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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