That might sound obvious, but it’s the fucking truth. Music has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and specifically since I was 10 years old and first listened to Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece Nebraska on my boombox with the cheap plastic headphones plugged in. I listened to it for hours on end. I pulled every possible morsel of meaning from the lyrics and applied it to my circumstances at the time.
I was the world’s oldest prepubescent.
This was 1993, the year when the best-selling album was the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, grunge was still king with the cool kids (not the popular kids), and alternative was starting to rear its generic head. Everything was on CD. I have, literally (use your best Rob Lowe in Parks and Recreation impression here), thousands of CDs, so when the vinyl revolution arrived at the turn of the millennium, I felt like a bit of a fraud when I decided to dive in and start collecting wax.
I got into records partially because of what's now one of my all-time favorite films, High Fidelity. (I love the book, too.) However, as much as I’d like to think I'm the John Cusack character (and perhaps I have been in my love life, though that’s an entirely different column), if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m more like the guy who goes in to buy the Captain Beefheart record.
The filmmakers didn't get it wrong. Record stores are filled with employees just like the art snobs in that movie. To me, they were like a cool older sibling (or a cool uncle, in my case). I wanted them to be impressed by the stack of records they were ringing up for me.
At least, that's how I felt in my 20s. I'm now in my late 30s, and I couldn’t give a flying fuck what someone thinks of what I’m buying.
That’s not exactly true, either. I still secretly want them to think I’m cool.
My point here is that record store culture — the cult of vinyl, if you will — is an intimidating world to enter. But it is also a gratifying one. It's perhaps the most rewarding religion I’ve ever participated in.
From flipping through the bins, pulling out a long-sought treasure, inspecting the record for scuffs and scratches, reading the liner notes, and having to stand up, cross the room, lift the tonearm, and flip the record over to side B, it’s also a deeply ritualistic experience.
I’m writing this because walking into a record store can be soul-crushingly daunting, but if you can get past it, there’s no better experience in the world (I checked). The aim of this column is to make an intimidating culture more welcoming.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what type of record player you have, or that you don’t get Serge Gainsbourg (I’ve tried; he just doesn’t speak to me). What matters is that you have a good time, love what you love, and that it's meaningful to you.
To paraphrase Ringo, everyone’s real favorite Beatle, you’ll get by with a little help. So, watch this space. Help will soon be on the way.