Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine*: Part One

Merry Christmas to me.

So, a year or so ago I did something I’d been meaning –and promising– to do for ages: I acquired a turntable.

I knew it was inevitable. I still had that blue milk crate in my old man’s basement. I still had about one quarter of the albums I used to own; the ones I had not given away, lost or sold for (literal) pennies on the dollar back when I, like everyone else under the age of 30, was convinced that albums were irrelevant and traded them in, cheap, to acquire more compact discs. The story has a happy ending, sort of: I still have all the CDs I bought, going back to 1986 (ask anyone who has been to my place), and I tended to keep the LPs that meant the most to me, either for sentimental or aesthetic reasons. As a result I typically sold albums of more recent vintage, invariably by more forgettable acts. Since LPs did not have nearly the street cred, or value they would gradually accrue after a couple of decades, it was the “hit” albums that had a better chance of being sold at used record stores circa 1988.

Sidenote: it’s important for younger people to know, if impossible for them to understand, how different the world used to be. By the time the mid-’80s rolled around, some of us embraced digital technology like it was the Holy Grail. The act of purchasing an album meant immediately making a recording of it on a thing called a cassette (ask your parents): the reason for this was that from the first time you played a new album it would never sound that good again. Things like dust, time and repeated listens invariably caused skips and old-fashioned wear and tear. So in essence, you made a “pristine” copy on a demonstrably lower-fidelity solution (cassettes, which gave birth to thing called mixed tapes, of which more, HERE), in order to preserve that unsullied sound. Thus, when compact discs arrived, the notion of hearing it for the first time, every time was about as inconceivable, and magical as time travel (much more on that phenomenon and all it entailed,¬†HERE). Listening to a compact disc was, for old-timers, what seeing Blu-ray was like for today’s lucky punks, only ten-fold (hundred-fold? million-fold?); it was like listening to the voice of God. And, if like me, the musicians you listened to were worshipped like gods, it all made a sick, wonderful sort of sense.

Of course, in recent times, turntables have assumed a new life, in part inevitable hipster bandwagon jumping, understandable nostalgia and the ceaselessly cyclical imperatives of trends and fashion. As such, people have increasingly asked me: Do you rock old school vinyl? I had to answer, no, but not for lack of trying. Not anymore. And in the meantime, I’ve had the opportunity to raid a good friend’s attic, I’ve had a colleague with a thing for estate sales scoping out the stacks, and above all, the aforementioned milk crate. With the turntable fully functional, and being home for the holiday, I made the sentimental journey down those wooden steps and there it sat,¬†resilient yet filthy after about a quarter-century of neglect. I poked through, holding my nose as the dust flew in every direction. I also held my breath, figuratively: I had little recollection of what I’d saved and what I’d consigned, unwittingly, in the full flowering of arrogant youth, to the dustbin of history. Almost miraculously, so many of the wonderful memories were staring back up at me, wise eyes that had been abandoned for too long, ready to forgive, forget and air it out on the wheels of steel. There they were, the ones I’d bought, the ones I’d received as gifts, the ones my best friend’s father, a rehabilitated hippie, gave me in the early ’80s, and the handful my old man (not an aficionado, but not without a little game, of which more HERE) held over from the great old days.

It was information and memory load, in a good way. To think that my 7th grade nephew helped me lug the heavy crate to my car was, if not full circle, at least semi-full and not without its own unforced poetry.

What follows is a celebration, in two parts, of some of the finds that have provided the most delight and joy. To be certain, all of these are available in my digital library, and some receive repeated airplay. But the tactile sensation of seeing them, touching them, and then listening to them…let’s put it this way: when’s the last time you heard a needle easing down onto an LP? That impossible-to-replicate crackle, and then the warmth of that sound? For me it had been at least since high school and that is entirely too long. Hosting good friends for cocktails the other night I was struck by one thing above all else: how often I had to keep getting up to put a new record on. In a world of discs, iPods and shuffling playlists, it is arresting to recall that, at most, albums typically lasted 20 minutes per side. During the course of a lubricated evening, that is a lot of 20 minute intervals (and a lot less depending on how old the album in question is). That will inexorably lead to sobering thoughts: how old we are, how young we were, how much slower everything seemed, and mostly the irretrievable reality that we used to spend a great deal of time with analog sounds and hard-cover books because there were no other alternatives. It’s, as always, better to have more options and enjoy the best of all worlds. But it’s nice to take that long, strange trip down the yellow-brick road and remember all the things you realize, as you listen, you never really forgot.

*Incidentally, this milk crate was a gold mine of sorts, but the title comes from a great song full of inscrutable (if evocative) images and lines, by one of my all-time favorite bands. (Much more on them, HERE.) That line provided the title for a double LP collection that figured prominently in young Murph’s musical evolution. That’s it in the front row, peaking out at my old man’s original pressing of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Respect!

So, in chronological order, let’s take a look at ten original album covers, and feature a personal favorite from each album.

(Rescued/redeemed from a box in an attic. To have some original Beatles vinyl is like finding dinosaur bones. Sound quality: tolerable!) “Think For Yourself”:

(From my boy’s old man, handed over like an heirloom from another family; you can still smeel the skunk weed in the grooves. Figuratively.) “White Room”:

(This is actually a pretty medicore effort from Jim’s “Fat Elvis” period, but appreciate the misleading original cover, and the fact that it does not exist with this cover, even on CD.) “Universal Mind”:

(From the Jack R. Murphy archives; he was appreciating Creedence when The Big Lebowski was still a pup.) “Ramble Tamble”:

(Another one from my 5th grade best friend’s father, an original with the actual zipper on the cover. Believe that shit.) “Moonlight Mile”:

To be continued…

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