OK, alright, down boy, etc. Iíve taken a little bit of heat
for my last column in which I referred to people my own age
as geezers, and who maybe are a little slow to embrace the
inevitable conversion of music from CDs to MP3s and other
Sorry, but we are geezers. Even AARP thinks so. Really, though,
it could be so much worse. You could be 20 and stupid, right?
The whole MP3 thing has changed how I listen to music, and
for the better. Iíve got something like 15 days worth of recordings
here on my laptop, and I stick my music player on shuffle
play, and voilŗ, Iíve got a radio station of my own
creation. (Iíve got the death of radio, actually, but thatís
a story for another day.) While the songs go by, I grab the
ones I really like and stick them in playlists, burn íem up
into CDs, and Iíve got custom, personalized listening.
Thereís only one drawback, one that goes back a ways, and
one that might make us geezers, in a weird sort of way, feel
a little better about ourselves.
While MP3s might sound almost as good as CDs (especially if
you crank the bit-rate up north of 192 bps), they donít sound
as good as vinyl records. Nothing, short of watching a performance
live (and maybe not even that), sounds as good as vinyl records.
Many of you probably know this already, and still have your
turntable set up, and your records lined up on some shelves
(or in crates) and alphabetized. Maybe youíve got an old tube
amplifier, and those big-ass speakers they donít make anymore.
You know what Iím talking about. Weirdo.
Simply, digital technology, based on zeroes and ones, mere
instructions, will never duplicate the smooth and continuous
flow of sound that comes from an analog reproduction on a
vinyl record. I remember hearing my first CD, probably in
1984 or so. It was crisp, clean, precise, and almost completely
devoid of life. I was a-scared of the damn thing. I recall
Neil Young saying at the time that listening to digital recordings
was like looking outside through a screen door, except the
screen would only allow one primary color at a time through
each little screen-hole. He got that right.
Yeah, things have gotten a little better since then, thereís
no doubt about that. But still today, when I buy a CD (or
an MP3) of one of the great recordings of my youth, it just
fails me every time. The warmth, the spaciousness, and the
humanity of the recordings that I remember just arenít there.
These things are suggested, but absent.
Of course, I suck it up and move on. I pruned my vinyl collection
a few years ago, reduced it from thousands to a hundred or
so, which I realized almost immediately was a mistake. But
it has made moving easier. My turntable collects dust in the
basement, as do my remaining albums. The stuff just takes
up too much room, and despite how beautiful I think my collection
of vintage albums may be, theyíre all pretty damn ratty. I
have to admit, in moments of weakness and reflection, that
the observation that they ďdonít goĒ in the living room (or
anywhere else in the house except the basement) is probably
dead-nuts right. And my hearing is probably shot so bad at
this point that it really doesnít matter anyway.
But at least Iíve got my memories.
And thatís not the only reason vinylís better. Thereís also
the graphics. Remember Jethro Tullís great pop-up package,
Stand Up? King Biscuit Boyís Gooduns in a burlap
bag? No? The 12-by-12 format lent itself to works of art,
something the dinky little books in the crappy plastic boxes
can never approximate. And those flimsy cardboard ďenviro-pacsĒ
arenít any better. Think anybodyís ever gonna publish a book
about great album cover art 1995-2005? It doesnít really matter
And in buying an MP3 off the Web, well, you donít get anything
except some tiny little invisible electric numbers delivered
to your computer. I suppose you can go the bandís Web site
and bask in the glow of their Web-designerís brilliance. How
touching and real.
And then thereís the whole tactile thing. Itís never been
described better than by Lester Bangs in Creem magazine,
real story is rushing home to hear the apocalyptic event,
falling through the front door and slashing open the plastic
sealing Ďfor your protection,í taking the black record outóah,
lookit them grooves, all jet black without a smudge yet, shiny
and new and so fucking pristine, then the color of the label,
does it glow with auras thatíll make some subtle comment on
the sounds coming out . . . ? And finally you get to put the
record on the turntable, it spins in limbo a perfect second,
followed by the moment of truth, needle into groove, and finally
Tell this to kids today and they wonít believe ya. They hardly
have time to think about it, anyway. Too busy pointing and
clicking and staring deeply into the screen.