“I was born lucky; my parents were musical. They met at a high school choir exchange in 1947, when 78s still roamed the earth.”
An Inheritance | “There was plenty of vinyl around our house. Their collection was a mix of classical and choral music, Broadway cast recordings, comedy records (The Buttoned Down Mind of Bob Newhart!), big band jazz, and a cappella close-harmony groups like The Hi-Lo’s.
They also had a couple of Time/Life multi-LP sets of The Greatest Moments In Radio that caught fire with my fascination. Hearing the apocalyptic panic in the sound of the reporter’s voice as the Hindenburg comes crashing down. Or the WWII morse-code horror coming out of Corregidor as the Japanese over-run the island and capture the American GI’s. Sound affects, for sure – and not just musical sounds. Records were the delivery system from the outset.
Brothers and Sisters | The music in my parents’ library didn’t do much for me and so my older siblings filled a need. My brothers and my sister all had record collections—7-inch 45s, 12-inch 33s—and I remember hours spent on the floor of my bedroom in front of a maroon flip-top record player, spinning and spinning: Lovin’ Spoonful; Beach Boys; “The Ballad of the Green Berets;” “19th Nervous Breakdown.” I can still picture the four headshots from The White Album tacked to the side of a bookcase in my sister’s room.
My brothers’ collections were epic, vast. Brother Jon had Grateful Dead, Stones, Pink Floyd, Yes, Allmans; Brother Mark had Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Elton John, George Carlin. Jon’s 1973 birthday gift to me of Wings’ Band on the Run made it the first LP I owned that was “in the moment.” The influence of my brothers’ LP collections spanned years. I would sneak into Brother Mark’s attic bedroom when he was out, delving into his late 70’s stash: The Rubinoos; Talking Heads; Tom Petty’s “I Need To Know” spun over and over at top volume. A fabulous education.
Early Investments | I wish I could claim it was something cool like Physical Graffiti or Blood on the Tracks, but in 1975 I was 8 years old and in love with the AM dial, so the first LP I bought with my own cash was Goofy Greats—a TV-advertised K-Tel comp of novelty hits and bubblegum nuggets. In those early years of my habit, I acquired stuff from all the different aisles in the record store: comedy and blooper records; movie soundtracks (Jaws and Star Wars, absolutely); Boston, E.L.O., and lots and lots of KISS.
The years from ‘76 to ‘78 are a loud smear of greasepaint, flaming Les Pauls, platform boots and glitter. Friends from the neighborhood and I made cardboard Gibson guitars on string straps, “performing” bedroom concerts of Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun. I had a real KISS problem—I don’t think you could tell what color my walls were for all the posters. My highest aspiration for a not-insignificant period of time was to be Paul Stanley. How things were to change, and then change again…
Rash Decisions | 1979. Eighth grade: the pre-teen tumult that is the end of middle school. Things are about to get “serious” and so there I am, in my parents’ backyard, torching my precious collection of KISS LP’s in a metal garbage can. I chose to leave KISS even before Peter Criss did… What the fuck had happened? KISS and my paths diverged as FM radio widened my sonic horizons. My ears now wandered, hungry and aimless, across many different varieties of The Rock: lots of Who; The Cars; The Wall; Talking Heads; Rush; Graham Parker & The Rumour; Bruce Springsteen; The Police. Scattered. Shattered.
And ‘79 birthed an LP – a double! – that completely consumed and expanded me: London Calling. It was so ambitious, so passionate, so varied. It mattered and it made me want to dance! The Clash moved my ears and mind forward into high school. The Jam, XTC, R.E.M. and many others awaited me there…
I Am The DJ | I DJ’d a college radio show between 1984 and 1988. At the start, CD technology had been “announced,” but I had never seen nor heard one. By the end of my tenure on the airwaves, CDs had started outselling vinyl and the radio station had a single CD player alongside the two turntables. I joined the ranks of those willing to part with their LP collections to fund an escalating CD habit.
But I could not part with all of it! I held on to certain LP’s – records I was sure would never find their way into the digital realm. Some of these “keepers” were sacred slabs of wax by local bands and friends (Holiday Clocks! Miracle Legion!) and others were albums I was sure would never make it into the digital future but somehow eventually did (True West!). My vinyl racks were probably at their most slim c.1989 but, interestingly, the collection has grown again in the ensuing 20+ years. (And for those keeping score, I did end up re-purchasing used vinyl copies of all those KISS LP’s I had thrown upon the pyre in eighth grade. These trusted, scratchy friends remain with me, uncharred, today…)
Long Live The King! | I started my first “serious” band, The Vestrymen, in 1986. Our first release came out in 1990 on the indie label Absolute A-Go-Go. I remember being pissed that the label was putting it out vinyl and cassette but not on CD; they argued that most college radio stations still wanted vinyl. I was not (and am not) convinced. But today I am really happy to have that first Vestrymen LP, with its enveloping analog warmth, its surface noise and its etched inner-groove scrawls: “Rainbow Hand” on side one, “Mr. Lee’s Laundry” on side two. No CD has those! It’s a crucial detail I am always sure to share with friends, kids, whomever I show the record to…
My Technics SL-Q350 – purchased in 1984 and never serviced – no longer holds sway in my living room. But it’s fully operational and well-loved, right here in my attic studio. It holds a very special place in my aural heart and continues to twirl my vinyl collection. And thank God for that, since how else could I listen to Miracle Legion’s stellar debut, The Backyard EP? It still cannot be found in zeroes and ones, but it can be found in deep, dark, mysterious grooves.”