THIS IS A CALLING — My vinyl collection includes all genres, from Frank Sinatra to Sleigh Bells, Lana Del Rey to Notorious B.I.G. and Led Zeppelin to Touché Amoré soundtrack. Photo by Alicia Greco.
HAMBURG — When I was a child, my grandparents taught me how to use a record player, and I danced to Sesame Street® records in their living room. The memory of holding the record and examining its packaging is faint, but not forgotten.
As I grew older, my fascination with the turntable remained, and my obsession for music only increased. I moved to Buffalo to attend school and became enveloped in the underground music scene.
I grew enraptured by the disc jockey and the culture of the realm. With technological advancements, a DJ has many platforms on which to perform. I learned how to connect a laptop to turntables through a Serato© interface box. Wave forms rolling along the laptop screen hypnotized me. I have spent nights watching friends flip through books that contained sleeves lined with CDs to play, through a Pioneer© CDJ-2000.
But there is truly nothing like a vinyl night. A crate, which used to be a literal box, is now a term used to signify the computer file filled with an evening’s songs from which to pick and choose.
To watch a DJ bob and groove while seeking the right record to mix in, pulling it out of its sleeve, looking at the track, changing his or her mind and putting it back, to seek another, is a living, breathing art form.
The first album I ever bought was the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” soundtrack, which I found at an estate sale in Syracuse. Sans turntable, I bought it preemptively.
When I finally obtained a player, purchasing vinyl became an addiction. I have spent hours at The Sound Garden, a record store in downtown Syracuse, exploring the vast collection of “wax.”
What I feel about records is the same as what I feel for literature. There is an aesthetic to the physicality of a book that does not quite translate, when it is digitally downloaded.
The senses become alive, when a person reads print. Fingertips can feel the age of the book. You can watch a breeze rustle the pages, and smell that aged or fresh book scent. A conversation can be sparked with a stranger at a coffee shop, because you can see a cover and realize this person is reading your favorite book.
I am not a purist, when it comes to my music-listening vessel. I can see the positives in all platforms of production. With the ever-increasing digital modems available to us, music can travel much faster around the globe. Worldwide music sound and culture can be accessed with just a few taps on a keyboard and the click of a mouse.
Vinyl provides a camaraderie that is unlike digital downloads and CDs. Visiting a record store with friends or family members is a human-to-human connection that is just not found in the URL world.
Many studies and discussions have been held, and research has been published, about the sound quality of vinyl versus digital. Founder of the Talking Heads, David Byrne, wrote a book entitled “How Music Works.” He interjected on this philosophy.
“We are often offered, and gladly accept, convenient mediums that are ‘good enough,’ rather than ones that are actually better,” he said, yet he added, “Maybe good enough is OK.”
He explained that music fans may overvalue that lo-fi sound and “the hiss, crackle and distortion” of a pre-digital recording.
“In my opinion, realness and soul lie in the music itself, not in the scratches and pops of old records,” he said. Music, in whatever form, is relative to the listener.
Pitchfork© writer Mark Richardson wrote, “There’s the act of putting a record on; there is the comforting surface noise; there is the fact that LPs are beautiful objects and CDs have always looked like plastic office supplies.”
Science aside, records are a work of art. The intricacies of the design, like Led Zeppelin’s “III,” make an album much more than just sound waves. And in purchasing vinyl and other physical forms of music (rather than illegal downloads) helps give royalties back to the musicians who deserve it, and can also help keep the local economy alive.
Record Store Day falls on the third Saturday of every April. It began in 2007 and currently has approximately 1,000 independently owned stores participating worldwide, on nearly every continent, according to the event’s website.
The purpose of this day, which falls on April 19 this year, is “to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.”
Stores engage customers with promotional deals and contests, and showcase special releases. Participating locations must follow certain guidelines. According to www.recordstoreday.com, the spot must have a “product line [that] consists of at least 50 percent music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70 percent located in the state of operation. In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores – not online retailers or corporate behemoths.”
I have discovered some very cool spots in Buffalo, so far. Last year, I stumbled upon Revolver Records Inc. at the Queen City Market craft fair. My expectations were exceeded, when I found nearly every single classic rock album I ever wanted, and then some.
Record Theatre, located near my Canisius stomping grounds, reminds me of my Syracuse go-to shop, but is much more spacious.
With Record Store Day encroaching, and since the sun came out and I had finally crawled out of my sullen seasonal funk, I decided to hit the streets of the Southtowns, in search of vinyl.
I found nothing.
I did try. The offerings at Savers Thrift Store at 3701 McKinley Parkway consisted of the typical “thrift store collection:” plenty of Jerry Vale, ambiguous classical albums to set moods and, of course, Barbra Streisand. The collection of vinyl may have been lacking, but the immaculate book collection – organized and abundant – was like nothing I have ever seen at a thrift store.
Although McKinley Mall’s Barnes & Noble© is a big box store and utterly defeats the purpose of independent’s promoting Record Store Day, I thought it was worth a shot. Vinyl seekers need to order ahead of time, from such a location.
A Record Theatre had previously been located at 6000 S. Park Ave. in Hamburg, but it closed in 2009.
“Well I guess I felt attached to Record Theatre, for both the selection and the fact that I knew many of the staff so well, from being in there so often,” a former customer said, in a forum post titled “R.I.P. Record Theatre (1993 – 2009).”
Record Store Day is a day to celebrate music and its culture; to gather with those close to you and explore new jams, or perhaps finally cross that one record off your wish list.
For me, Bright Eyes’ “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” is a must; I have unchecked boxes on my Zeppelin collection checklist, and include on my list the newest Tycho album, master-artist Sufjan Stevens’ “Seven Swans” and “Ghettos and Gardens” by Justin Martin, from the San Francisco-born, bass tech house sound of Dirtybird Records, just to name a few.
On April 19, celebrate Record Store Day. Embrace local. Love your fellow musician. Vinyl doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. If a turntable just isn’t your calling, pick up a new CD. There is a whole world of music out there to explore, and you never know; maybe that life-changing album awaits you.