When I walk down the CD and album-lined hallway at my home, I sometimes wonder if I’m like a dinosaur — a species about to go extinct. My record collecting habit started a long time ago in high school. I would go into town with my music and surfing buddies to record stores that carried jazz. Crane’s and Sam’s on Adams Boulevard were two places we often visited. The big decisions were mono or stereo (mono was a buck cheaper), then it would be Sophie’s Choice — if you only had $10 to spend, which two LP’s would you choose?
Many years later, after finishing college and grad school, my record collection had grown much larger but there was always something else I wanted. I had two teaching credentials but couldn’t land a community college teaching job. So I figured, what the heck? Since I spend so much money on records, I’ll do something to try and get records for free. I started freelance writing for music magazines like Down Beat, Cadence, and Jazz Times, and dutifully sent my tear sheets to various record company publicists. Then I moved on to working as a promo and publicity man for a jazz label, and more vinyl came with that job.
I started my radio deejay career working the graveyard shift on KCRW (Monday nights to Tuesday mornings). More LP’s came in. After two years of working different night shifts at KCRW, I became Music Director and began to build a sizable library at the station. My own library has grown exponentially as well over the course of many years in the radio business, and it’s truly both a benefit and a curse.
I love CD’s and vinyl, and hope that rise of streaming doesn’t signal the demise of these physical recordings. There’s nothing like the cool graphics on Blue Note vinyl, or the great recorded sound of Roy DuNann (Contemporary) and the late Rudy Van Gelder (Blue Note), or the big classy gatefold Impulse albums, known as the Rolls Royce of vinyl. Many new digital releases are compressed to the max and the recorded sound suffers. Analog vinyl usually sounds better, provided you have a good turntable and hi-fi to play it on.
When Tower Records stopped buying from independent distributors years ago, a severe blow rained down on the small import and small-label distributors that put the music I loved into record stores. One friend of mine who ran a great distribution company had to close his doors and leave the U.S. The other day, I tried to order a Latin record from descarga.com, and found out with dismay that they had closed as well. Now Amoeba Records’ building has been sold, and it’s uncertain whether they will continue to remain open after their current lease expires in a few years.
Sure, it’s convenient to buy online from Amazon and iTunes, and I confess I do, too. With online streaming via Spotify, Tidal, and other music sources, it’s become unnecessary to buy physical CD’s and LP’s in order to enjoy the music you love. In fact, CD players are becoming obsolete in new car models, with manufacturers offering instead a Bluetooth connection to a streaming or digital player. That means if you want to hear a particular CD from your library, you’ll first have to copy it onto another device for connection to the car’s system. But with digital downloads or streams, you don’t get liner notes or the pleasure of unwrapping the shrink wrap on a new album. And you don’t learn as much about the songs, the musicians who recorded them, or where and when they were cut. I’ve learned a lot about music from reading liner notes, and I’ve used that knowledge in my shows and when I teach. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I feel like something is missing from the streaming music retail model.
With my tube hi-fi, belt-drive turntable, and a good glass of wine, I’m a happy old-fashioned dinosaur as I put the needle on the groove. Go ahead — call me a vinyl junkie!!