks like a vacuum cleaner. It picks up the signal from the receiver and carries the sound through other rooms. Oh, how I smile to think of my uncle all those years ago, stringing speaker wire along ceilings, working to achieve the same effect.)

Willie Nelson once wrote a song called “Who’ll Buy My Memories?” Great line. I’ll tell you what, Willie—these vinyl memories are not for sale or for retirement!


BT3 said...

Jeff. What a great post! An eloquent defense of the vitality of vinyl. I don't play my records often but I LOVE knowing that I can. Heck, I might just NEED to hear The Jackson 5ive tomorrow, or Jim Hall's "Concierto" or who knows what.


Bonnie Lass said...

Jeff, I googled you and found your blog. SO MUCH FUN to read it, especially in light of the preview
last evening.
Keep it goin'!

MP Cusentino said...

You are such a gifted writer, Jefferson, you cannot hear this often enough.

Love your blog. Keep up the tremendous work.