As an adolescent in the 70s I was obsessed with my record collection. I had to have all of the special editions. Dave Mason's Alone Together
in brown and beige, Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy
in pink, the list goes on. My collection grew and grew and the stereo powering it kept getting bigger and bigger. My second-son position of exile at the far end of the house proved prescient on the part of my parents and the volume continued to creep up as I enjoyed playing the fruits of my wages at ever louder volumes. I had started making money by today's standards completely illegally at the age of 13 washing dishes at the local country club and poured every cent into my music habit. Every album was lovingly cleaned of the dust and dog hair with the trusty Discwasher before every play. My father was kind enough to provide the firearms and motorcycles, so it was pretty much teen boy nirvana in growing up in suburban Philadelphia.
College came along and painful choices about what portion of my record collection would make the journey into semi-adulthood had to be made. To partially ease the pain, I made endless mix tapes and installed an Alpine stereo in my shit box Subaru. It probably wasn't safe to drive that thing with the ground shaking under its wheels. My parents divorced while I was away and my poor mother was saddled with moving my immense collection several times over the next few years as her lifestyle got marked down to ever smaller houses.
CDs came along and I re-bought in a far more portable fashion the favorites of my collection...convenient considering I drifted around the world for a couple of years after college. One day the phone rang...my mother telling me she was moving in with her soon-to-be new husband asking me where I would like my album collection delivered. Having no stable home, I told her to pitch them. I was done with both the collection and these vestiges of my childhood.
The world suddenly became very quiet. The Walkman and headphones changed the communal nature of sharing (or annoying) my neighbors and roommates with whatever I had on endless repeat. Suddenly, music was a solitary joy obtained by strapping on a pair of headphones drifting off into my own little world.
Yet the music was still relentless. I bought, broke, lost and discarded endless devices designed to allow me to enjoy my music. The CD player that held five discs never seemed enough. Then computer and digital players came alongmy days devoted to ripping my now extensive CD collection. iTunes solved organization issues and allowed me to buy even more music, making mixes even more efficiently. Still, the house was still quiet. In fact, I had dispensed of my stereo system somewhere along the way.
Children came along and I bought more CDs for the car. The kids grew up but other than the occasional bout of girl mayhem the house was (musically) quiet. No one had a stereo and the best speakers were now connected to the television to aid in watching mindless action movies at top volume. Two of my daughters made it out quietly. But my third daughter discovered a new wave of vinyl...now everything has changed.
Today's vinyl rage is obviously happening on a much different level. It is first a collectible and secondly a vehicle for the music. Units produced are not in the tens of thousands and quality control sometimes seems missing. Case in point: We have Augustines'
new album in the office and the B-side is pressed with someone else's hip hop album (We are storing this away until Augustines blow up. That way we can flog the manufacturing fail on Ebay for mucho money). Only global superstars like Coldplay can sustain a mass pressing of 20,000 units or so.
Where we can find records has also changed. Sam Goody and Tower Records are relics of the past. Instead, kids flip through crates at Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and of course on Amazon. Yes, you can now harvest fresh vinyl the next time you have to pick up some gluten free, vegan band aids. My daughter also trolls thrift shops with her sister for cheap, vintage finds. Somewhere out there, those limited edition pressings I was obsessed with are spinning on a brand new, $120 MP3 converting turntable in a teen's bedroom.
So how popular is this new trend? A little digging reveals some curious stats. Just this quarter, vinyl sales are up 25 percent year over year. In the same period, CD sales are down 50 percent. Digital sales too are starting to decline (no numbers available) as the effect of streaming services on the mass market truly starts to take hold.
And guess what? The house is no longer quiet. No, it is not the music company in the attic making all the noise. It's my daughter, blasting Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, and Fitz and The Tantrums
. The Discwasher is back. This time the cleaning ritual is devoted to removing cat hair from the precious and growing Vinyl collection stored in the milk crate on the floor. The future is now clear, music is a streaming medium and if you are passionate enough you will buy the vinyl and keep it in a milk crate next to the stereo to be looked at and cherished. And really what is the point of having a stereo it you don't turn it up to "11."