Let’s get physical

Why media you can hold in your hand still matters

Music to touch at Chico’s Spin Again Records.

Music to touch at Chico’s Spin Again Records.

Photo by jason cassidy

The first record I ever got was a single with “Radioactive” and “See You In Your Dreams” off Gene Simmons’ 1978 solo album. I still own it, although the music is almost impossible to hear through the storm of crackles, pops and hissing.

I have great memories of that old 45. Early on, my parents kept it with their records, so if I wanted to give it a listen, I had to have them put it on … then ask them to flip it. It felt like a special occasion every damn time! To me, anyway. Sometimes I’d invite my neighbor over, we’d put our ears up to the speakers of my parents’ coffin-like, wood-cabinet record/8-track player and just grin until the song was over. Then we’d talk about what we heard!

The way I’ve consumed music over the past 40 years can be distilled down to that experience. Even in the 1990s—when I had all but abandoned vinyl for the convenience and “clarity” of compact discs—I would still listen to the entire album and pore over the lyrics and liner notes. In 2017—even with countless streaming services and millions of albums and songs just a click away—my main methods of listening are still vinyl in my living room and CDs in my car. I also have thousands of mp3s on my computer and phone, but those are for travel/review purposes.

Sure, I grew up with records, cassettes and CDs, but the steady increase in vinyl sales over the past decade illustrates that it’s much more than us old farts buying up physical media. I’m not going to pretend to know what the draw is for those who grew up downloading mp3s. Maybe it’s hip? Maybe they realize artists don’t make albums for people just to buzz through one or two songs and move on? Or, perhaps, there truly is something to slowing down and experiencing a record wholly, by listening and touching and looking at the art. Yeah, there’s something to that.

Of course, listening is only part of the experience. Flipping through records (or even CDs) is therapeutic for me—which is why my record collection has increased substantially since the election. There’s also the thrill of finding a record that’s been on your want-list for months, or years. At a time when instant gratification rules our lives, it’s nice to long for something, eh?

Records are these amazing artifacts and time capsules. I have records with love notes written right on the front covers. I’ve discovered autographs on inner-sleeves, ticket stubs tucked inside. I bought a Budgie record in Portland and a Scorpions record 167 miles south in Coos Bay, both with a short descriptive review scrawled on their inner-sleeves—written by the same person. I own records that are close to 70 years old—who knows where they’ve been, before coming into my possession?

Physical media makes you appreciate music and art more. I used to save up for an album, buy it, then listen to only that one album for weeks and months at a time. When’s the last time you did that?

I realize physical media isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. It’s cumbersome. It takes up space. It can get spendy. But it’s also worth it.

I’m not naïve enough to think my 2-year-old son won’t follow whichever technology is ruling the day, but I also can’t see him turning down the thousands of killer LPs and CDs he has at his disposal. I guess I’ll find out. One thing I know for certain: A house filled with records and books is a happy place.