My life is coming full circle around the turntable.
When I was a child, I remember that first record player. It was in a bright red plastic case with a carrying handle so I could lug it from room-to-room in the house to listen to my favorite records. My favorite was a safari adventure with Sesame Street’s Ernie and Bert. My little sister had one, too. From her room you could hear, “B my name is Benny, I haven’t got a penny, but if I did I would cut it in two and give a half to you.” It cycled the entire alphabet in such fashion. I remember secretly enjoying the rhyme, when I wasn’t annoyed with my sister and the sounds she’d play.
At a garage sale, my mom agreed to buy me an old floor model record player. It was ancient, the kind of thing you’d find in a grandparent’s home. But I thought it looked cool and more grown up. We didn’t have much money back then but this thing was priced to move. It spun a Star Wars soundtrack, Bee Gees disco, and my pet parakeet. Yes, I got a kick out of putting my pet parakeet on a record and starting it. His wings were clipped so he wasn’t going anywhere. He loved spinning around, I think, kinda like we did as kids until we’d wobble off, trying to walk straight.
As I grew into my teen years, cassette players replaced record players. I remember taping Casey Kasem’s American Top-40, trying to time it just right to pause and play in order to capture the good songs, and not the DJ talking or the commercials. It took commitment. When I got my first car with a tape deck in it, I could retire my not-so-portable boom box. Then, my music collection, on cassette tapes, grew at a pace supported by all that I could earn at my part-time jobs.
Meanwhile, old albums collected dust in the attic.
CD’s replaced cassettes. When I finally invested in the state-of-the-art rack stereo system at the time – it had everything – I played the crap out of my CDs. They didn’t scratch or warp like records and they didn’t have tape get tangled up in the wheels of a cassette player after too much use. These rack systems came with all of the components: turntable, radio tuner, cassette player, and CD player. But the only thing that got use was the CD player. Oh, and the speakers would have made Marty McFly proud!
When I came home from the Army, I was jamming Milli Vanilli in the basement while shooting pool by myself. Nobody could know that I was loving Milli Vanilli. Then, I twisted the wrong way and popped my knee out of joint. I laid in agony on the far side of the pool table with only my legs visible from the stairs. The music was cranked to the max. Soon to follow, my dad, a man’s man, came rumbling down the stairs shouting at a volume that cut right through the music, “Turn that crap down!” When he saw my legs and heard me say I popped my knee, did he help? No. He turned, shaking his head, as if he had lost his son, and retreated upstairs, as “Blame it on the rain,” shook the walls.
CD’s had a long reign on the music scene. Then came Napster and the digital music revolution. It was a game changer and gateway to the on-demand culture of immediate gratification.
I was slow to adapt to the purchasing of music at 99 cents per track to listen to on my phone. I remember being at a crossroads of the past and future, staring at an old stereo rack system and all of its components that I wouldn’t use, but wanting it all, badly. It was priced to move but a friend of mine talked me down from the ledge, saying something like,” What would you do with that, today?” There may have been a slap upside my head to hammer in the point.
Fast forward a handful of years later and my teenage daughter asked, “Dad, do you have any old vinyl?”
My first thought was, ya, I think there are siding pieces in the shed. I quickly learned that vinyl records were all the rage with the kids today. I was intrigued so I bought her a record player that came in a case like the one I first had as a kid. The twist was that you could plug your phone into it and upload the music from the records.
I entered into a strange flashback-world. We explored old album bins at flea markets, only the albums were brand new again, unopened, no scratches, ready to spin. And listening to entire albums just felt more natural. It felt good. It felt real. It felt like a richer experience. I was hooked.
Now, having come full circle, I’m ready for a trip back to the future. I need a grown-up turntable, and fast!
By Rocco Satullo, author of a memoir and novel