May 14, 2008
I suppose the biggest difference between the crates of books I had to relocate last week and the boxes of phonograph albums that were moved into their former space is that the boxes didn’t carry the warning, "use by other than registered owner punishable by law."
If it weren’t for the "dairy crates" or "egg cartons" or whatever they called them back in that day, it would have been darn near impossible to properly assemble a politically correct hipster crash pad. Warning or no warning, they were de rigueur and feng shui in one fell swoop.
If, for whatever reason, you had to hit the road and put up digs elsewhere and such crates and planks made up your bookshelves of choice, the books would usually fit nicely into the crates which in turn would fit nicely inside whatever conveyance you happened to be driving. And once arriving at your new destination, only minimal assembly would be required.
But this week’s subject at hand concerns the contents of what have to be the sturdiest cardboard boxes known to man. Memory no longer serves as to where the actual boxes came from, but they sure have provided sanctuary to a mess of grooved vinyl over the years.
We’re more than likely talking about 1,800 to 2,000 albums all told – the acquisition period being, for the most part, the 1970s. Actually, by the end of that decade, the stack probably numbered twice that many but half of them would become part of the KPCW start-up.
Traipsing in similar containers from Park City to Woodland to Hebertown, these pre-formed disks resided for the most part in record "jackets" and "sleeves" until removed to be gently placed upon a turntable so as to give the pristine "needle" a shot at interpreting them in an analog and audible fashion.
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In actuality, of course, when the next morning rolled around, those not selected for "play" would be the lucky ones. Most often, the landscape would be littered with said disks in various states of disrepair with their jackets and sleeves no longer visually apparent. And the needle? Well, its main job would be, not unlike a snowplow, to clear the grooves of the remnants from the previous night’s storm.
Many were the times when a distilled product from Scotland would have been added via the spilling process to the already jumbled stew of polyvinyl chloride thermoplastic resin and assorted other stabilizers, copolymers, and colorants from which the "records" in question were composed.
But, despite ongoing operator maltreatment, most made their way back into the cardboard boxes when yet another move was afoot. Not without having first been stepped on, dragged outside by the dog, sat upon, or otherwise reconfigured, however.
And therein lies the crux of this tale. The sturdy little buggers can withstand most any abuse that comes their way. When, following many years gathering dust in said boxes, they are hauled out for special occasions to be slapped down and spun around on a turntable, they perform remarkably well.
Where once, at the dawn of the digital age, a plan to remove the snap, crackles, and pops from the record surfaces through electronic manipulation seemed like a wonderful absolution for past sins, as it turned out, leaving the "character" of the haphazardly applied Scotch, coffee, and salsa residue intact proved, aesthetically, to be the best approach.
You might find yourself listening, for instance, to an old Chet Baker or Ernest Tubb or Tito Puente and, through interpretive analysis, be taken back in time to when the various additives, like so many Jackson Pollock drippings, were applied to the vinyl surface.
(Oh yeah, I remember that night. Bullet had shown up to check out the new stereo with a jug of Ancient Age in tow and we had laid about on the floor amid the ever-growing piles of already-played selections and, through random sloshing, annointed each one with just the right amount of Kentucky bourbon.)
Technology does exist, of course, to transfer the vinyl analog recordings digitally to disk without losing any of the aforementioned "character." If it weren’t for the fact that, while careening to catch your off-ramp, it becomes increasingly difficult to insert a 12-inch LP into a slot on your dashboard, none of this would be necessary, however.
The end result wouldn’t be up to par with the analog original, obviously, but trading the inevitable loss of dynamic range for the portability of a CD might have an upside or two. Not that it would ever be as gratifying as witnessing the hop, skip, and jump of a turntable tone arm attempting to negotiating an obstacle course of jalapeño and cilantro remnants.
As with the books last week, flipping through a half-century’s worth of recorded music (there being both 78 and 45 rpm records in the collection) is not only a window into one’s past but also into relatively recent cultural history as well.
If not for this still-evolving technology, how else could we keep alive the marvelous sounds of Louis Armstrong, Bill Monroe, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline and the many thousands of other musical artists so that future aficionados can layer on their own additives to the auditory mix.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.