Essays and rock & roll. Looking and listening. Nostalgia versus skepticism.
Friday, February 23, 2018
When I listen to music via iTunes or Spotify, the songs sound fantastic—I've EQ'd them (bass boost, thank you very much), Sound Checked them, and I play them loud through a good stereo. But when I listen a record, there's an accompanying dimension in the room that doesn't come with mp3s or streaming. recognize more and more that listening to vinyl involves more than listening to music. When I play vinyl, even new records, I play my past. There's the tactile issue, for sure, the relative weight of stiff album covers and papery 45 sleeves, and the gestural pleasures of dropping and lifting the stylus, of flipping the record. Vinyl sounds good to me not only because of the warmth of analog waves versus digital ones and zeroes, but because of a deep pleasure principle that kicks in which originates in my adolescence, when I played records all of the time, when the burst of sound and kicks and intensity issued only from vinyl, mint and fucked-up, and turntables, Pioneer grand or Radio Shack shitty. The gestures that I make today listening to an album or a 45 repeat the gestures I made when I was five, six, fourteen, twenty-one. Listening as muscle memory. A future fifty-year old who was raised only on mp3s and streaming will have similarly fond associations with those media, will warmly recall pressing buttons or scrolling for the first time, the thrill of, say, new, wider bandwidth dovetailing with the agonies of puberty, the portability of music an analogue to an ever-shrinking world, 20,000+ songs in her pocket a heady thrill and a tiresome burden of excess. Music on vinyl will always sound special to me because my music was born there. I guess I'm talking about the ways the past informs our present in every moment. Nostalgia, after all, means a desire to return home, and the special, irreplaceable pleasures there, even if that home is defined by its absence.