by Charlie Nickles
I have a relationship with vinyl, and it all goes back to my dad. Before I was even in kindergarten, I was raiding his record collection for sounds that connected with me. I remember putting Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever and Led Zeppelin’s IV on constant rotation, lying on the living room carpet absorbing every note that came out of the speakers. I would listen to albums all the way through, find the songs I connected with most, and make compilation tapes to listen to in the car with my parents. Looking back it was probably a weird thing for a kid to do, but I was never really normal.
Family would get a kick out out of me knowing all the words to songs and lip-synching to them at holiday gatherings. I distinctly remember one time I put on Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock n Roll” (the live Nine Tonight version) and strutted across the living room, making eye contact with the audience while I pretended to be a rock star. I wouldn’t catch on to the Risky Business aspect of this performance until years later.
My dad once told me a story about how he bought a record player at a yard sale simply because it had Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon on the platter. Years later, I always knew where to find that record (since it didn’t have its own sleeve), and I would put it on so I could drum out the entire album on carpet using pencils as drumsticks. There was also a chair at my grandma’s house that I could recline back in, sitting on the section where a back was supposed to rest, and I would take pencils to hammer out all the drum parts of AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap on the remaining area. No one ever told me I was weird or to cut it out. They just let me listen to the music and be in my own world.
As I got older, my relationship with vinyl changed. The music I was getting into seemed to only be available on cassette tapes and CD’s. At around fifteen, I became friends with a vinyl junkie who reintroduced me to the format. Listening to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand!” on his system was a revelation. Music just didn’t sound like that with the digital format. I couldn’t get sucked into it as completely as I wanted.
This led to many years of us going to yard sales and flea markets scouring all the vinyl we could. This was the mid-to-late 90’s, so people were eager to get rid of their outdated music. People would charge as little as ten cents a record, a price that made us courageous enough to try out anything with an interesting cover, which led me to learning about artists that still resonate with me today, artists like Iggy Pop, early ZZ Top, and 1910 Fruitgum Co.
My emotional relationship with vinyl was cemented when my dad died in 2001. After the funeral, my brother and I went back to our mom’s house and started drinking whiskey. He saw a record player sitting in my room and asked if dad’s old records were still around. I pulled them out and we began to take turns putting on albums that made us think of him. For my brother, this started out with Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell and escalated to a cathartic cry from him listening to Jim Croce’s “Time In a Bottle.” For me, it was Neil Young’s “Old Man” from Harvest that sent me into emotional overload.
I have no idea where my dad’s vinyl is now. A relationship gone sour with a girl resulted in her stealing them from me and never giving them back. I sometimes think about all the music in that stack I never got around to listening to. Some albums were too obscure for me to ever remember, but I’d recognize the covers if I saw them again.
I could have disowned the medium then, but instead I started rebuilding my collection, mixing the music I grew up on with my own growing tastes. I found a German import of Pink Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” that will go toe-to-toe with any CD release of the album. I found art etched into the vinyl from current bands I liked such as Lightning Bolt and Of Montreal. Vinyl was alive and well and offering experiences, to the ear as well as the eye, that CD’s or MP3’s could not replicate.
You can now get Taylor Swift etched vinyl, red Lana Del Rey records, and orange Ed Sheeran albums. The underground love of vinyl has come into the mainstream, with millennials taking the bull by the horns. Elitists will no doubt complain about Urban Outfitters selling vinyl or turntables, but is the snobbery justified? If you sincerely enjoy the medium and the experience, this is a beautiful thing. You don’t have to have to love the Sam Smith album to participate in this culture. There’s more variety available now than any other time I’ve witnessed as a consumer. I’m personally waiting on a “laundry colored” Matmos record to land on my doorstep any day now. Who knows exactly what that means, but I will listen to it with the same excitement I had as a kid raiding my father’s sound stash.
Charlie Nickles has held jobs painting car emblems, inspecting cereal, and making vegetable trays. He currently lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he writes, works, and beatboxes “Billie Jean” to unappreciative cats.