Playing Vinyl in the Digital Age

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This past week I hosted a fundraising program called “Columbia Records and the Folk Explosion” on WTJU, the community radio station based here in Charlottesville where I’ve had a regular show on Saturday nights for the past five years. The program focused on folk and folk-rock artists of the era, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, among others, artists whose first albums I bought way back in the day. Hoping to attain some of the 1960s vibe, I decided to forego CDs  and hauled out my ancient vinyl, record albums with cover stickers that announced compatibility with both mono and stereo playback and a retail price of $3.67.  These days it’s easy enough to just push a button and let a digital file play, but for this show I decided to do the hard work of putting the needle to the groove and allowing the surface noise out in all its splendor.  While vinyl has become favored among audiophiles and twentysomething hipsters, it’s nostalgic to read copy like this off my old album covers, “This unbreakable stereo recording creates the effect of surrounding the listener with true-to-life active sound and represents the ultimate in listening enjoyment.”

Put that into your iPod headphones and stuff it.

I became a music fan and collector following the unfathomable decision by my parents to purchase a huge Mediterranean-styled credenza in the depths of which dwelled a built-in AM/FM radio tuner and phonograph hi-fi player that was state-of-the-art for its era.  This was a big deal system, akin to getting a color television.  (Yeah, I’m that old.)

What possessed my parents to buy this thing was a mystery.  Music was something that might be on the radio in the dinette or the car once in awhile, but neither of my parents actually listened to music in any attentive way, let alone ever attended concerts.  My father took violin lessons for a couple of years as a child until, the story went, my grandmother discovered he’d replaced the violin with his cleats and was off to the ball field with violin case in hand when he was supposedly heading to his music instruction.   

So, after the novelty of sound-effect records in which volleyed ping-pong balls and thundering trains seemingly traversed the living room and a couple of plays of  “Mitch Miller Sing-Along Hits” and “Organ Melodies for Ice Skating” my old man culled from “under a buck” discount bins of records nobody with any taste would want, the speaker doors were shut closed and the stereo console became a functional piece of mute furniture.

Except when I decided to rescue it. While I listened to the Beatles and the Supremes on my transistor radio, nothing ever inclined me to actually buy a record.  But now that I had access to an actual hi-fi, it seemed that I should possess a record of my own. And that record came to possess me.

It was The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the one with “Blowin’ in the Wind” as the first track (what does this guy have against using the letter “g” anyway?) but that song in particular really didn’t make much of an impression on me.  It was the overall rebellious angst of youth that leapt from the grooves that hit all the right chords of my teen-aged sensibilities.

As I was reminded when I pulled from my music collection that very same record I bought so many years ago and played it on the air during my Columbia Records show on WTJU, it still does.  And the answer is still blowin’ in the wind.  

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