About a year ago, my in-laws gave me their old turntable and stereo receiver, just in time for the vinyl renaissance here in Durham and beyond.
Christmas was good to my ears. My sister got me records from Of Monsters and Men and Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, two of my favorite current bands. She also got me a CD copy of “Jackrabbit,” the second album by San Fermin, a Brooklyn baroque-pop band I discovered last year on WKNC at N.C. State (Radio lives!).
Demand for vinyl has hit a bottleneck as the manufacturing infrastructure can’t keep up with demand; “Jackrabbit” isn’t available yet, even though the songs themselves have already been released as 1s and zeros.
The thing is, I’m not really buying CDs anymore. I kept buying them all through the MP3 and streaming revolution, because I like to hold music in my hands, to take in the visual aesthetic and to collect the music I love. But now that I’ve got this record-player, built right around the time of American music’s apex in the early ’70s, I’m way more into vinyl.
I didn’t want to make my sister feel bad, so I didn’t tell her. (Let’s just keep this between us, OK?). I figured I could get some kind-hearted merchant to swap me vinyl for my shrink-wrapped CD, which they could then re-sell, and I could pay the price difference. I mean, with the opening of Carolina Soul downtown, we’ve got four places to buy LPs in central Durham now.
I called around, and Stephen Judge at Schoolkids Records, which replaced Offbeat Records in Brightleaf Square last year, did me a solid and agreed to give me a store-credit for the CD in exchange for ordering San Fermin’s self-titled debut, which is available on vinyl. (Thanks, Stephen!).
My best local find, though, was an original copy of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” at Bull City Records for $15. (Thanks, Chaz!) According to the Sharpie on the back cover, it used to belong to a “JP.” It’s one of my favorite albums of all time, possibly only behind The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” In general, I’m trying not to buy vinyl records that I already own on CD (Chaz tells me this is a common dilemma), but I made an exception to have a vintage copy of “Rumours.”
My collection is really small right now, and a lot of it came from when I had an hour to kill before my band’s gig in Detroit last spring. We were playing in a bar that happened to have a used record store in the basement. I brought home a stack of five LPs that cost me $17 altogether. We listened to some of those records at a small party for my birthday last month – like “The Best of the Youngbloods,” which I found for $4.
So we’re listening to a slightly warped edition of Three Dog Night’s “Harmony” ($2), and my mom picks up “Rumours” in its sleeve. It came out in 1977, the same year I was born. My parents were friends with a pretty famous rock band back in the ’70s. They shall remain nameless, but they were a big enough deal that members of KISS were backstage at a show in New York City that year, and my mom was there too.
“Is that Stevie Nicks?” she asks, looking at the photo of the singer and Mic Fleetwod in their ballerina shoes on the cover.
She goes on to tell us how she started talking with one of her friends in the unnamed band, and he started bragging about his relationship with Stevie Nicks.
My mother was 24 and I was a few months old, her first child, and her friend didn’t bother to ask about me.
“Who gives a s--- about Stevie Nicks?” my mom says. “I just had a baby!”
I don’t know the last time my mom made me laugh so hard.
See, vinyl records make you sit and listen, because if you don’t, then they’re just going to keep playing the same three or four songs over and over again. You can just turn on Pandora and forget about it, which is what so many of us do with music nowadays. With vinyl, you sit there, waiting: to carefully, delicately lift the needle, to pick up the disc with attentive gentleness, reverently to flip it over or slide it back into its sleeve, to coax another one out, to hold it by its edges so as not to smudge the ebony sheen, to circumnavigate the center hole over the spindle, to land the stylus like a helicopter carrying the queen.
There is a deliberate precision to the process. It feels something like a religious ritual. You’ve got these little jobs to do, and in between, you stop, you breathe, examine the cover, listen.
And in that repetition, in its call to be present in the moment, there is room for sharing stories we’ve never shared before, ever.
And, Mom, I give a s--- about Stevie Nicks.
Jesse James DeConto is a writer and musician in Durham. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org