Recently we inherited something rather extraordinary: a lifetime collection of vinyl records, acquired by a real music lover throughout several decades of her life, beginning in the mid-1950s when she came of age. Five bags of glorious wonder now sit on our floor, just waiting to be rediscovered ~ truly an epic collection.
The gift was beyond generous and entirely unexpected, though the sudden illness and recent passing of our lovely neighbor has prompted deep discussions here at Casa Luna (our 3.5 year old has raised some fascinating questions and observations – so interesting to watch their little minds at work – but that is the subject of another story, another day).
We’ve started sorting through it, taking mental inventory of many gems and surprises. Such a spectacular set of recordings, ranging from the French jazz singers of the 50s to some classic albums from the 60s and 70s – rock, folk, soul and blues, with a definitive San Francisco bent – as well as dozens of classical recordings.
I don’t know what’s more astonishing – the scope of the collection itself or how it ended up in our home, so many years after each record was first enjoyed by its owner. It’s such a privilege, really. It sort of feels like trespassing into someone’s historical space.
I’m old enough to remember records. I had my own collection, nowhere near as extensive as my brothers’, who listened mainly to 70s rock, or my parents, who listened more to light jazz and rock, folk, Motown and soul. I remember buying records and rock posters for my brothers’ birthdays. They’d usually pull me aside to describe just what they wanted. Back then, buying an album meant walking into a shop — a local one downtown or small chain at the mall. Listening to music blaring while thumbing through row after row of records. I suppose you can still experience some of that thrill buying music in a store today. But let’s face it, there aren’t too many stores left and hardly anyone buys records anymore.
Opening up a vinyl LP for the first time, well there was a ritual to it. Some of those magnificent albums with the elaborate covers – when cover art was still a true art form with gorgeous photography, painting, illustration, comics and storytelling – especially those double albums that opened up, well they were just magical. Surveying the songlist and lyrics, wiping the needle clean and letting it drop. The anticipation of listening to that space in the groove when it just crackles before the tune begins. Then again between songs. With so many phenomenal advances in music today, as perfect as a modern recording may sound, some might say that something is lost.
Listening to records just evokes a warm sort of cozy comfortable feeling for me. Perhaps it’s because listening to music then was an all sensory experience – it had to be seen, heard, touched, felt. It was tactile as well as aural. It vibrated. Your sense memory connected to another time and space. The listening experience offered a sense of presence, of purpose or inspiration. As with a wonderful live performance, music would just wash right over you, warming and moving with emotion, transporting you to another place.
I bought my first CD player when I was 14, which I played through high school and college. The first thing I did was replace some of my favorite albums. Now we listen to i-Pods and playlists. We download mp3s and stream webcasts. We buy our music online and store it on microscopic electronic cells (and the storage capacity per tiny square inch is amazing). Who knew?
Yet it is still magnificent to behold a dozen classic albums by Bob Dylan, borne of his most prolific years from 1963-1975. Say what you will about him now, but this was his era. Some of these songs are arguably among the best ever written.
I once had a great collection of Beatles albums, but no longer (why, oh why didn’t I save those?) Here’s an early release of The Beatles White Album with “The Beatles” embossed on the cover (it was later replaced by print letters), and Rubber Soul (one of my faves) with the plastic still mostly in tact.
Here’s another gem. Considering this is one of my favorite concert films of all time – even though Levon Helm was apparently not a fan (Hey Barb, They got it now, Robbie!) – you should have seen my face illuminate when I unearthed this classic. Seriously, I heard the gospel choir sing from my basement floor. Eric Clapton and George Harrison, two of my most favorite musicians from that era, both cite this pivotal album as being quite transformative in their musical careers. I’ll bet you can practically hear the creaking floorboards of that old Woodstock barn through the vinyl. This may be the first one I need to spin.
And who doesn’t love a little Joni Mitchell? Wait, don’t answer that. I don’t even want to know.
Fan of Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez or Linda Ronstadt? Got you covered. Like, perhaps the complete collections of each.
How about Van the Man? Or Taj Mahal. Oh how I loved these.
And oh, the soul! Otis Redding has got to be one of my absolute favorite singers. Let’s not forget Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. We’ve even got Ike and Tina.
It’s supremely difficult to convey the magnitude of sifting through such a treasure, each delightful find making me smile or wonder, knowing it was gifted to us for such pure and beautiful purpose. Poring through these piles you can’t help but sense a lifetime in relationship to music. In essence it is a collection of memories, capturing momentary glimpses in time. Spanning decades of growth, it marks the cultural evolution of one woman but also reflects the world as a whole. These were tumultuous times. Yet there was profound power in music, both as an escape and to unify. There is very much a sense of yearning for peace through music.
I can’t wait to listen to (and re-discover) some of these. We’ve already separated a pile for priority listening. While the records are generally in great condition, they are old and dusty. We’ve pointed out to our daughter Jaye the significance of this collection of old school vinyl, of some of these classics. It was our first real “back in our day” and “they just don’t make ‘em like the used to” conversation. I wonder how yet another generation will process such a unique listening experience.
In any event, it looks like we need a turntable.