When I was a kid we had no less than three turntables in my home until Sony invented the Walkman. At that point my sister and I dumped our vinyl for something more portable and never looked back. I was slow to move into the MP3 era because I was a faux snob about the audio quality, but I have now fully embraced streaming music. It has opened musical doors for me by allowing me to listen to an endless supply of sounds from all the ages and all the lands. I see no point in ever buying another full disc or album of music when my streaming subscription allows me to cherry pick the best songs from any artist’s catalog. I am the king of diverse playlists!
My wife knows me very well. This past Christmas she coaxed her mom to gift me a new turntable. It’s an entry-level affair: a portable suitcase unit. We connected it to our existing PC speakers and dusted off the few vinyl albums that we’ve inherited over time. It very much sounds like what I remember having as a kid. The nostalgia that it brought was very real. Hisses, pops, skips, and a less than crystal clear sound are its hallmarks. The thing is hugely impractical, too. On Christmas Day and the next few days I thought it was a cute gift but that it would rarely get used, except maybe as a Bluetooth receiver for my streaming source. I mean really, who would confine themselves to a purposely inferior product that requires attention and fuss? As I said, my wife knows me very well. She knew before I did that I’m the kind that wants to fuss with vinyl records again. I haven’t left the thing alone. I’ve been spending time researching what to buy, where to buy it, quality grades, and all of that stuff. The gift I received wasn’t meant to be my final turntable, but more like my first turntable in the new century. It’s already known that I’ll upgrade the whole kit to a proper hi-fi rig as soon as I’m able.
Over the course of January I have visited two record shops in Hollywood and two vinyl flea market sales, plus I’ve rummaged at the local Goodwill. Just yesterday I swapped my Marvel Cinematic Universe limited edition sets for store credit at Amoeba Music and then I used the credit for more vinyl. The day before I was in a mom and pop record shop in the Santa Clarita Valley – Boho Vinyl, who I very much recommend. I have already sunk hours and a few hundred dollars into this thing. In fact, I’m becoming one of those old guys at the music shop that talks about lesser knowns that are really well known (like Warren Zevon and Fela Kuti) and lesser knowns that are really lesser known (like Bob Dorough and Jim Kweskin). I have muttered “kids these days” as I’ve heard teens use the wrong lingo for vinyl.
My wife teases me that I’m a hipster. The good news for me, at least from a certain perspective, is that I’m fat and fat guys have a special immunity from being hipsters. The label doesn’t stick. We can’t wear any of the skinny clothes and the hair styles don’t make sense on us. I can wear a beard, but a highly groomed beard just doesn’t look hip on a fat face. Hawaiian shirts, suspenders, and hats are the only hip articles that a fat guy can wear but they’re historically ours and not a product of these times. There are some heavy hipsters, but they stop at love handles. Without the appearance I cannot wear the label; I can have all the mannerisms of a hipster and yet I defy its branding. I can carry jazz albums under my arm and call people “cats” and take it all as far as I’d like and society still grants me immunity. So this turntable thing, I’m going to lean into it. I’m going to be the guy with the hi-fi set-up and all of the brushes and washes and anti-static sleeves to keep my growing music collection sounding cherry, and I’m going to do it all in the most unhip of ways.