Our world is changing. Time marches on. But as we progress, we lose some wonderful things along the way. I could probably write a year’s worth of posts on just this subject but for today, I’m concentrating on record stores. And, therefore, records.
Don and I played this old record album the other day. On our turntable, such as it is. And it brought back a host of memories for me. I’m a music lover. In the days when I started to earn some money, usually by baby sitting, I loved nothing more than to go to our local record store and spend hours flipping through the albums, searching for something to buy. Perhaps it was the Rock/Pop section, or Show Music, or Folk. One day it might be Spoken Word. As I got older, Classical was added to my favorite sections, as well as Jazz. Flipping through the albums, looking at the cover art, reading the notes on the back cover – all of it was part of the pleasure of record album shopping. Whole worlds opened up to me. I am absolutely sure that I was exposed to new artists and new genres in a way I would never have been if I had to poke around online or by looking at CDs. Let’s face it, CDs are tiny. The artwork is tiny. The notes on the back are hard to read. And while it’s handy to order a track via iTunes, it isn’t the same as the tactile experience of holding an album in your hands. It just isn’t.
Where can we buy music nowadays? Online or in the CD section of Barnes and Noble or Target (woefully lacking) or Best Buy? Barnes and Noble has the best overall selection and guess what? They are cutting back on the music department. Where are the stores devoted to recorded music?
I fondly remember all the wonderful independently owned record stores of my younger days. No one minded if you spent hours searching, examining, comparing. When I went on to college, a favorite shop was Liberty Music in Ann Arbor, Michigan – primarily devoted to classical music. It had hundreds and hundred of recordings, with a knowledgable staff who could guide you to a particular recording of, say, Appalachian Spring, or could compare recordings for you. AND, you could actually take an album into a listening room and sample it before you made the decision to buy. My dear friend Joe used to work there and I thought that might be the coolest job on earth.
Even when chains came along, I was okay with that. Tower Records? Heaven. Two floors full of music. In fact, I wanted to use a still from Hannah and Her Sisters for this post – the scene with Dianne Wiest and Woody Allen at Tower Records – but I couldn’t find one I liked. Dianne was doing exactly what I loved to do – spend time discovering new artists and new recordings, in person, with the actual product in my hands. I can’t even begin to tell you how many artists I discovered by doing this. How my musical horizon expanded. I owned hundreds and hundreds of albums.
An ‘album’ used to be a concept. The 12 or so tracks were carefully chosen to convey a mood or to reflect the title. When you bought the album, you honored the artist’s concept. Of course, we always had favorite tracks. We’d pick up the needle and move it to Track 3 and play a favorite over and over. Now, we pick and choose online and the artist loses money and the artistic vision that went into recording a CD is muddied. How would Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues fare nowadays? Or Tommy? Or Sargent Pepper? The concept would be lost in the millions of ‘tracks’ available on iTunes.
Yes, I have iTunes on my laptop and my iPhone. I love having a playlist handy – it’s the same thing I used to do with cassettes. I would record a mix of my favorite pieces on one cassette and play it in the car. However, most everything on my playlist has come from an entire CD I bought. I’ve picked my favorite tracks and added them to my playlist via my computer. A few are tracks I’ve purchased online. I know that iTunes is a handy innovation, but something is lost along the way.
Anyway, I’m digressing here. Back to records. I’m not convinced that CDs are superior in quality to vinyl records. Vinyl seems more alive to me. The quality is different, to be sure, but I think I prefer vinyl. I know I prefer and miss the larger record album, the liner notes, the record sleeve, the beautiful artwork on the cover.
And I miss record stores. I truly do. I would like nothing more than to hop in the car, drive to a record store and explore. Just like a good bookstore encourages browsing and discovering, record shops did the same. Much of my musical taste was developed and expanded in those shops. Now recordings are to be found in a couple of rows (if that) in a large big box store, with only the most obvious and narrow of choices available. Homogenized. Just like all of the chain stores that proliferate across the country. Boring. The same. Nothing remotely individual or exciting about them. No room for something ‘different’ or ‘other.’ No room for exploration.
I miss the experience of it all. In a place where you might have had an actual conversation with a knowledgeable salesperson or with the person standing next to you in the Jazz Section, who might direct you to a new artist, a different recording. Where you were in the midst of fellow music lovers. What was that person buying? Hmmm. Maybe I should check out that album. I miss it.