In Dec. 2008, I interviewed Ben Folds after he played a show at the Michigan Theater. During our discussion, Folds educated me on the resurgence of vinyl records and cited specifics like better sound quality and the perception that CDs are worthless data discs as reasons for the return to an older medium for music listeners.
At the time, I refused to believe him. I was one of the few holdouts of the opinion that, despite the sharp decline in sales of compact discs in recent years, people should continue to buy CDs even if the purchasing volume became significantly less than what it once was. I’ve always been attracted to the physical nature of CDs, and I didn’t want to give up the experience of holding something in my hands while listening to an album for the first time.
Obviously, I was a bit naïve and tried to resist the natural progression of technology. After all, throughout the history of recorded music, the focus has always been on making smaller and more compact devices to hold and play music. From the substantial gramophone record placed on a mammoth phonograph, to cassette inserts for the handheld Walkman, to the virtual disappearance of physical evidence for the existence of a song in the form of the MP3, this has always been the case. Regardless of my best efforts to ignore the writing on the wall, I knew I would eventually have to face the reality that CDs will soon be extinct.
I’m normally not a sentimental guy when it comes to material possessions. But when it comes to music, I’m as nostalgic as an old lady at a high school reunion. My relationship with CDs stretches way back to my discovery of music and genesis as a passionate music listener. I’ll never forget the first time I popped one of my brother’s Weezer CDs into my portable and was completely transformed by the opening shenanigans of “El Scorcho” or the brutal sincerity of “Butterfly.”
Certain CDs also trace my phases of growth through different genres and styles that have transformed me into an intolerable music snob. The day I bought The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls In America on a whim because I liked the cover art will undoubtedly go down as the greatest impulse purchase of my life. Ultimately, CDs have served to define me as a person more than the clothes that I wear, places I’ve traveled or schools I’ve attended. Plastic jewel cases, 10-page lyric books and scratch-prone pieces of polycarbonate plastic have played a vitally important role in my adolescent and college years, and it’s going to be tough to say goodbye.
But it’s not all gray skies and watery eyes for me. With vinyl making a comeback, I realized that my transition to 33 1/3-RPM plays was eminent. It was only a matter of time until I would buy my first-ever turntable, nearly a half century after its invention. Luckily, my brother was a step ahead of me and wrapped one up with my name on it to put under the Christmas tree. Upon opening it, I surprised myself with my excited reaction to the gift. It was like all those memories that my CD collection held didn’t really matter anymore.
As it turns out, vinyl works as a pretty easy transition from my bygone CD days, and satisfies most of the things I have come to love about CDs. For example, at the risk of sounding like a materialistic prick with morality issues and too much disposable income, I think it’s important for an artist to make a profit on his or her creative output. In this department, a vinyl record is nearly identical to a compact disc. I’ve also found it more rewarding to pick and choose what I listen to and use the money I’ve earned to buy something that will entertain me, instead of downloading anything that looks or sounds remotely interesting.
Additionally, when I listen to music on the Internet, I’m constantly in a judgmental mentality. I want to dislike every note and every word coming out of my atrocious MacBook speakers. I’ll look for every flaw imaginable, including uninteresting melodies, simplistic instrumentation and contrived lyrics. But when I make a financial commitment to a physical piece of art that a group of people poured in hours and hours of time to put together, I want it to be the best album I’ve ever heard. I’ll look for all of its redeeming qualities, focusing on the high points while dismissing the low points. Vinyl, almost more so than a CD, allows for me to have this optimistic outlook on the music I’m listening to.
While my parents were preparing dinner, I set up my new toy in the kitchen and grabbed some old records that I’d recently acquired while cleaning out my grandma’s house. As Sonny and Cher sang “I Got You Babe,” my sentimentality kicked in again as I realized how fortunate I was to have my family together during the holidays. And so it began — a new era of memory-making, rather than a departure from my CD schmaltziness. It’s simply a continuation, but this time with a larger disc.