Monday, July 24, 2017

Is it time to toss my vinyl LP recordings?

I don't need my old LPs but
somehow I can't let them go.
In the beginning there was the vinyl LP recording, and the LP became high-fidelity, stereophonic, quadraphonic, "360 Stereo" and more, with a detour for tape cassettes, compact discs and most recently MP3 files. Except for cassette tapes, I still have most of these media and equipment to play it, except I hardly ever use it.

Growing up my dad had a custom-built stereo system—an unheard-of extravagance for a lower middle-class family—that looked like a sarcophagus with four legs. It had a huge speaker and two smaller ones hidden behind a cloth screen, a turntable, an amplifier and about two linear feet of storage space for his treasured LPs, almost all of them classical music.

He even owned, but seldom played, a handful of 78 rpm records, scratchy and brittle in brown-paper envelopes and dating back to the Stone Age of music recording.

When he found a new recording, a special occasion in our backwater hometown, or received one he had ordered from Havana, our family of three would gather solemnly in front of the record player as if we were about to participate in a seance.

Any takers? Or should I keep them?
Officially only my dad was allowed to use the record player, which he did after the requisite ritual spritzing of the LPs with some liquid cleanser and polishing with a small felt cloth.

But when he was at work I would sneak in a few raucous, full-blast concerts of my own. He pretended not to notice. I think he was glad I shared his taste for long-hair music.

My dad died almost ten years ago, shortly after our move to San Miguel.

When the Fidel took power in Cuba and the island's middle and upper classes stampeded toward Miami like a herd of frightened buffaloes, families were supposed to turn over their houses and everything in them, except personal belongings that could be squeezed into a duffel travel bag.

If we were going to abandon our country, Fidel said, we'd have to abandon everything in it.

Families sold or gave away all they could during hushed, nighttime transactions. Weeks before the departure date homes became strangely denuded, except for a chipped serving plate on the dining room table or a lone picture hanging on a wall where faded squares clearly betrayed the presence once of a gallery of family photos.

Meanwhile, the houses of trusted neighbors and friends turned into souks crammed with two or three sets of china, mismatched furniture, dozens of throw pillows, multiple saucepans.

My mother, with her more bourgeois preoccupations, fussed over every piece of decor no matter how tacky. It was hers and she was not going to let some goddamn communist have it.

But what hurt my dad the most, a stab at his heart, was the loss of his record player and the modest collection of records he had so painstakingly amassed over the years and now was disappearing, one by one. A treasured recording by Arthur Rubinstein, one my dad had played over and over, his fingers sometimes fluttering over an imaginary keyboard, now gone, along with all the other LPs.

He never said who was getting them or the massive record player that one night vanished too. There was nothing left and he was clearly devastated by the loss. He never tried to rebuild his record collection after he came to the U.S. I don't recall that he ever owned a decent-quality stereo again.

That would become my unwitting responsibility. In college I began to buy and upgrade stereo equipment regularly and collect LPs, along with some music tapes, a hobby that frequently exceeded my meager budget. Those records travelled with me to graduate school and then to Chicago where Stew and I settled in 1972, and to San Miguel where they reside in a custom-made entertainment center.

Several years after college compact disks appeared, and so I started collecting them, followed eight or nine years ago with an iTunes library of MP3 recordings playable in iPods, all neatly stored, I hope, in my own tiny sliver of the "Cloud" somewhere over California or Oregon.

Except that with most technology, including recording and recording media, additions and improvements almost immediately become redundancies.

The CDs and the CD player made LPs and my turntable obsolete. Now my iPod, loaded with nearly four thousand "songs," is about to be nudged aside by the smartphone that can hold my music plus appointments, telephone numbers, weather reports, grocery lists and seemingly all the mundane data of my life.

My new friend, the tiny Bluetooth speaker.
When we built this house we wired it for speakers which are now superfluous with the arrival of a baby bright-red Bluetooth speaker that can turn into a speakerphone, or stream, via the Kindle Fire tablets or the smartphone, music from distant radio stations. So we have four unused outside speakers, plus a fairly expensive pair of indoor speakers that gets dusted but never used.

I have contemplated getting rid of the LPs at least, possibly also the CDs. Among the LPs would be the Beatles' Abbey Road album, in mint condition, which some of my friends in college played backward, for hints to the supposed disappearance of Paul McCartney. (You would have had to be there—and quite stoned—to understand what that was all about.) Also, Ravi Shankar, two Santana recordings, plus the box set of Georg Solti's recording of Beethoven's nine symphonies.

Probably a couple of hundred LPs, all in perfect shape because just like my dad, I always spritzed and wiped them before playing.

Somehow, however, emotion trumps practicality on this decision: No, I really don't need all those LPs but tossing them would somehow violate the memory of my dad, who's probably whistling some classical tune somewhere.

A better though not simpler solution would be to untangle the wires now choking the hardly used amplifier, CD player, DVD player and speaker routing box—a maddening task—dust off the turntable and let Paul, Ravi, Carlos and Georg stop by for an encore performance.

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23 comments:

  1. For the second time, ole bean, the Amazon Fire tablet is NOT a Kindle. Now quit calling it that, or I'm coming up there this minute, and it could get ugly.

    Repeat after me: Amazon Fire, not Kindle. Just because Amazon makes the Fire, and Amazon makes the Kindle does not mean the Fire is a Kindle, which is an electronic book. It does not play music. Or movies.

    As for the old records, sure, toss them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amazon Fire, Amazon Fire, Amazon Fire.

      Toss the old LPs. Geez, your soppy sentimentality really moves me. Do you have anything from when your were young or don't you believe in mementos?

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    2. I do believe in mementos, and whatever mementos I possess now, 99 percent are post-January 2000, which is when I moved to Mexico. I came down here with two suitcases. That was it. Pretty much everything else was trashed or sold. I have long chuckled at the Gringos who cannot move to Mexico to "start a new life," they often say, without hauling 10 tons of junk, er, I mean mementos, down here with them in a huge trailer behind the GMC monster pickup or, even better, the tractor-trailer of the professional mover.

      I am glad you have seen the truth that your Amazon Fire is not a Kindle. You are making progress! A tip of the sombrero to you.

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    3. My old (2011) Kindle does play MP3s, both through a headphone jack and bitty little speakers in the case. Makes it a great travel accessory -- total entertainment!

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    4. F.Z. please explain why it then is that the tool (on which I read books, send and receive e-missives, check weather forecasts, shop, etc.) clearly reads kindle fire every time on the first screen that appears after it is turned on? Until Amazon sends me an update removing that from the screen my kindle fire will remain a kindle fire.

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    5. Parkprin: Got no clue. I just double-checked on the Amazon website, the part where they sell Fires. Doesn't say Kindle anywhere. And if you look at the Kindles, it doesn't say Fire. Maybe Amazon is starting to meld the brand, so to speak. Just one of those mysteries we encounter in life, I guess.

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    6. Now, let's not get into an argument about Kindle vs Fire. Whatever, just keep in mind that Jeff Bezos recently became the richest man in the world, surpassing Bill Gates. I still remember when Amazon started and was hemorrhaging money and the old guys at Sears, Kmart et al were chuckling at the notion of online shopping. Ha ha.

      nb I had to look up "hemorrhaging"

      al

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  2. If you should get rid of them, do not just throw them out in the trash. Some of those old albums are surely valuable collectors' items.

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    1. I wouldn't toss them, there are bookstores in San Antonio that would take them, though for so little money you might as well keep them or toss them. I'm sure there are some valuable items in there. I think I'm going to re-wire the LP rig again and listen to some of them.

      Al

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  3. Costco sells turntables with a usb connection, so you can digitise your LPs. Vinyl is making a comeback though. A couple of my cousins are rebuilding their collections. SONY is, once again, going to produce vinyl...

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    Replies
    1. I've seen ads for those in the back of some magazine but haven't checked Costco. I'll check next time we make a run to Costco in Queretaro. Thanks.

      al

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  4. You should dust off the stereo and play an LP. The fidelity is shocking and a reminder of why your father enjoyed the evolution of recorded music in its heyday.

    I have hooked up my smartphone and iPod to my old stereo with its lush speakers. Eventhough the CDs mp3s and 4s and iTunes have reduced fidelity it is wonderful to hear the music through the old hifi system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard that about the fidelity of LPs. It should be noticeable because I always treated my LPs with care.

      Anyway, I'm going to rehook up the stereo and see what happens. The only thing I fear is that there's a jungle of wires back there. This sounds like a whole afternoon project.

      Thanks, Rick.

      al

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    2. By the way, you can get a cable that will connect your iPod/Fire/Whatever to your stereo via the "aux" input. I suggest you use it. Your expensive speakers are going to make that music sound WAAAAAAY better than that red box pictured above.

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    3. Best sound though I've found is plugging my old Bose noise-cancelling earphones. To my long-term use of them I own my case of tinnitus. Yech.

      al

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  5. the use of 'trump' as a verb, made me laugh!
    Dana Jennings

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    Replies
    1. In these times we need all the laughs we can get. Every morning brings a new shock.

      al

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  6. Dust off your equipment, and play your records. Not only do they sound better than iPods and CDs, but they will bring you back to a different time and place.

    After all, that's what retirement's for, no?

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we still play vinyl from time to time.

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    Replies
    1. We're working on it as I write this! (or Stew is working on it)

      al

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    2. We finished and the sound is markedly better in most LPs I've played. Pretty amazing.

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  7. Untangle the wires and free your music! My spousal unit is a professional musician and over the years we have gone from crates of LPs to cabinets of CDs to MP3 players smallest than a deck of cards, all with over 1500 "albums" of recorded music. Side note: the term "album" dates from the days of 78s. One symphony or opera would be pressed on multiple discs, which were placed in a bound album with multiple sleeves for each disc.
    Anyway, we play the MP3s through a lovely Nikko analog receiver and Paradigm 3-way speakers, survivors of the digital purges. Your Bluetooth speaker isn't capable of that quality of sound. Honor your ears and your father both!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deborah, your definition of albums (plus your photo) shows clearly you do not remember that sort of albums first-hand. Alas, I remember them quite well. I imagine Al does too, though he's a tad younger than I am.

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    2. And you inspired me to excavate my very first Kindle from its grave in a chest of drawers. Voila! It does have a headphone jack. My newer ones do not, however.

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