The Turntable – Part 1

I am a baby boomer. I grew up in tough times. The 60s were unlike any decade known to man. The Vietnam War, riots, assassinations, hippies, protests, Woodstock, The Beatles, Dylan, drugs, love-ins, and so much more. As turbulent as these times were, one thing was for sure… a lot of great music came out of this era. Fantastic music.

Music became my life at a young age partly because so many other things were bad. I felt lost in high school. I matured much later than most of my classmates (physically and mentally). I still looked like a little kid while the guys were growing facial hair and the girls were growing breasts. Even though I had a few close friends, I didn’t really date much nor did I have any true direction in life. A lot of music and a little bit of weed got me through.

I have vivid memories of sitting on my bed, listening to The White Album on vinyl, staring at and playing with the cover as well as all of the contents. The cracks, pops and hisses were just right. I had a little Zenith “all in one” turntable and speaker system that I had received as a gift for my Bar Mitzvah. It was cheap but I loved it.

When I got my drivers license I would take off on road trips to every record store I could possibly get to. The semi annual EJ Korvettes “all label sale” was the time I seriously added to my collection. I remember buying up so many albums during these sales – I think they were three or four bucks each! “For The Record” at The Reisterstown Road Plaza, Luskins on the big hill, The Music Machine in Pikesville, Record and Tape Traders, Chicks Legendary Records in Mt. Washington… these were my favorite record shops back in my high school days.

That Bar Mitzvah Zenith stereo actually took me through college. At least the first two years when I went to a small school (Randolph-Macon) in Ashland, Virginia. I left R-MC on bad terms after getting caught hitting a full professor with a water balloon thrown from the second floor of Moreland Hall. So I came back home to Maryland and entered UMBC. When I finally saved a little money from being home, I upgraded to a Technics turntable, a Harmon Kardon receiver and Avid speakers. Life was still not great for me but the music sounded better!

I spent decades buying albums. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Sparks, Elvis Costello, The Clash, Stevie Wonder, The Doobie Brothers, Elton John, The Who. I probably had at least four copies of The Beatles White Album. It was my life. It would not have been unusual for me to stare at a single album cover, inside and out, for hours and hours. That showed one of two things: that I had nothing else going on in my life or that I was stoned! Maybe a combination.

Then of course came cassettes, eight track tape and reel to reel. I am not going to talk much about them because a decade or so later this incredible new thing called the CD came out. Digital format was here. Radio stations bragged when they played a song on CD. I was intrigued. We were told that the CD would take over vinyl. CDs would take over the world. I spent my time at The Record Theatre, a huge warehouse type store that opened on Liberty Road just below the Beltway. They sold all the CDs you’d ever want. Yes, it was like a gigantic theatre filled with music! I made weekly trips there as I was replacing most of my favorite albums to CD. They sounded so “perfect.” Almost too perfect. And for a couple of decades that’s what we all listened to.

Enter mp3s and the iPod. I loved it. Thousands of songs at my fingertips. I could take this thing anywhere I went and was able to listen to music on the go. If someone back in college told me this would be possible one day, to have an entire record collection in a pocket device, I would have driven them right to the mental hospital.

Things got even better once music streaming started. Apple Music and Spotify entered my life. I no longer needed to “own” any physical albums or CDs. Everything was online for about ten bucks a month. Attention spans became short when millions of songs were at my fingertips. I mean I could basically listen to ANY song on demand, whenever I wanted to from a little device called an iPhone that I carried everywhere, including the bathroom.

But over the years, even with this great quality and millions of songs available to me, I felt as if something was missing.

My last turntable bit the dust somewhere around the year 2000. I donated it to some lucky individual. Close to twenty years later I started wondering what it would be like to play my vinyl again. I missed the few Bob Dylan albums I had on vinyl. And my Beatles. And Tull. I have most of them stored in a dusty back room of my office back in Maryland. As you know, I am in Utah now.

But two weeks ago something weird happened. I was driving down 900 S in Salt Lake City on my way to The Vertical Diner for some brunch. I passed a place called Randy’s Records. Big sign out front saying “Vinyl Records Since 1976.” I have passed this place a million times. But this time something just drew me in.

Randy’s Records is a fairly small store chock full of vinyl LPs and hipsters. Guys with flannel shirts and beards who likely only know about LP record albums from their parents and grandparents. Kids who now think vinyl is different and cool. I started looking around at all of the records. Many were new and a few were used. I started browsing the shelves. I felt the albums. The smell of the vinyl and the record jackets brought back memories of my past. When I saw The Beatles, Led Zepplin, Wings, Jethro Tull albums, I knew I was onto something. Ziggy Stardust was staring back at me begging me to touch him. John Lennon was asking me to give peace a chance. I actually started reading the cover of Thick as a Brick just as if it was the newspaper from 1972.

Then I saw a sign that said that they sell turntables. Right there I was done. I placed my Southwest Visa card on the counter and asked the guy to please bring me out the Bluetooth Audio-technica turntable for $139. Oh, and please add in the double rock opera album Tommy by The Who for $35. Ziggy Stardust can wait until next time.

I ate a fast brunch. Afterwards I high tailed it back home, ripped the turntable out of the box and had it all set up without reading any directions. I put Tommy on the turntable and something happened. The music came alive. I could not stop staring at the large disc going round and round as the sound was emanating from my Bluetooth powered speakers in the kitchen.

“Tommy Can You Hear Me?”

A single tear dripped down from my left eye.

“Tommy Can You Hear Me?”

I was literally re-living my youth. As good or as bad as it was. -DMM