I still have my turntable set up but hadn't played it in several years until Christmas morning.
My goddaughter Dani Siobhan gave me a vinyl record album for Christmas and on Christmas morning I dusted off my turntable and played it.
It was from 1975 and featured several bands of the British invasion including the Searchers, the Kinks, and the Foundation (did you know they’re the band that wrote and performed “Build Me Up Buttercup?”).
I loved it. Soon, I was pulling out a few of my old albums and enjoying them while sitting on the floor before the stack of stereo components. First I listened to Derek and the Dominoes Live in Concert (”Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?“).
Then I found my old “Frampton Comes Alive” album and it transported me back to 1976 (”Do You Feel Like We Do,” “Lines on my Face“). I read the liner notes and learned that he was only 25 when that album came out. I looked at his picture and could believe it. The first time I did that he was much older than me. Now, he was only a few years older than my oldest son.
The album held up in 2011, even the part in the solo where he yells, “Bob Mayo on the keyboards, Bob Mayo!”
More Pleasurable Than Digital Music
The whole experience was more pleasurable than listening to digital music from a CD or iPod. It gave me pause to think about how we as a culture continue to sacrifice quality for convenience.
This is nothing new. More than 100 years ago, industrialization made it more convenient and affordable to build furniture on assembly lines in factories at the expense of craftsmanship.
When the highway system was built in the 1950s, many people publicly lamented what was lost for the sake of speed and convenience. Taking the highway gets us there quicker but it doesn’t show us the countryside, small villages, cities or an opportunity to meet new people along the way.
The Convenience To Quality Ratio
Now technological advances seem to be coming at a faster pace giving way to more examples of convenience over quality and as that happens, I wonder if we’ve become oblivious to it all.
Microwave popcorn isn’t as good as popcorn cooked over the stove; online journalism isn’t as in-depth or thoughtful as some of the journalism that is written specifically for newspapers and magazines; and interacting with friends and family on Facebook isn’t as fulfilling and uplifting as communicating with them in person.
It’s as though every technological advancement that replaces something also sacrifices something for the sake of convenience.
The late Robert Mapplethorpe designed this album and took the photographs.
Why Vinyl Is More Pleasurable
The listening experience of playing vinyl record albums is superior to listening to digital music.
First there is the sound. Analog sound from a turntable is very different than digital. It’s not as clean or effortless and that makes it more real, even with the rare, popping sound exploding from the spinning disc. And it was immediately apparent that the sound coming from two stereo NHD bookshelf speakers was far superior than the sound of my Bose SoundDock, even though the sound of it is pretty impressive.
Then there is the experience of listening to one artist’s complete album in one sitting. It gives the artist’s musical idea a chance to build, to ebb and wane. And the listener learns something through that, as well as through looking at the album art and reading the liner notes.
On Christmas morning while playing Patti Smith’s “Wave” album, which was released in 1979, I learned that Robert Mapplethorpe designed the album cover and took the photos. He was the artist who’s photographic work ignited a national debate over public funding for the arts and the definition of obscenity 10 years later in 1989.
I also learned that Todd Rundgren produced that album and that he played bass on “Dancin Barefoot.” And there was also a note on the liner notes that said the song was dedicated to the mistress of artist Amedeo Modigliani. I didn’t know who Modigliani was in 1979 when I bought that album but since then I learned who he was. I had a print of one of his paintings of his mistress hanging in my dining room for several years.
Acknowledge What We’re Missing
There are advantages to listening to digital music, getting your news online, taking the highway, and even microwaving popcorn. It’s all more convenient and we’re not likely to start sacrificing that convenience for quality. But we need to treat ourselves, every once and awhile, to some old school quality experiences so that we can at least acknowledge and be aware of what we’re doing and what we’re missing.
There are some signs that a backlash is growing against all of this convenience over quality. In recent years, the Slow Food movement has been growing; more people are choosing to pay more for locally grown and locally raised food; and even vinyl records are being reissued and showing up in music stores, both online and offline.
However, just as the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century was a way of rebelling against the convenience of mass industrialization for quality, we won’t turn back time. Instead, there will be small movements and trends that will help us appreciate and celebrate quality.
This isn’t a war that must or can be won. We simply need to occasionally recognize there is a struggle.