Monday, April 27, 2009

Record Collecting Manifesto: Ritual Devotion

There’s been much ballyhoo these days regarding vinyl LPs. In fact, vinyl records have gotten to be downright trendy, as evidenced by an entire display of record-related products at the local Urban Outfitters. My guess is the resurgent interest in vinyl will be short-lived. Most recent band wagoners will discover the pain-in-the-assness of listening to LPs and, worse yet, 45s: The inconvenience of getting up after 20 minutes to flip the record (or 3 minutes for a 45), not being able to skip a song or program songs with the click of a button. Then there is the tricky labor of mounting and aligning the cartridge on the tonearm, adjusting the tonearm tracking force and azimuth, and keeping all the records and equipment clean. Do any of this incorrectly and you risk permanently ruining your record collection. I just don’t think most people will have the patience and commitment to stick with vinyl, because that’s what it requires of the vinyl aficionado.

It also takes commitment to an album to listen to it straight through, as the artist intended, without skipping songs. Who has that kind of patience in this age of fast-forwarding and channel-surfing? Listening to LPs requires slowing things down and paying attention. In the best moments, it takes on the ritual of a Japanese tea ceremony: Hunching over the record cleaning machine applying cleaning fluid, brushing the fluid across the record surface, and vacuuming it dry (“wax on, wax off” in the words of Mr. Miyagi); taking the newly cleaned record and placing it on the record platter, making sure to hold the record by the edge; carefully dropping the needle in the lead-in groove; and then sitting reverently in front of the speakers to soak in the warm analog sound. That takes devotion. And the experience can be, if not transcendent, spiritually resplendent.
(Note: In the photo above, Elvis is not holding the record correctly.)

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