September 4, 2014
It started at an early age. We didn’t have a television in my house when I was growing up, so there was always a radio on, either tuned to classical music or some bad AM station. I’m looking at you, True Don Blue. I was exposed to everything from Mahler to Miles to Manilow, and eventually I was hooked.
I could fund a college education on the money I’ve spent in my lifetime feeding my addiction. It started with a Walkman and cassette tapes. The Cars’ debut album was my first taste. Then CDs. Pretty soon that wasn’t enough, so I started getting heavily into live music, from stadium concerts to hole-in-the-wall rock clubs. Seems every penny I made for a while went to Ticketmaster or The 400 Bar. Then I got mixed up with the digital crowd — first Napster, then iTunes, now Spotify. In between I experimented with who knows how many car stereos, headphones, speakers and other must-have gadgets. I even bought a guitar.
I wish I could say this story has a happy ending. After a period when I had reasonable control over this addiction, I’ve found a new drug of choice. Vinyl. I blame my father-in-law, who recently gifted me his vinyl collection. This, people, is not some skunky collection. This is Walter White-quality stuff. Zeppelin. Bowie. Beatles. Stones. Jethro Tull. The Mothers of Invention. Jefferson Airplane. Steppenwolf. Elton John and on and on. About 125 albums, all from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s and all in pristine condition. Drop the needle and take the ride. Don’t forget where you got this stuff.
So here I am now, sneaking off to Barely Brothers in St. Paul or School House Antiques in Hixton, Wis. to get my next vinyl fix. Of late, I’ve been rounding things out by loading up on classic jazz and country. Carl Butler and George Jones. The Modern Jazz Quartet and Wes Montgomery. Been hitting the classical section when I want to take things off around the edges. I’ve even let the fellas at Barely Brothers guide me to new stuff. For example, knowing I was into guitar virtuosos and classic country, they turned me on to a fantastic recording by Chet Atkins and Les Paul called Chester and Lester. I’ve been wearing it out ever since. Thanks, Spencer!
Vinyl is warm. It’s intimate. There’s an authenticity in the listening experience that I can only find in live music. I’m obsessed with reading liner notes. I love flipping through the racks, rediscovering stuff that has fallen off my radar. Joe Jackson. Jackson Browne. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The Cowboy Junkies. (See what I did there?)
Hank Williams Jr. famously described his addictions as a “family tradition.” Hank hits close to home. My five-year-old son recently held a little yard sale, declaring that he wanted to use the proceeds to “buy some records.” Off to Barely Brothers we went. His selections? A Stevie Wonder classic and a random Herb Alpert record.
The good news is we can quit anytime we want.