We’re talking about music on the blog this month, and I thought I’d tackle a piece of musical history that will reveal how old I am:
Actually, by the time I was in high school, the major form of music delivery was the cassette tape. They were handy and more portable than records, and you could make your own mix tapes. But records were still around.
(And for those of you who don’t know what a cassette tape is, it’s the form of music delivery that preceded CDs, which preceded MP3s.)
Anyway, we played records on our stereos, which were big clunky appliances with speakers the size of microwave ovens (not that many people had microwaves yet), and there was a whole feeling around the ritual of playing a record. First, to get a record, I had to save up my allowance, so it wasn’t an impulse purchase. Then I’d buy the album in its shiny shrink wrap, admiring the cover art. I’d peel off the plastic wrap and pull out the record in its paper sleeve. I’d read the liner notes, if any, pore over the list of songs and try to imagine what the ones I hadn’t heard yet sounded like.
A brand-new record was glossy, black, grooved. I set it on the turntable and moved the needle over to the outer edge and gently set the needle into the outer groove. Through the speakers would come a hiss (and if it was not a new record but an older one, there would often be a crackling staticky noise too, before the music started). And then the music would pour out. The songs played in the order selected by the band, the needle moving ever closer to the hole in the middle of the record. I’d turn it over and play the other side, the remaining half of the album.
There was a ceremony, a specialness, around playing a record. An album was more than just the music: it was the cover art, the liner notes and lyric sheets, the order of the songs. A record collection was tangible: it consisted of visual art, cardboard covers, paper sleeves, vinyl discs. Every part of it mattered, down to the band’s logo and the title of the album.
Access to music wasn’t as easy then as it is now. This story may strike anyone today the way I felt reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of getting an orange for Christmas and what a splendid, exotic gift she thought it was.
That’s okay. My whole life has been a challenge to accept change. I think of record albums, and the distance between “back then” and “now” seems vast. I play a digital file and hear a song I heard when I was fifteen, and the distance shrinks again; some part of me is still the same, still here.