Like any vinyl addict I had a growing pile of albums at home because of Covid-19 (what if all the record stores close for good? I better order something...). Several dozen LPs are waiting to be cleaned (because I clean my vinyl before playing it, that’s another story), and as I started flipping through the stack of purchases I realized how long it had been since I’d done the same at a record store because of the global situation.
Cue feelings of melancholy.
You see, the bulk of my vinyl collection is spine out on shelves, but the records bought online during the pandemic are on the floor leaning against a wall – hence the flipping.
I realized the old tingle I’d get crate-digging boxes of albums at a secondhand shop or the new arrivals section at a record store was now being replaced, much like a nicotine patch replaces a cigarette.
I miss the smell of thousands of used vinyl records in a small area. It’s like a book shop or old library.
Kicks now came from scoring something rare with cheap shipping on Discogs, lucking out on a few early pressings after emailing a local store, or securing an online pre-order of a limited-edition release before it sold out. Not the same as rolling into your favourite on a day off with a coffee in one hand and a list of LPs in the other (don’t get me started on cheap CD bins that I can’t stop myself from hitting as well).
One of my go-to shops implemented a curbside pickup window protected by plexiglass – they deliver by moped too, or online sales via post – this is great news, but it still leaves me outside looking in like a kid outside a bakery window trying to get a whiff.
I miss the smell of thousands of used vinyl records in a small area. It’s like a book shop or old library; decaying paper, plastic, slightly musty. It’s not only that, it’s the energy frequency too – all that effort poured into all that music locked into microscopic grooves waiting to be released by the subtle pressure of a stylus. Then there’s the camaraderie of the vinyl tribe, those focused on LPs are like a secret society, but with a knowing look instead of a handshake.
Whether it’s the church-like aura of reverence among those searchers present for the music lining shelves and filling bins, or the pious look upon faces as they pore over covers or squint in angled shafts of light while examining the surface of a chosen album, there’s no mistaking that a record shop is where hunters and collectors ritually congregate to service their cravings.
Much like literature, vinyl demands respect and much like religion, it has many gods, sects and followers who are as zealous in their beliefs of hard bop vs. bebop, or the merits of a Zeppelin II Terre Haute pressing, as they are committed to spending perfectly lovely days inside dark, dimly lit spaces in hopes of scoring an original Blue Note.
I literally get itchy writing about this consumer ritual – that I was formerly able to physically participate in – in before social distancing took it away. I used to take the ritual steps further because not only did I hunt my way through record stores or secondhand shops and fetishize over whether or not the obscure Japanese pressing I stumbled across comes with an original obi, I also have a preternatural urge (like having to pee) to make sure the amplifier in my sound system has new old-stock valves manufactured decades before I was born to listen to said obscure pressing on.
For true vinyl collectors the pandemic has proved difficult to assuage our addiction, all we can hope for – like so many others affected by this deadly outbreak – is that one day there will be a vaccine and our lives will return to a semblance of normalcy, albeit a ‘new normal.’