Record stores…Up and over we go.

So we have the turn table and some records, what next? It is obvious really, let’s go buy more records. Who even thought to really consider that question in any serious manner. Luckily I have a supremely patient wife who seems to understand the need to buy an album for the third time. Or maybe she was just too sick to really care today. Either way the die was cast.

So where to go? Luckily Portland potentially being the center of hipsterdom has may record stores selling vinyl by the pound, not to forget Goodwill after all. So off to brave the big city which is a lot easier since GPS became something nestling on my phone. I tried to con one of my kids into coming with me but one wanted to sleep after working an overnight and the other preferred schoolwork. So it was a solo journey, reminiscent of my teen vinyl buying years.

Off to Everyday Music on Sandy Blvd, I had never been in the vinyl section here before, usually buying cd’s, a much safer used purchase than fragile vinyl. The store was large and well laid out and easily navigated. I was however looking for a nostalgia fest maybe or something else than I got at least. Record stores used to be these fun loud flamboyant places with interested people working as well as odd balls,probe or maybe that was just Probe records on Button street. This is how I remember it looking. The repository of all that was cool about records in the day. I managed to buy Harper’s Lifemask, Fairport’s Moat on The Ledge and Give and Take by Here and Now all on the same day.

Before the internet the cork board by the door would tell you where and when the gig was for most bands nobody else wanted to see was. All of the staff were characters and would tell you how badly what you were buying sucked, or if you were lucky or hip enough that you happened to be the only person with any taste that had walked through the door this week. Even the main chain stores such as HMV or Virgin would have knowledgeable people who seemed to realize that they were being paid to listen to music and talk about it all day. Consequently the disappointment of hearing the depressed hipsters at Everyday music complain about how sad they are was not easily overcome. Yes they were pierced by enough hardware and had a dizzying array of tattoos, actually pretty normal for Portland, and tried so hard to be alternative but they did not really seem to realize just how cool their job really was.

Maybe the staff at the Beaverton store will be more fun.

However the important stuff, wow so may records all nicely arranged, new and used all together. Banks of 50c records that I was a little afraid of and most of the records in great quality and reasonably priced. As well as a new arrival section arranged by day of arrival. So I rummaged around for an hour, a few guys my age looking for all those things that they had given away or sold in the past and the young kids looking to discover something they missed as a teen, the joy of records. Out the window went all good intentions of sticking to the idea of albums that blew me away and I just started collecting vinyl to buy. Then I had to go back and put half of it all back, however for some reason I still ended up with three Jethro Tull albums, go figure.

The Purchases:

Stills and Stills 2 – Stephen Stills, not quite on the list but maybe they should be.

Deja Vu – CSNY, of course it is on the list.

Below the Salt – Steeleye Span

Nine, and an odd compilation called Chronicles by Fairport Convention, Nine should be on any self respecting Fairport fans list.

Bursting Out, one of the great live albums, Songs from the Wood, Stormwatch, the first Tull album I ever bought, – Jethro Tull

Hergest Ridge – Mike Oldfield, no idea why apart from it was in perfect condition and everyone needs some Oldfield and it is better than Tubular Bells.

So two from the list if I ever get to writing it. Well I have got to 16 so far.

But in the mail arrived In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel,aeroplanejpg the very first piece of brand new vinyl I have bought in over 20 years. So why this record and why is it on the list?

I first heard this album on the same day as I heard Belle and Sebastien’s Lazy Line Painter Jane and they have both stuck in my mind in a good way. So I guess that is the answer, if the record sticks with you for years then it is on the list, of course that leaves space for the Hollies Greatest Hits, which is not a bad thing.

Well it has a great cover. It is also a wonderfully naive, twisted album with some of the best use of trumpet and musical saw ever, despite the slightly desperate sixth form poetry it still manages to hold itself together barely. It reminds me of Julian Cope at his greatest but it is also very American with a vocalist in Jeff Mangum that sounds just about this side of sane. It is as idiosyncratic as it is wonderful, with an epic use of dissonance and melody almost simultaneously and a wonderful punk sensibility.

So there you have it, the first visit to a record store to buy vinyl in over twenty years and the first brand new album bought in twenty years or so. It is still exciting to hold a brand new record by the way, and they really seem to be making them so much better, it is a reassuringly solid feeling piece of plastic.

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Those records…

Take most of the Jefferson Airplane, add some of the Grateful Dead and CSNY, ensconce them on David Crosby’s property with all that involves and see what happens. The answer is If Only I Could Remember My Name by David Crosby. One of the most perfectly sublime listening experiences ever.

Yes it is self indulgent, rambling and a little odd in the lyrical content.crosby But it is on the Vatican’s list of the 10 most influential albums of all time so it must have some merit. It has been an album that I was only aware of by reputation for many years, I eventually found a copy when a friend was getting rid of their records and there it lay. It has some crackles and pops but sounds wonderful to my ears. It is not an album I grew up with but an album I always wanted to hear. In England as a teenager you could find so many CSN, Neil Young, Stills or Nash albums but this was one I could never track down.

It is like early Floyd managed to relax, you can hear so many ways this album impacted later music throughout the years and just wallow in the harmonies, guitars and the warm mellow comfort of Crosby’s voice.

Crosby has always been the most melodic member of CSNY and intriguing. For many years this was his only solo effort, at least until he cleaned himself up after jail and started releasing solo records. When we went to see Crosby Stills and Nash earlier this year he was the member who was definitely still closest to the peak of his powers as a performer, yes Nash was holding the whole thing together and Stills is still a guitar hero but Crosby was perfect, smiling and singing and playing like your favorite stoner uncle.

Anyway back to the record. It is not hard to find in some sort of format, it is well worth the time to sit and listen to. It is like a little slice of Southern Californian perfection and innocence right before the hippy dream crashed. It unleashed on us all the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra and a David and the Dorks tour. What Are Their Names will always be relevant in the world and may be one of the most chilling protest songs ever written and Cowboy Movie is jam band perfection.

After a night of staggering around Liverpool I ended up at the then Liverpool Polytechnic in one of the halls of residence where I was fed some strange curried cabbage and more red wine. s and g hitsThe soundtrack to that experience was Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. It was an almost perfect counter point to the night that went before. It was calm and serene after an evening of drinking and smoking and shouting.

My friends and I were seldom quiet on a night out and our taste in music in those days was more likely to be Deep Purple or Van Halen than the quiet ruminations of the slightly awkward  looking troubadours on the cover. This was the essence of uncool for me at that time, thoughtful songs with harmonies and gentle guitar accompaniment.  It was however a gentle relief to the clamor in my  mind, the cacophony that went along with any night out in Liverpool in the eighties.

We had undoubtedly spent the night in the Cave on Mathew St. that was no longer Eric’s but a pale shadow of it’s past glory days. A dark damp cellar were desperation often reached new lows on the sticky carpet. Sweat was in every piece of fabric it seemed in that place but we went every week to try and meet girls and drink too much.

So that end of a Saturday night eating curried cabbage, drinking red wine and listening to Art Garfunkel’s sweet voice is forever fixed in my mind. As is the walk to the station that morning with The Boxer, 59th St. Bridge Song and Bridge Over Troubled Water still playing through my mind.

This moment is so clear in my mind the walk back to the train station in Wavertree, the ride and changes back to Whiston and my parents house. That week I got the cassette version from the library and lay on my floor headphones on and listening. I tried to listen to the other records but they never had the same draw or felt as satisfying, I kept getting the wrong next track and wondering why.

A short time later we were trying to find our way back to Liverpool from Widnes after a raucous night watching Dumpy’s Rust Nuts. widnesSitting on a bench one of my more aware friends threw the gem out, Paul Simon may have written Homeward Bound on this very bench which brought us all to silence and rightly so.

A couple of weeks ago someone asked if I had any vinyl, I thought about giving up my copy of Greatest Hits but went with the Bridge over Troubled water album instead. The reason in my mind is that there is no more perfect Simon and Garfunkel album than the Greatest Hits collection and you don’t give that away.

So as I played both these album my mind drifted and they were just as magical this time as the first time. The physical act of playing vinyl ensures you listen at least to a whole side and not skip around, this almost preserves the moment as a real event in your mind. It causes you to listen and pay attention, music becomes and act to take part in actively not just a background noise.

These Fifty Years

So I have entered my fiftieth year, and along with that realisation came all the insecurities and celebrations that go along with it, So begins the mid-life crisis with two maybe three projects that are not necessarily incompatible.

The first is to practice mindfulness on a regular basis and live more in the moment and experience the simple joy of living. Something that my family will benefit from as much as me but is more of a struggle than you may imagine.

The second is to read Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion sequence in order.

The third is to take the time to gather my absolute favorite albums on vinyl and enjoy them.

January and February have been something of preparation for this adventuree.

The Moorcock has been bought and stacked on the bookshelf. It all looks really impressive, a necessary mix of hard and paper back but it is all there, the only exception being Earl Aubec which is in a different addition but I was not able to get myself to pay so much as 80 dollars for a book, although I came close. I began the reading with the Eternal Champion Omnibus, remembering almost every line as I went, playing Hawkwind and Uriah Heep as  I read, memories of those teen years when I discovered Moorcock and Hawkwind almost the same month.Then I began Von Bek, a much more serious book, darker, richer and more mysterious. Almost immediately Tom discovered these books and began to read them as well, something that instantly made me feel closer to him. As you can see there are gaps on that shelf.

Moorcock

Along the way I started buying vinyl with no turntable in place. Goodwill can be a terrible place. Well there are two turntables  in my home but they belong to Tom and Chris and I wanted this to be my experience with my equipment. I immersed myself in reviews of turntables. Which one was best, direct drive over belt driven, vintage over new. I read again and again how this is an expensive hobby and not for the feint hearted. I looked on craigslist, made plans thought about it agonized and realized I am not necessarily an audiophile and had never really been one. Yes I had always had good stereos but not the most expensive. In a house with five stereos it seemed overkill to head down the expensive road, I also looked at some of the vinyl I had brought from the UK and realized it was all in very good shape particularly considering how it had been played over the years. So those mid-price turntables of the past did not destroy that precious vinyl so it may be a safe gamble.

So the decision was made, get the best quality entry level belt driven deck I could find, I had no intention of using the deck to scratch so belt driven was the preference, also they have less interference. Then which one, no usb turntable, I have some of these albums on CD and mp3 already so why would I rip them, also the desire was to experience the past on some level to revel in the warmth of vinyl. I also wanted an internal pre-amp, so much easier. Again more reviews and then the finances hit in so I got the Audio Technica ATLP60, the reviews were generally good, apart from the audiophiles who are convinced that this deck will tear your vinyl to shreds and leave you with bleeding ears. Yes I know it has limitations and that as I get obsessed with vinyl I may have to upgrade, Ben is counting on this so he can have the turntable.

 

vinylWell I am sure if I spent two times or four times as much as the $60 I did that I would be happier, spending makes us all happy at the end of the day doesn’t it? It sounds great, that rich warmth of vinyl, occasional pops and clicks included, despite the Bose speakers is an all enveloping experience. But that spending may have labeled me a hipster wannabe.

So then all I have to decide is what are those albums that mean the most to me so I can play them on this fine machine, This is made difficult by having given the majority of my albums to Tom and Chris over the years. I may have to buy them over time which could be fun. Also you have to be careful of what pressing you get, going analog means just that and avoiding those digital transfers to vinyl. Heavens there is so much to think about. They will however be records that have meaning to me not necessarily the greatest records ever made. I do have a liking for the Kinks Preservation Act albums and Floyd’s The Final Cut so you never know what you may see.

Well the mindfulness part may be the most difficult right now. Although listening to an album is a mindfulness exercise, it is much more focused an experience than mp3’s or CD’s in the car. The fact of the muscle memory of placing the disc on the turntable, sitting and listening and then flipping every 15-20 minutes, very relaxing almost like visiting another time period.

Played so far:

Al Stewart, Love Chronicles, Zero She Flies and Orange

Neil Young, After the Goldrush

CSNY, 4Way Street

Yes, They Yes Album