I thought a guest post might be a good way to ease back into the bloggin’ life after spending the last three weeks getting to know my new baby daughter, whom I may or may not have named after Beyoncé. Well, her middle name, anyways. That’s a story for a different day.
Today’s story was taken from an email exchange I had with Bill, the husband of one of Mrs. YHT’s lifelong friends and my partner-in-crime for the Drive-By Truckers show that took place at the National in March. I won’t offer too much of a preface, other than to say that his account of falling (back) in love with vinyl wonderfully articulates some of the key reasons why collecting records is so meaningful to me.
Hope you enjoy.
So here is my version of a “my first vinyl” account. Technically this is a return for me. I consider my first exposure to “real” music (i.e., not children’s rhymes or Weird Al cassettes) to be a stack of old Led Zeppelin LPs my drum teacher gave me when I was probably 12. But they were quickly dubbed to cassettes for convenience, and then supplanted by CDs. It’s amusing to think that I’ve been moving backwards for about the past 2 years. First I realized CDs provided better sound quality than those MP3s I’d been downloading since college. And now that Amazon is being so kind as to give away the MP3s with most CD purchases it’s kind of a no brainer, though I’m already getting nasty looks at home as jewel cases stack up. So now I feel like I’m taking another step backwards, but I’m finding a couple reasons it’s worth while.
I was surprised by how visceral the experience was right from the get go. I was out of the office Monday and I knew it had come in so I was excited from the start to arrive yesterday morning. Of course I wasn’t getting any work done until I got it at least temporarily up and running. For the record it’s a middle of the line audio-technica, and no, I don’t have to change any belts to play a 45. But I did have to get a quick tutorial on tone arm balance and tracking force and such. I furiously brushed aside a large stack of books and got it in place and playing. It was definitely an 8-year-old Christmas morning moment. Haven’t had one of them in a while.
My very first impression was the physicality of it. I was holding an album in my hands (again for the record, a live album recorded by Jack Johnson at Third Man Records – I thought you’d be proud enough). I was immediately conscious of the fact that you can’t hold an MP3, and even though you can hold a CD, there’s something different about being able to brush over the bumps and ridges of an album, like you’re physically “feeling” the contents. There’s also something about the act of pulling an album out of its sleeve, positioning the needle, selecting the speed, all that. Playing an album is a much more involved process than moving a mouse and clicking a few buttons. I definitely think there’s a place in the world for the advantages/disadvantages of both experiences, but I’d never really thought about it till I stood there watching the album spin. A side note about listening to albums in an office – you have the experience of having to get up ever few songs to flip a side or change albums. Read any recent articles on effective work environments and they’d suggest this is a good thing, both for productivity and health. But anyway…
I’m not going to get into the sonic discussion, richness, warmth, etc. That’s been hashed out in a million chat rooms and I feel no need to preach to this choir. But what I will say is a new record gives all the clarity of any digital file. I remember hisses and pops on those old LPs I mentioned above. Now they’d been to hell and back I’m sure, but new vinyl is a beautiful thing.
Another thing I noted was influenced by the particular album I was listening to, which is only available on vinyl. I was immediately struck by the possibilities of a whole new catalog available to me. I’m dying to find out what else is only available on vinyl. The Jack album was a Record Store Day release. It saddens me to think of waiting till next April for my first Day, but I’ve got a lot of previously missed days to research and hunt down little jewels I didn’t even know existed before. I already love b-sides, covers, live recordings, etc., so again this is like Christmas for me.
Last point, the album art. Again one of the reasons I still appreciated CDs was I still appreciated good album art. I’m the dummy who still reads every liner note and thank you in the back of a booklet. My experience has been that there’s often some little nugget hidden in there somewhere. Some little comment by the artist. Some little insight into the mind and world that created this piece of art you’re listening to. I love that! One of the reasons I like live recordings are the comments in between the tracks. That probably sounds silly but it just does it for me. Also, who wrote what. Who recorded a backing track. Who played cigar box uke on a song. That kind of thing, and here it is blown up to 12 by 12 for the world to see. Awesome! Just awesome.
I couldn’t get my hands on an .mp3 or stream of any of the tracks from Jack Johnson’s Live at Third Man Records album (it wasn’t released digitally, which seems fitting for this post), so I’ve posted below a studio version of one of the songs Johnson played that day — his cover of the White Stripes tune “We’re Going To Be Friends” (which also seems fitting, given the burgeoning relationship described above). Want to hear the live version? Buy the record!