January 31, 2014

Vinyl Nostalgia

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Since receiving a Crosley as a Christmas gift last month, I’ve become a fervent admirer and revivalist of the vinyl era. I never would have guessed that this outdated piece of technology was exactly what my life was lacking.

As members of the “Millennials,” the generation greatly characterized by technology, it is difficult for us to remove ourselves from the abstract and superficial in order to really experience and savor the aspects of life that make it worth living. With communication and information literally at the tips of our fingers, it is hard to fully grasp any one subject or truly appreciate time. For me, though, records serve as a reminder to appreciate the fleeting moments.

After I blow the dust off of an LP older than myself, I delicately place the needle so that a few imperfect seconds of static preface the beginning of a beautifully liberating track. Though I cannot deny the efficiency and convenience that accompany digital music, there is an argument to be made for the value of vinyl to the modern music enthusiast. Playing a record requires a level of interaction with the music that has, in recent years, been condensed, programmed, and packaged tightly into touch-sensitive, anti-shatter glass. Concocting a specific playlist becomes a game involving multiple records, a choice between side A or side B and a constant flipping and stopping of motion. This requires the full attention of the individual. It even becomes the central focus of social gatherings and allows a few precious minutes to be consumed entirely by and for the music. It does not stand in the background as a constant buzz, but pervades the very fabric of the fast-paced demand and receive cycle that we hold so dear in our day-to-day affairs.

Records are imperfect. They get scratched and distorted, dusty and worn. Sometimes a brass instrument squeaks or for a second the vocalist is off pitch. Though these imperfections could now be corrected by auto-tuning and re-mastering, they evoke the very basics of our human condition. While I acknowledge that many records have been mass produced, the lack of editing and manipulation of the originals, especially those rare live recordings, offers us a window into the past. The imperfections highlight the reality of the musician’s sound, rather than a flawless reworking devoid of humanity. A record exists as a kind of auditory photograph, capturing the raw material of musical enjoyment.

Sure, you cannot carry a record player, much less a record, in your pocket, you cannot use it to access thousands of artists and songs within seconds and you definitely can’t ask Siri to play your favorite track on it. However, you can use it to embrace reality. Hear the music in it’s purest medium, next to live performance, and appreciate every flaw. You can call the practice outdated, nostalgic, hipster or what have you, but you can neither deny the unique and personal experience nor the reminiscent joy of your favorite song played on vinyl. So please, Generation Y, set down your smart phone and pick up a record.