Last week I dove into yet another interest that revolves around the telling of stories. I ordered my first turntable. The piece of equipment I decided to cut my teeth on is the Audio Technica AT LP-120.
I didn’t grow up listening to vinyl and I feel like I’m kind of too Johnny-come-lately and a little out of the know to be all hipster about it. So why a turntable? My motivation is similar to what drives all my interests: the story.
By the time I got into music as a pre-teen CDs were in full swing and my elder counterparts, with their new found freedom as fully licensed drivers, were wondering why auto manufacturers were still pumping out cars with factory cassette players. It was the age of compact discs after all, and plastic jewel cases and hidden tracks.
That said, I wasn’t completely removed from the world of vinyl. Both my dad and my step-dad (I hate that term) had turntables atop their stereo stacks. That mysterious piece of equipment that was so special it was only used when a particular rich and warm sound was required, when a particular artist or album demanded to be played. The trophy piece was perfectly positioned upon a layered pedestal of audio components, reigning supreme over an assembly of precision instruments.
But that’s hardly the only memory I have of turntables. That’s merely the backdrop to the greater tale: my Pop’s oft repeated and reminiscent retelling of his younger days, days when he would put on a Pink Floyd album and listen to it from start to finish. He insisted, and still insists, that his peers didn’t put music on as social ambiance, but rather to actually listen to it (weird), to truly hear the music and absorb the words. Friends would gather together, plopping down on their been bags and sofas to listen to The Moody Blues weave their story across the vinyl grooves as the needle of the tone arm moved over the album. No one dared speak over such hypnotizing sounds, he said.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the greatest take away from those memories is that listening to music was, once upon a time, about listening to a rich story. Music was (is) merely the narrative’s vehicle.
Now I don’t know if this was a common happening for all music lovers of the previous vinyl age, but it was true for my pop and it was his reason for listening to vinyl that I picked up on. I’m not an audiophile. I appreciate listening to music, I enjoy a good story, I’m intrigued by the various ways mankind finds to tell stories, and I’m fond of slowing life down and relishing the real.
Each black disc contains a story. Be it an individual song or the entire album played in one sitting, a story is being conveyed. The very act of playing music on vinyl is a story of sorts as the process itself involves physically engaging the medium, specific tools necessary to accomplish a desired goal, and setting aside time to hear the fruit of the labor. The album art conveys a story too. Collecting the particular records that I want is an engaging adventure unique unto itself, yet shared with others who undergo a similar endeavor. Stories of pursuit, collection, and experience. But most importantly the connection the hobby builds between generations, as my pop hands down his stories (and his collection) so that I may enjoy them and in so doing create similar gifts to hand down to my children. It’s a family story told in turn and in connection with others and I’m ready to access its treasures.