In the early eighties, at Solvay High School in Solvay, New York, hard by the smelly, befouled shores of Onondaga Lake, we had two basic social cliques: the jocks and the stoners. The jocks were ugly, muscular, funny, and popular. They wore their football jerseys and webbed belts to class. They had nicknames like Cheesy, Stretch, Hook, and Fumes. The girls giggled as they walked by their perch outside the gym.
The stoners, who probably weren’t even stoned at all, wore black concert t-shirts, ripped jeans and carried big-handled combs in their back pockets for feathering their center parts in the mirrors of the smoky bathrooms. They were the ones, I assumed, who couldn’t spell “Lead Zepp Ruls” on the walls of these very same bathrooms. They hung out by a rock just off campus, inches out of reach of the principal’s grasp and smoked before school. We called this mecca Smoker’s Rock. We, that is, the third, unmentioned group: the nerds.
Forget the fact that I read the Preppie Handbook way too early, sported (very unnecessary) ties to public high school, and was once threatened to get my ass beaten for wearing green pants. There were lots of ways I was a nerd at Solvay (National Honor Society, anyone? That deserved a beat-down right there), but probably the biggest reason was music. I am absolutely sure I was the first and only Bearcat to own Murmur. Or Let’s Dance. Or Synchronicity. Most of my classmates were listening to Steve Miller Band, Rush, Foreigner, Foghat, REO Speedwagon, and the aforementioned Ledd Zeppp. Even my early love of the Beatles was considered risky. I was a music snob, I realize now. I disliked whatever was popular, preferring instead to be the founder and sole member of my own avant-garde music club.
Which is not to say I didn’t try to use my music acumen to my advantage. There was a girl who I was keen on (a Senior!) who lived a few doors up the street from my house. She used to get off the bus at the corner and walk by on her way home. I know this because I hid behind the curtains and watched her. She had long brown hair, and possessed the double whammy of being a cheerleader and a ballet dancer. I had heard it through the teenage grapevine that she liked the Police. No one liked the Police back then, at least not as much as me.
These were the days of the individual stereo components and huge floor speakers. On certain sunny afternoons, when I knew she was getting off the bus, I would pay out as much wire as I could and point the speakers towards the front screen door of my house. Then, timing the needle drop just right, I would blast Every Breath You Take, or, truer to my situation, King of Pain, out the front door into the suburban street, once again hide behind the curtains, and hope she would turn my way so I could get a glimpse of her face, the soft rope of her hair, the slightly too-big nose that really turned me on, and just possibly, the hint of a smile. Turns out, she must have been hard of hearing (maybe it helped her cheerleading or her ballet dancing?) because she never looked, not even once. And I gave her plenty of chances. Maybe the teenage grapevine had lied to me.
Now, almost thirty years later, I’m still a nerd, but not such a snob. I still love bands no one has ever heard of like The Clean, Rogue Wave, Deafhaven, and Zorch. But now that I’ve hooked up my old stereo and started to collect vinyl again, I hear the beauty in Take It On the Run, Head Games, Slow Ride, and Fly Like An Eagle. In fact, the outerspacey organ in that song gives me goosebumps now. Goosebumps I was too cool to feel in 1983.
At forty-six, feeling old and yet reborn in vinyl, I realize time does indeed keep on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’.
Into the future.
So I finally hooked up my old Technics turntable to a Pioneer receiver that I bought for $75 at a used record store. Paired with some $5 KLH speakers I found at a yard sale, my vinyl listening days and nights are beginning again. One of my literary heroes, the great modern British wit and Idler founder Tom Hodgkinson wrote, much more poetically than I will here, that if you go back in technology ten or fifteen years, you can live like a king. Just last summer I bought over twenty 80’s-era CDs from a guy at a garage sale for the price of one album on iTunes. And don’t even get me started on VCR tapes. My vinyl journey has just begun again (blame it on mid-life crisis), but I’ve thought about it a little bit, and I’ve come up with a few rules that apply to records. And, I think, to life.
Tread lightly. Like your mama told you, don’t play ball in the house. Walk with little cat feet when music is playing. The fear of a skip or a scratch should cause you to be mindful around your turntable. That’s not to say you can’t dance or play air guitar if you want. Just crank the volume knob and do it in the kitchen.
Pay attention. Listen with your whole body. There’s more to music than just the words and the guitar solos. Next time you listen to a song, follow just the bass or drums, if you can. Or focus your listening on different instruments throughout the song. Listening to an album, really listening, can demand as much attention as when our grandparents listened to the old radio programs. But that attention will be paid back a hundredfold in joy.
Be committed. Let’s face it. When you put on a record and lie down on the couch or better yet, floor, it’s a pain in the ass to get up and skip to a new song. That’s OK. Each album side will have some songs you like and some you don’t. Like life, take the good with the mediocre, or even the downright awful. We can’t fast forward or shuffle our way through real life. And when the side is done, the needle will come to rest and you’ll have plenty of time to get up and play side two.
Handle with care. Vinyl wants to be loved and cared for. Put your records back in their sleeves when you’re done listening to them. They like to rest in the cool paper darkness. Hold them by the edges. Treat them as delicately as you would your own head and they’ll last you a lifetime. Just like your own head.
Share your stoke. OK, that’s s surfing term, but it totally applies here. There is an entire community of vinyl aficionados and collectors out there. Visit flea markets and yard sales. Drop into your local record shop. Chances are they’ll have a used vinyl bin. My local place sells most vinyl for .97 cents. A ton of bands are even releasing new albums on vinyl as well as CD and digital. And take off your headphones. There’s a time and a place for private music, but it’s better when everyone can listen in.
If a blog is, as a friend put it, a magazine of Me, then I suppose it can be about anything. In fact, I’ve often thought of changing the subtitle of this blog from “a virtual cabin in the woods” to “it could be about anything.” One reason I suppose I’ll never be a professional blogger (as in: syndication, advertising dollars, limo rides, drinking Cristal in the VIP room with Jay-Z and Bey) is because I don’t have a niche. I’m interested in everything which, in the blogosphere, really means I’m interested in nothing at all. Most of the time I write about what happened to me. Rarely do I write about what I want to happen. So here goes nothing at all.
I was driving to my favorite beach last Saturday for what turned out to be a life-altering day of swimming and bodyboarding ( or, as the common man calls it, boogie boarding). The waves were high, the sun was hot, the water was cool but not testicle-shriveling cold. I realized that day, even though I had stirrings at other points in my life, that I really want to learn how to surf. Really surf, as in: standing up on a wave. A few friends have offered to give me the 101, and there’s a surf shop with the best name in the world down in Kennebunk that I plan to take a lesson with before summer’s out. I have no idea if I’ll be any good, if I’ll fall, or if I’ll even like it very much. I do know that I love the water, love the ocean, that I’m never, ever bored at the beach, that the beach gives me physical and spiritual sustenance. As Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz said in the film Surfwise, he could go into the water feeling so bad that he wanted to die, only to come out of the water completely reborn. I’ve never felt that low, because usually by the time I can sense the nearness of the ocean, any low spirits or bad moods are already gone.
That day, I passed a house for sale. A weather-worn, brown, wood-shingled affair with a deep, shaded porch, a few outbuildings (that would make ideal workshops or writing studios), and best of all, a view of the ocean with water access. I immediately saw myself on that porch, or lying on my non-existent old leather sofa, drinking an imaginary cocktail after a long day surfing, my board drying in the sun, enjoying my other, newest, obsession: listening to old vinyl records on a vintage stereo system. Maybe one of those old consoles that my grandparents had that resembled a squat sideboard, where the speakers are built into the furniture and there are sliding laminated doors that keep the music collection ordered and tidy. My hair would be long, longer than it is now, grayer. My darling wife would be making jewelry out of sea glass in her studio, a converted garage, in the yard. The kids would be happily ensconced in college, and would love coming home on break, bringing their friends to hang with their surfer-dude dad and their artsy-crafty mom.
The best part about the house, though, was the name. An engraved wooden sign, tacked to the second-floor side of the house facing the road, read “Bright.” Not sure if this was the name of the property, or a family name, or both. But for me, in that instant, the instant I imagined owning the place and living in it and maybe even growing old in it, Bright was exactly what it was. I could hear the surf from the living room, ice clinking in my glass, some Seventies-era Joni Mitchell coming from the stereo, my hair still wet and salty from the surf, bright sun over the water in the distance. I wondered how many dreams one man is allowed in his lifetime. And how many of those dreams ever really come true?
This one wasn’t, apparently. When I got home, I checked the internets. $450,000 and already under contract, even though the interior pictures showed a dump.
Still, I have a few more dreams up my rash guard.
Sea Sled, anyone?