It is 1985
I am three years old and I’m storming angrily out of by twin bed piled high with stuffed animals somewhen between 8 and 10 pm. I accuse my parents of turning the music off and I refuse to fall asleep without it. Turns out, it’s just a quiet moment in the symphony they’re playing on the top loading tape player in the living room corner. I storm back, not quite appeased and the tape continues to roll. I can hear reedy strings in the distance.
The track that most accurately expresses the way these snippets of memory feel now?
It is 1988
I am Five years old and my dad is playing Michael Jackson’s Thriller LP on the same stereo in the corner through four speakers, 2 in the kitchen and 2 bigger box speakers in the corners of the loft overhanging the living room. As Side 1 Track 4 plays and the wolves begin to howl through all four speakers our two adopted canines outside – Pebble and Salsa – run circles around the outer deck crooning along with glee.
This era feels like The Pointer Sisters – Automatic
It is 1989
I am six years old and my parents have purchased tickets for my friend Luke and I to attend Weird Al Yankovic‘s show at Longhorn’s Bar atop the foothills overlooking San Luis Obispo. My dad plays Weird Al for me on occasion – he likes to make mix tapes of the original song spliced alongside the Weirded version – and my six year old mind is consistently blown by Al’s clever creativity and musical precision. One of my babysitters, Stefanie I think, takes us to the show. I am gripped by indescribable awe as we sit just a few feet away from the low stage and Al appears from behind the curtain to perform I’m Fat in full gargantuan latex regalia. If you’re hungry for a spectacular – listenable! – article about Weird Al check out this episode of The Daily.
This era feels now as if Another one rides the Bus
It is 1994
I am turning twelve and we are out to dinner at the Spirit of San Luis. I order a grilled cheese with fries – as a kid I am partial to foods that involve cheese and the color orange. The gift I’ve been hoping for is a portable CD player. It has an iridescent spindle and a ten second anti skip memory. It emerges from under the table post grilled cheese and my 12 year old mind melts.
This era feels like Dookie spinning with the switch flipped to ‘repeat’.
It is 2001
I am eighteen years old and obsessed with Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, and Mike Marshall‘s Uncommon Ritual after being dragged fortuitously to see Edgar perform at Cal Poly. He is the first musician I’ve ever seen play Cello and Bass with his entire person. Every breath is in rhythm with his bowing arm. I play Uncommon Ritual through the big component system repeatedly every moment I am home. I hold my family captive to it. My dad grumbles about the repetition but doesn’t stop me.
This one is obvious…
It is 2008
I am 25 years old and my housemate Steve – philosophical compatriot and baker in the shop where I work – has a lifelong love for Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, and now Cat Power. Her Dark End of the Street EP has just been released and we listen to it on Steve’s turntable and a pair of simple bookshelf speakers. I am immediately enamored of the ritual in spinning a record – the attentiveness required and the way the sound feels more…alive. I am hooked, though I barely know it yet.
It is 2009
I am 26 years old and it is the week before I begin a new part time job at a winery. I am traveling with my mother to Georgia for a wedding. We’ll be staying in Buford, but I plan to drive in to Atlanta to check out Chan Marshall‘s old neighborhood and to visit the scene in Little Five Points. On my way into the city I listen to Fleet Foxes self titled album and DEASTRO’s Vermillion Plaza and Moondagger. I go to Cabbagetown and take photos for a gift I plan to give Steve upon returning, a little journal filled with photo’s of Chan’s old neighborhood. I entitle it ‘Steve’s Power Book.’ At the wedding everybody is dancing and exclaiming about Lady Gaga, as Poker Face plays I realize this is the first time I’ve ever heard of her.
I don’t know it yet but this will be the last trip my mom and I take as just the two of us.
It is 2012
In this era I obsess over TV on the Radio‘s Return to Cookie Mountain and it plays on repeat in my earbuds each night as I drift off to sleep. I am aswim in the painful void and dubious relief of being recently divorced. My vinyl fascination is sparkling afresh but even as I begin accumulating all my favorite albums in this preferable format I lack equipment to play them. My dad generously trades me his now 34 year old reliable Pioneer Amp in exchange for a newer Sony to use in his garage setup. I hook up uncle Pete’s Dual Turntable – graciously donated to my cause – and a pair of Mitsubishi floor speakers, carefully crimping the Dual’s power cord to minimize its hum. To celebrate my 30th, I throw a spinning party at my parents’ place, inviting friends and family from all eras and encouraging them to bring along an LP or two to play on the new/old frankensystem. We spin the afternoon and evening away joyfully, catching up and drinking wine. The album highlight of the evening for me is Massive Attack‘s Blue Lines. Around the middle of the evening my amazing sister gifts me 2 bottles of Bricco Asili Barbaresco from 1982. About 6 months from now I open one of them with a group of friends. I love the wine and consume it gleefully even as everyone else including my sister comment that it tastes like wet dirt. To this day Barbaresco remains the red wine closest to my heart.
This time feels like … a newer track from TVOTR
It is 2014
One day a week I get to carpool to the winery with just Kim. For this reason Monday is always my favorite day. We drink coffee and listen to Soul from various eras and talk candidly about meaningful things. When we arrive we often refuse to leave the car before the song is over – particularly if the track happens to be Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Al Green, or Marvin Gaye. We are falling in love.
It is 2015
Kimmy and I spend our free time frequenting vintage and thrift stores in Sonoma and Napa. I set up the Dual and the Pioneer with the same pair of Mitsubishi speakers – now all fresh and meticulously painted with Kim’s help to match – in her guest room. Sometimes we lay on the twin beds – affectionately referred to as the Lucy and Desi beds – and stare at the white plank ceiling while listening to Warren Zevon, Roy Orbison, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen. The hum has gotten bad enough that I have to get up every few minutes to adjust the cables. I don’t mind, LP magic is alive and well.
This era has the timbre of this anarchic masterwork.
It is 2019
On two separate trips to Antique Society in Sebastopol I strike gleefully lucky in the used LP department. First, a pristine copy of Prince and the Revolution‘s Purple Rain album complete with poster featuring the band. Second, a glorious unplayed Avalon from Roxy Music. The clerk at the desk is so delighted when she sees it that she switches off their standard Spotify playlist and blares Side 1 Track 1 from Avalon over hidden speakers among the warehouse rafters.
Obvious but still – on the day Prince left us I cried and wrote in my journal: ‘now Prince is gone and all I have is Purple Rain.’
It is 2020
I arrive slightly panicked at the realization that I’ve accumulated over 150 LPs and a few 45s in various stages of cleanliness. I buy a bottle of bourbon and trade it with coworker Tom in return for the use of his cleaning equipment. He entertains me with stories of stand-up shows and audiophile trivia while we use a loud and magical tabletop vacuum machine to clean up a hefty album stack. We re-sleeve each LP as we go. Tom has a beautiful turntable and an intimidating array of support equipment. The speaker wire looks like it has been salvaged from a giant robot – the cord alone is as big around as my wrist.
Words fail the horror and hope of now, I’m listening repeatedly to:
This is a moment to hold hands – in spirit if need be – blast the music and enact to keep the movement building. I keep a resource list and action links updated here.
Equipment notes in order of appearance – My parents house in the 80’s – Sony Stereo Cassette-Corder TC-131SD, Denon DP-31L Turntable with Stanton EEE Stylus, Pioneer SA-9100, Infinity 2000AXT Floor Speakers (with Walsh Tweeters), My first CD player – Panasonic SL-NP40, My parents component CD player – JVC XL-Z444 Single Disc CD Player, Steve’s all in one turntable – Sony PS-LX250H, The Magic Vacuum – Record Doctor, Tom’s intimidating system – Yamaha YP 801 BL turntable with Ortofon MC1 Turbo stylus, ProJect Tube Box Phono PreAmp, KEF R300 Speakers, Monster M-Series 1.5 Speaker Wire, Meridian 203 Converter, Conrad Johnson PV11 Preamp, Parasound A23 Amp, Panamax 5500 Surge Suppressor, Monster M-Series Interconnects, MIT Z-Series