About a month ago, after many years, I had a surprise run in with my dear friend Ruth at the Bay Area Book Festival just outside my place. She was in town with her 11-year-old daughter who wanted to spend some of her allowance money on books and meet a few of her favorite authors. I joked with the girl about being far too young for nostalgia over “containers” such as books, and she responded as you’d expect an 11-year-old would; with a dismissive giggle and a shrug of her shoulders.

I’m not very nostalgic over containers either. I certainly value good design and aesthetic choices wherever they occur, and without a doubt, things like books, LPs and other such containers offer endless ways to try to capture and represent the magic they contain; words, music, ideas, etc. But as a quadriplegic, nostalgia over such things is empty, and so I’m about one thing – accessing the magic. If one container is less accessible than another, I’m happy to ditch it. No matter how beautiful or cool it is.

Ruth mentioned their morning brought back memories of when she and I were teenagers and she’d help me dig through bins of LPs at a record store not far from where we grew up: Music Market in Costa Mesa. I was surprised to find I hadn’t thought about the place, or those times, in decades. But when that name hit that little spot in my brain that catalogs pieces of the past for future recall or warm, fuzzy nostalgia, an assemblage of images from countless nondescript outings came flooding back to me.

The Untouchables Music Market record signing

The Untouchables Music Market record signing

After my accident, when surfing, skating, skiing and guitar were abruptly pulled off my plate, my deep love for art, literature and music rushed in to fill the void. Equipped with an ever increasing stash of records, I bought another turntable, figured out how to beat match somewhat  (I was never the quadriplegic version of Grandmaster Flash), and sated my jones for both music making and it’s consumption by DJing.

Reggae vinyl choices

Reggae vinyl choices

The image of Ruth or any of my friends flipping through records, bin after bin, hour upon hour, to help me find a certain import 12 inch dub record on the Greensleeves label makes me smile. But it’s their steadfast participation in these quests that’s even more moving when I think about some of the aural onslaughts they may have endured when certain Music Market employees had control of the store sound system.

The thing is, I’ve been listening to a lot of vinyl these days. And just in case you’ve been living under a rock, or not tapped into the cultural zeitgeist surrounding it’s unlikely resurgence, let me clue you in — it’s back. And while there are many reasons as to why this is (and they all make sense), mine is simple: focus and awareness. It demands a certain type of participation to make the magic come alive.

Yudess' random pull from my vinyl. Her first ever needle drop! Special AKA In the Studio

Yudess’ random pull from my vinyl. Her first ever needle drop! Special AKA In the Studio

The container is as inaccessible as always, so no romance or nostalgia there — I still only get 20 minutes before I need someone to flip the disc for me. But it’s a 20 minute gift of sharing an album  with a friend; the selection, the slip of the vinyl from its sleeve, the sound of the needle pop as it touches down and slides into the first groove. All of it. Spinning wax has become the yin to the yang of how I’ve accessed music for the last decade; digitally.

As a music lover who just happens to be a quadriplegic, I couldn’t live in a better time; I can listen to almost anything, at any moment, with no need of assistance from anyone. This is incredibly liberating. A dream come true. But for a hard-core music lover, it’s like being a kid in a candy store, the sheer quantity of choices is dizzying, and attention to any one thing can be challenging and often a diluted experience.

Screen shot of iTunes library on MacBook pro

My iTunes library AKA digital music candy store

This is neither a good or bad thing, trade-offs are part of life. Especially where technology is concerned. And because it would be a little ridiculous and disingenuous of me to shit on the ubiquity of accessible music choices, I won’t. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be looked at critically either, and accept its contextual limitations.

As anachronistic and inaccessible as LPs may be for me, they’ve become a kind of foil these days, and I appreciate how they complement my passion. Maybe even spicing it up a little. A second renaissance, if you will (the first being Mp3s).

Lps in amber

To look at my records now, the third of it — 300 are so — that weren’t purged 25 years ago, and see what I kept and why, is interesting. Most of it makes sense, some not so much. I sold a lot that would be considered valuable today; early hip-hop 12 inches, Smith singles, rare soul pressings, etc. But I’m not a collector (never have been), I just love music, so as long as it’s on another more accessible medium I’m good to go.

Still, I’m glad I kept some of it. What’s left reminds me of a prehistoric insect caught in amber; a kind of snapshot of suspended motion. And because I’ve never been too romantic over any particular era or genre of music ( I’m pretty much drawn to whatever moves me at the moment), pulling a random record out, dropping it on the platter and listening to it doesn’t feel like archived history at all. Rather it feels like part of a continuous, reanimated story that was put on pause while folks left the room to grab another beer.

Look, I’m aware It’s near impossible to talk about music, especially if it touches on anything to do with the past, and not come off as waxing nostalgic, so I’ll cop to it: this has been a little on the Cameron Crowe side of that line. But this is the nature of music, and the way it imprints on the brain, makes us feel, and connects us to one another. There is a compulsion — for me at least – to open up the narrative and invite others to come along and participate.

 

The liner notes

With the above being said, I want to give credit where credit is due. Thank you Ruth for jogging my memory and inspiring this sentimental (and yes, a little nostalgic) train of thought that spun out into this blog post.

And for the rest of you, those who’ve been — and will continue to be — part of my life’s eclectic soundtrack, I leave you with the beautiful  apropos lyrics of of the late Mr. Alex Chilton:

Thank you, friends
Wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you
I’m so grateful
For all the things you helped me do

Deep Cuts Bonus Edition: Some of the best albums of 2016 so far (In no particular order. #1, however, is #1 with a bullet).

Best album of 2016… so far.

Best album of 2016… so far.

1). Anderson .Paak Malibu
Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered.
Yumi Zouma Yoncalla
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Talk Tight
Shy Layers Shy Layers
Noname Telephone
Frank Ocean Blond
Chance The Rapper Coloring Book
The Amazing Ambulance
David Bowie Blackstar
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White Hella Personal Film Festival
The Avalanches Wildflower
Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band 55
Blood Orange Freetown Sound
Fakear Animal
Gallant Ology
Maria Usbeck Amparo
Kevin Morby Singing Saw
NAO For All We Know
Kanye West The Life of Pablo
LUH Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing
NV Binasu
Joey Purp iiiDrops
San Fermin Jackrabbit
James Blake The Colour in Anything
The Sun Days Album
KAYTRANADA 99.9%
Bibio A Mineral Love
Young Thug JEFFERY
Kishi Bashi Sonderlust 

Of course, this was just 30. If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, here is a link to the mega grande box set lists:

Best Albums Of 2016

If you are not an Apple Music subscriber, here is a YouTube playlist with the 30 artists listed above:

 

Enjoy. Catch you on the flipside 🙂

Pau

3 comments on “The life and death (and life again) of anachronistic containers: or why I’m spinning vinyl in 2016

  • Well written! Vinyl junkie myself, facing a move to London that will place all my records into storage for a year or so (containers within containers?!)…
    Reading this post was a lovely way to learn that James Blake has a new album out. I’m a huge fan of his but with only so much bandwidth I often overlook new releases. I’ll check it out.

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