I wonder if the phrase “You Can’t Go Home Again” also applies to technology too? Can we return to living with older inventions? Why haven’t some people rejected television and returned to radio? There’s always some Luddites. Just last week CBS Sunday Morning had a piece about people going back to typewriters. Really? Who wants to go back to carbon paper and liquid paper after using a word processing? Who would even want to return to WordPerfect or WordStar after using Microsoft Word?
I love shopping for old records. I love the big 12” covers. But nostalgia is not all its cracked up to be.
I love old records, until I play them. If they play without incident I love the heck out of them. But if they skip, skate, crackle, pop, hiss, it shoots my blood pressure way up and pisses me off. It makes me want to smash the record and give up LPs for good. But I don’t.
It’s such a crapshoot to buy old records. Come on, how much can we expect from half-century old plastic?
I’ve bought LPs that looked mint and they’d have a constant background hiss. I’ve bought records for one cut, and that cut, and that cut only, causes my stylus to skate. But I’ve also bought records covered with fine scratches that sound wonderful. It’s weird, but the heavy beat up old records from the 1950s and 1960s often play far better than the thin, nearly new looking records of the 1970s and 1980s.
Part of my problem is my “good” turntable. It tracks so light that any imperfection causes a record to skate or skip. My good turntable is hooked up to my good stereo. I buy records hoping to find the wonderful warm sound of vinyl. I play them loud. So when a record acts up, I hear it jarringly loud, which makes it all the more annoying. The good turntable is designed to make the records sound better, and to protect LPs from wear by lightly tracking through the grooves. If a LP doesn’t play well on the good turntable I put it on the bad turntable in my computer room. This older player, with its much heavier tone arm and tracking, can often play records the good turntable can’t. But I have to listen to problem records on my computer speakers, which are Klipsch THX and sound good, but they aren’t like listening to the Infinity floor standing speakers in the den.
Maybe I should always use old technology to play old records, and new technology to play new records.
Many audiophiles claim LPs sound superior to CDs, but I disagree. Yeah, LPs have a warm sound that’s very appealing, but it’s not why I buy records. Modern CDs sound technically superior by far. I buy records to travel back in time. I want to go to a record store and shop for a new LP discovery. I want to flip past hundreds of albums and find one I want to take a chance on. I want to bring that album home, put it on the stereo, kick back in my recliner and listen with all my might. And if I get lost in the experience, thrilled by discovering something wonderful, I find blissful pleasure.
All too often now I’ll be deep in reverie and BLAM! – the tone arm slams into some microscope imperfection. Or WEEEEEERRNT! as it slides over a portion of the cut. This is so goddamn irritating. This seldom happened decades ago when the LPs were new. And even now it doesn’t happen as much as you’d imagine for such ancient technology, but it happens enough to wonder why I bother with retro tech. Digital technology is infinitely more convenient and reliable.
Like here’s a favorite LP I fell in love with back in 1968 that I recently rediscovered and bought on vinyl, The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink by Janis Ian. The copy I found even had the blue paper insert with a couple extra poems.
Coming home, I was so happy to have found this LP again. I put it on with great expectations. Then it didn’t play right. I could have save myself a trip and $5. It’s available to play online for free at Janis Ian’s website, and doesn’t skip there (although the site fades out the end of the song in a way so she’s not giving you’re the real thing). I do have the same songs on a CD I bought years ago, Society’s Child: The Verve Recordings, or from Rdio, but it’s more fun to play from an LP that looks like the LP I owned 45 years ago. Because it doesn’t play from the good turntable it ruins the whole experience and fun of buying the album. It will play from the bad turntable and that’s a consolation, but it deflates the fun.
Does it really matter if a song comes from squiggles on vinyl, pits on a CD, or via electrons over the internet? Why am I trying to go to a long ago past, when I have a bright and shiny present to explore?
I was buying a lot of old records. I’ve bought 61 albums since the beginning of the year, but I’ve stopped. I suppose I could switch to very expensive 180 gram new albums, which run $20-50, but I won’t. I’ve gone back to mostly listening to Rdio. It has about a million albums. I’m not hurting for music to listen to. It was just fun trying to find lost albums. I just missed record stores and flipping through bins of records. But I guess I can’t go home again.
I haven’t completely given up on vinyl. I’m just more careful. I’m learning to be a more savvy vinyl shopper. I keep my eye out for LPs that have never been reprinted, or the CDs have long gone out of print too. I use digital for most stuff, and vinyl for when digital lets me down.
I guess I’m an old fart when I claim that buying music online is not the same experience as shopping for records in a store. That something has been lost by modern ways. But I am willing to admit that the new ways, with modern technology, are far superior. If I was forced to choose between Rdio and records that played perfectly every time, I’d pick Rdio. If I was forced to choose between Amazon and bookstores, I’d pick Amazon. The world wide web is better than CompuServe and GENIE. I’m not crazy. I do know a 2013 Ford Mustang is technically superior to its 1965 classic ancestor, even though people will pay far more for the older model. Nostalgia sells, but modern technology is superior.
We might talk about going home, but now is better. For instance, a couple weeks ago I got a heart stent. In 1968 I’d have been shit out of luck.
JWH – 5/25/13