Part 5: A Vinyl Family Reunion
“Afternoon, warm kitchen light, she’s singing and dreaming,
Benny Goodman or some Beatles tune, it’s love they’re bringing.”
~ Jim Juliano
Since 2007 and those initial LP purchases, I’ve bought hundreds of vinyl LPs both old and new. Often, finding the old ones is like welcoming home a long-lost family member: the Prodigal LP! I have made my peace with nostalgia, and now I revel in the memories that are generated by buying and playing vinyl LPs. In a world where I often feel like I play Wile E. Coyote opposite the Roadrunner of technology, the re-emergence of LPs and analog stereo equipment is a comfort and a joy.
My mother loved music and vinyl records. She dated a DJ for a while when she was a teenager in the 1930s, and her collection of 78 RPM records numbered in the hundreds, many of which I still have. The crown jewel of her collection was a 1938 four-disc Benny Goodman set on Victor Records that at some point she had autographed by Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Toots Mondello, and several other members of Goodman’s band. And for years she insisted that we keep a spare unopened copy of The Beatles’ Abbey Road on hand “just in case. . . .”
My Dad often came home from work to find me lying on the couch in our backroom listening to vinyl records. He once told me that I acted just like my mom when he first met her. He was on the verge of entering World War II and would come to Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house in order to see my mom. Apparently, my mom and her sisters would spend a lot of time sitting in the family room of the house listening to vinyl records while my grandmother was working in the kitchen to prepare dinner!
Certainly, all three of my mom’s sisters contributed to my ever-deepening relationship with vinyl records. My Aunt June had an old wind-up RCA Victrola with the giant trumpet horn. My Aunt Pud, always owning the latest technology, had a wall-mounted stereo with a flip-down turntable and a portable speaker that worked by radio signal that you could listen to in another room. That system gave me my first listen to The Doors as well as the soundtrack from the Woodstock movie, which I conned my Uncle Jim (Aunt Pud’s husband) into buying for me one weekend when he took me shopping. And my Aunt Ida, who loved opera and classical music, kept the volume knob cranked to window-rattling levels most of the time!
Before they had kids, my sister and brother-in-law Gary let me have my own room at their house, because I spent so many weekends hanging out with them. And in that room, I had another old console record player that once belonged to Aunt June. It was clunky, but with one giant 15inch speaker, it was loud! Still, it didn’t take long for me to begin to covet Gary’s beautiful Pioneer system, and soon I was only playing my LPs on Gary’s system in order to preserve their quality.
At my parents’ house, on another older phonograph, I played my brother’s old 45 RPM records constantly. Elvis, The Zombies, The Rivingtons, The Beau Brummels, The Coasters, The Everly Brothers, The Surfaris, The Orlons. Roger Miller, Bobby Darin, etc. Finally in 1977, I got a car and a job and promptly bought that Pioneer SX 780, the HPM 40s, a cassette deck, and some kind of Pioneer turntable. Like the last member of some age-old championship team, the SX 780 is the only remaining piece of that setup. But of all the material things I have purchased in my life, it is among the most treasured and has certainly given me thousands of hours of musical pleasure.
When my brother-in-law Gary died in 2017, I inherited his Technics SL 1400 turntable, a slightly fancier version of my brother’s SL 1300. In a reversal of fortune that would have made him very happy, Gary’s turntable now resides in our living room with that SX 780 and an updated set of Paradigm Atom Monitors. The NAD CD player my parents bought for me still works great and is tucked neatly beside the receiver inside the beautiful dark cabinet my wife bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago.
My wife’s latest gift to me is new bookshelves in our living room that feature special sections that will hold a few hundred more of the LPs that I am bound to buy in the coming years. Portland is a town brimming with great independent record stores and, while Music Millennium will always be the sun at the center of the solar system, I visit as many of the satellites as possible when I am in their orbit. Each one has a slightly different atmosphere and offers unique chances to find the unexpected gem that is worthy of space in my collection. Looking back on the paths I have walked hand in hand with vinyl LPs throughout my life, it is not surprising at all that I find myself at Music Millennium every Friday afternoon. It seems as natural as looking in the mirror each morning and finding more gray hair. Sometimes, maybe our lives can travel forward while circling back at the same time.