Vinyl: Rotating Back to our Roots
I’m sitting in my college dormitory, working on a paper that will never go anywhere and that will eventually need to be deleted from my hard drive when I want to download an illegal copy of Star Wars in the next couple of years. There’s music playing, Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Electric Ladyland, a more than hour-long tribute to one of the best guitarists ever to live, as well as a peek into what the future of music would be in the rapidly approaching 1970s. The music begins to fade after “Voodoo Chile”, and I soon am sitting in silence, the only sound being my rapid fingers pressing the keys of my computer.
Finally, about a minute after the climax of the last song, I stand and walk over to my stereo system. The record is flipped, and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” begins to play as I systematically lower the pin onto the black grooves. Sure, that song is the beginning of the D-Side, and I skipped both the B and C sides. That’s alright, since the side of the record I chose brings me closer to Jimi’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, the true reason I spent so much money on the forty-nine-year-old record. There are no streaming services playing music and no cell phones connected to a Bluetooth speaker. Rather a stereo system from the 1980s is playing a record from the late 60’s. Why?
It’s not a fun process, standing up roughly every ten minutes to flip a record or slide it back into its case. But the meaning behind it is euphoric. Was this record playing in the background of a family watching the Moon Landing? Was somebody flipping through records and chose this one over Abbey Road in September of ’69? How many parents took this record away from their children and called it the devil’s music? The possibilities are endless, but so is the uncertainty.
Currently, all I know is that the name “Lang” is written across the sleeve of my 1976 Eagles greatest hits album. All I know is that somewhere between a cold January day in 1973 and now, somebody decided to write the initials “DW” in my Greetings from Asbury Park NJ album. These little stories are how we connect to the past, they’re small glimpses into how our parents and grandparents lived.
So why is vinyl returning in an era of technology and instant gratification? Why would some people rather pay twenty dollars for eight songs on a piece of plastic when they can have any song for a small monthly fee? What makes owning the music so special, and why have major companies such as Sony beginning to mass produce vinyl again? The answer to these questions is complex, and it doesn’t include a pseudointellectual high school senior telling you that it’s a “truer sound” or “it’s the realest way of listening.” No, it transcends being just “music.” Records are our tether to better days, the carousel that brings us back to times we wish we could live in. Records are nostalgia, they are a yearning to go back to a time we never lived in.
There is no doubt that we have been living in a moderately difficult era. Constant fear of terror looms over us and politicians are breaking every sane and moral norm to vie for power. People are restless, and conflicting ideologies of what may be right or wrong cause hate to be spread like a wildfire. The tipping point to all of this is how it reaches into everyday life. Conversations cannot be had without political opinions, and the average person cannot even watch television without witnessing social movements or power grabs. This is why we are so drawn to records. It’s the notion of returning to a time where people of all creeds and colors gathered in Wisconsin basements or New Jersey attics to listen to what John, Paul, George, and Ringo had to say. A time where the young people were beginning to care more about being seen for who they were and not what they were.
I use the term “simpler time” lightly, since the height of vinyl’s use was during the Civil Rights and Vietnam periods. There is no argument that branding those years as a simpler time would be an abhorrent glossing over of history. But I mean simpler in broader terms. The modern American youth’s life is flooded with online submissions, fear of grades, worrying about money and loans, jobs, and the responsibility of being leaders for the next generation to look up to. All the while, older generations label the modern youth as lazy and foolhardy. Records are the escape from that, records take us to a place where we can forget the day-to-day problems and get lost in the music.
In 1959, one of my aunts purchased Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on vinyl, which may seem a fairly normal thing to do. It wasn’t. For a young Italian girl living in the Brooklyn Heights to purchase the music of a black man? That was almost an act of evil in the pre-Civil Rights era. In an era where it mattered to people, a young white woman listening to “black music” was something to call a family meeting about. Today, that record sits as the crown jewel of my collection, a testament to the inconceivable genius of Mr. Davis. Why? It’s not because of the value of the record, nor the bragging rights of owning something so rare. Rather, I have a piece of history. I have a talisman from a forgotten story, from when something as simple as looking past color brought lovers of music together. After all, aren’t the stories the reason we keep rotating back?