Vinyl is not a fad. As much as corporations like Best Buy and Hot Topic would love to stand on the ashes of independent record stores and capitalize on vinyl’s apparent trendiness, the reassuring truth remains that black wax is not just what’s “in.” Over half a century of existence solidifies the LP’s purpose as beyond whimsical. That amount of time sends words like “cool” and “hip” sliding into the drains to describe things like skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses. So take heart. Don’t be convinced that records are just 12×12 squares to throw in the corner and point to when the conversation dulls. Vinyl is much more than that.
Vinyl is a perpetual treasure hunt. Our love of looting isn’t contained to gathering stars in Mario or searching treasure chests in Skyrim. It’s thumbing through stacks and stacks and stacks and — sweet Lord — they have this one. You scan your periphery to see if anyone has noticed and might ambush you on the way to the cashier, because, God knows, this is the holy grail of records. And then a new holy grail climbs atop the pedestal. It could be waiting up there for months, or years even. Because vinyl can’t be downloaded or torrented. It’s acquired by searching shops, attics, flea markets, boxes and basements. Not by searching Google.
Vinyl is a commitment. A commitment to part ways with 15 to 30 dollars of that legal tender for which we spend the majority of our day slaving away. There’s not much in the way of music that our generation feels obligated to pay for these days. A subconscious notion exists that our abundant concert ticket purchases, festival attendances and free advertisement on our t-shirts allows us to supplement ourselves with free music. We will buy records though. But vinyl can be like Russian roulette. Sometimes we pull the trigger before we even know if we’ll like the album. Usually we do. Or sometimes our brains get splattered all over the turntable as Make Believe plays from the speakers…
Vinyl is a commitment. A commitment to the idea that a band has siphoned every last drop of their creative energy and watched it solidify into an album. An album. A collection of songs. Not a playlist. The idea is almost lost on us today as we press shuffle on our ipods and drop 99 cents for the only song we actually wanted to hear. Sit down for a few minutes. Follow one single instrument. Interpret the lyrics your own way. Have an actual conversation with someone about the music instead of filling the silent voids with Netflix and Xbox. There’s a reason albums similar to Dark Side of the Moon don’t exist these days. We don’t have the patience for them anymore.
Vinyl is an opportunity for education and enlightenment. The enlightenment is not gained just through purchase or acquisition — only the opportunity. Vinyl is a library in your home. And, as with any library, there’s nothing against recreational use and exploration. Records can be used to stumble and tumble down analog hills into valleys of genres we never knew existed. It can send us back in time and allow us to — gasp — relate to our parents. Or it can send you to the outskirts where the line between music and noise is blurry. And guess what? You get to decide what side of the line to stand on.
There are so many little things that vinyl is. Pulling lent from the needle. Alphabetizing your stack and, as time passes, your shelves. It’s cringing when your friend tosses Zeppelin IV carelessly to the side and drops the needle like an anvil on the next selection. It’s anticipating that spot in the song where you know the record skips. But there’s one thing exceedingly more important than the rest, and it may be the concept we are least aware of.
Vinyl is not a battle between analog and digital. It is a battle between physical and digital. And it’s a battle that has been waged on all aspects of our lives as we cloak ourselves in today’s modern technology. Everything physical is slowly withering and morphing into combinations of ones and zeros. The pages of books. The ones that used to get stuck together when we tried to flip them. Now we flip them with a swipe of our finger. Phone calls where two human voices bounced between satellites have become text. Print media is a novelty. Our money exists only as arbitrary numbers in some account that has no actual location. The trend is evident, and music has not been spared. Compact discs have been deemed dead technology -drowned by MP3 files. Music today is double-clicks on HD screens. No continuity. No concept.
But vinyl is not only durable physically, but metaphorically as well. And I believe we love it for all the reasons stated above; but above all else, we love it because it is tangible. We can hold it. We can watch it spin on the turntable and be hypnotized by it. We can observe the album art, feel the weight of the wax and know that it’s real. It’s a miniscule piece of the collective musical archive in this world, but still a piece. It’s one thing that hasn’t been consumed by technology and the digital age in which we so obliviously thrive. Vinyl gives an artist something real in return for the very real time they have committed to their craft- which must be much more rewarding than being granted 12 digital files on iTunes. Vinyl is dusty. Scratched. F*cking old. But it’s something that can be held in our hands and only works properly when spinning at 33 revolutions per minute. And that’s much more than a fad.