For his birthday, my husband wanted a turntable. He’s been digitizing all of our CDs so we can listen to them easily from our living room stereo, but while it’s convenient once it is all digitized and we can control the music from our phones, it is a soulless process. He and I both feel the lack of anything physical to work with when we play music — nothing to touch, hold, or place in a player; no artwork to enjoy while we listen. No object we feel we own.
On his birthday last week, the kids and I presented him with a record player from U-turn Audio. Though I knew it might be risky, we really really wanted to not get the black one. So we bought the white one instead. It has made him ridiculously happy.
This turntable has been almost as exciting in our household as when we brought the kittens home. Our kids are really into it. The problem is, we spent the whole birthday budget on the turntable, and we didn’t have any money left to buy any records.
I know, lame.
But the lack of music to play actually intensified the experience for Brian. The next day, he went to a record store and flipped through vinyl albums. He was moved by the act of being in a brick and mortar store, touching the albums, and looking at the large format artwork that was once an important part of the listening experience.
On Friday, he brought home two records: Miles Davis Kind of Blue and a favorite from his childhood, one that as soon as he saw the album cover washed him with nostalgia: STYX Paradise Theater. He came home during his lunch break, placed Kind of Blue on the platter, started it spinning, and set the needle in the smooth outer ring of the disk. The sound from the record was rich and warm. He sat on the couch, put his feet on the living room table, and sipped coffee while he read the album cover and listened.
When the kids came home, they wanted to know all about the music he bought. They wanted to look at the records. They had a dozen questions. “How does it work? How does the music come out?” My husband showed how to put a record on, how to place the needle. They watched it spin and wanted to know about the grooves — how they’re made, how the needle in the groove makes music. They had never asked questions before about the mechanics of music-listening or the physics of sound. This object — a vinyl jazz record — sparked a curiosity that had previously not existed.
We’ve already listened to our two records multiple times. The kids want to listen to more, and so do we. “Maybe we could listen to the clock,” our son said.
This morning over coffee, my husband and I reminisced about how significant music was in our childhood lives. We remember our first albums, we remember the cover art, we remember a scarcity about collecting music. Music wasn’t easily accessible then — you had to save up your allowance to buy a record or a tape or a CD. Now our kids can just hook up to Spotify on their tablets, pull up songs on the Internet, or we can share digital music from our own collection.
This turntable is special to them in the way that music was special to us when we were their age. We want them to have the experience of their own first album, like we had when we were young — maybe the Empire Strikes Back score for our son and Rubber Soul for our daughter, who has learned at least a half dozen Beatles songs on her guitar.
For now we’ll just keep playing these two records, enjoy them with our feet up on the table and a drink in our hand, and start saving our allowances again.