Giving Away

by , September 23, 2020

And then we were home all the time: In our houses and apartments, we were there with all our stuff—those items we had gone out into the world to bring home, and sometimes dragged from one place to the next, one city to the next, one part of the country to maybe another. For anyone who has moved, certain items are so cherished that their encumbering weight is a day’s inconvenience—this is true for books, and it is true for anyone who seriously collected vinyl records.

It had gotten so that I didn’t play them anymore. The ritual of sliding the record from the cardboard sleeve, and then paper sleeve, of holding the edge and the label delicately balanced on finger tips, the careful removal of invisible dust, the needle’s first transmitted sound. Yes, in duplicate recordings on other formats, it was so noticeable how compressed the sound was—there was no air in between the notes—so that if you had heard the music on vinyl, you missed the resonance, the shiver. But I wanted my music to go with me, and vinyl records are a fixed in place listening experience.

I had assiduously collected vinyl for a couple of decades, and played music while at home constantly. But vinyl was so fragile, and my life had gotten a bit grittier, and technology for music while moving became ubiquitous even for us economically marginalized; while I still played music, I stopped playing my vinyl records. They sat. Then, they sat out of sight, and I would glimpse a cover—it heartened me a moment knowing that they were there, an auditory memory collection. Yet, too, they sat. And it became a time to look at our nests and see from what we had woven them. 

I habitually give stuff away. Anyone who knows me at all can testify to my penchant for giving things away, how I like to give gifts. I admit that I have been undone a few times, but I persist somehow insist somehow.

So I knew a kid, who is now grown, and whose Instagram is his vinyl collection. I happen to like this kid, now man, named Nick; he said something once that sparked quite the scholarly excursion on my part. He still lives around, so I sent him a message: did he want my vinyl?

The Chewy box was exactly the right size, and I began pulling albums by the handful before I realized that I was in the middle of the alphabet: Mott the Hoople, first record, original release. My mother’s Mussorgsky. There was a Rare Earth with a cardboard sleeve shaped like a backpack. There was a Rod Stewart album  shaped like a highball glass. I could hear them all. Each as I looked at them, I could hear them. Sometimes, I would pause

Certain records might cast an auditory aura around parts of our lives

Holding some of these albums in my hand, I was a vibrato of memory.

With few exceptions, they went into the box: the 1984 Sugar Hill release of an anthology called beats which opened with Grand Master Flash, Yoko’s Fly, a Malcom McLaren ep called Double Dutch, punk anthologies, original releases of Husker Du, Joe Walsh, Sonic Youth—from out of their dark corner, whatever it spoke of my ear to have Basie next to Bowie, they again found themselves in a box.

Also in this box was my solitary life of listening to records, a life that went from grammar school through graduate school, and included shows at clubs, bands of friends, records I was on myself, standard collection staples and records with pressings of maybe a hundred. It was a heavy box.

I texted Nick and we met at his job. We are in masks cuz it’s covid, and Nick begins to talk about his record collecting, and I tell him to open the box: first up is the Monkees’ “head”, which doesn’t mean anything until he sees those beat up originals behind it, the ordinarily famous ones. Nick starts flipping through and I can see him begin to concentrate. He pulls out that twelve punk band anthology with the ransom note graphics, and holds still a minute. This is when I feel the release, the sense of the spark being passed. Nick remarks on how he is used to going through boxes of records, but there’s a lot of stuff he hasn’t seen before, how he has a way to look them up. I am just glad that he realizes their value—not only their collectible rarity, but the traveling he is going to do when he listens.

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