Monday, April 2, 2012

Vinyl Time Capsules

My mother's birthday falls this week.  Like many people, the older she gets, the harder she is to buy gifts for.  I mean, she's had a good life, rarely wanted for anything, sired the kind of son that most parents can only dream about and basically has pretty much everything she wants.

Mom doesn't own a record player and hasn't owned one for years now.  The one and only turntable that she ever owned was built into one of those all-in-one stereo cabinets; you know, the kind that has a receiver, turntable, tape deck and speakers built right into it, with compartments to store a few records and tapes thrown in to boot.  This wasn't the kind of modular sound system that's been the norm for the last 30 years or so; this was a stand-alone piece of furniture.  They were popular back in the seventies.  However, that old relic was finally taken to the curbside in front of mom's house some years ago, to be replaced with a much more diminutive stereo/CD player. 

Being the pack-rat that I am, I,  however, still have an old Dual turntable and a sizable collection of vinyl records to go with it so, having no further use for her old records, mom gave them to me.  I'd always had this idea that some day I might hook up the turntable to my computer and convert my favorite old records to CD, and I thought that mom might like me to do the same with her old records as well.  It was just one more of the many personal projects that I never seem to have the time for.

That's where I got the idea that maybe it was time to take the plunge and give mom a little trip down memory lane for this birthday.  So I dug out my old Dual, hooked it up to a computer and chose three titles out of mom's record collection that I thought she might particularly enjoy.  There was Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hall (mom was always a big Belafonte fan; I get a little embarrassed when she Calypso dances in public, particularly after a few glasses of wine), a German singer who goes only by the name of "Lolita" (no, it's not what you think - apparently that's a perfectly acceptable name among certain ethnicities) and, finally, the lady who's depicted at the top of this post; a fairly obscure Canadian country songstress by the name of Jean Pardy.

Jean Pardy was actually never one of mom's favorites, but I chose to convert the album for its nostalgic, sentimental value.  You see, I`d purchased it for mom back in 1973, when I was still but a young lad of ten years.  Records were still something of a novelty in our household at the time as the old stereo cabinet was still brand, spanking new so I decided to get mom a record for her birthday.  I didn't know much about music in those days.  I had no records of my own and I only listened to the radio when it happened to be on in the background so I marched down to the local Woolworth's department store, found the section where they sold records and scanned the rows of album covers for something that looked appealing.  The only reason I can offer today for choosing Jean Pardy is because I was a big fan of Popeye cartoons back then, and she appears to have shopped at the same fashion outlets as Olive Oyl.

As the album title suggests, most of the songs are tributes to Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders, Jean being herself a native of that maritime island.  Several of the songs sound as though they may well have been written by the iconic Canadian country/folk singer, "Stompin' Tom" Connors, with a few well-worn (even at that time) country favorites such as `D-I-V-O-R-C-E` thrown in for good measure.  Listening to the album during its recording (because analog recordings can only be duplicated in real time after all) I realized that I had forgotten how astoundingly bad this album really was.  Let`s just say it`s no mystery why Jean Pardy isn`t exactly a household name down in Nashville nowadays, or even in Thunder Bay for that matter (maybe in Corner Brook though).

And yet, I couldn`t help feeling a certain nostalgic pleasure as I heard those whining slide guitars, the wheezy concertinas and the clickety-clack of the spoons (yes, those are considered musical instruments among certain people of Celtic and Gaelic origin) and I waxed a little philosophical as I so often do, thinking how the music that I thought had been lost for all these years had been right there, safely stored away among the peaks and valleys that form the floor of the spiral grooves that are pressed into the two faces of that vinyl disc.

My thoughts have wandered off along those lines before when listening to my stereo.  It's sometimes incredible to me to think that an electronic box can reproduce any music that a person might imagine.  Beethoven, Caruso, AC/DC, Rolf Harris, Mike Oldfield, Lady Gaga... you name it, this box can faithfully reproduce any of their masterpieces without "knowing" anything about music.  More than that, it could even, theoretically, play compositions that haven't even been conceived yet much less written, if we could only feed the correct sequence of magnetic signals to it.  This idea is somewhat akin to the "Infinite Monkey" theorem which states that a monkey banging on typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will eventually reproduce all of Shakespeare's writings.  If you fed random electrical signals to your stereo receiver for an infinite amount of time, it would eventually play any music you can name.

And now, having transitioned from the nostalgic to the silly and, finally, the completely whimsical, the nice men in the white coats tell me that it's time for my sedation.  I'll try not to stay away for so long this time, faithful readers.


Tubes said...

I've got my own collection sitting in the basement as well. wth the same intentions...

Anonymous said...

As I mentioned to you, I used Roxio Creator (which you graciously sent my way) to convert some of my old albums to digital. Sure, the sound quality is not as great as getting it from a CD or iTunes (there is a distinctly muffled sound, no matter how I play with the settings), but the whole experience was very gratifying. It reminded me of spinning albums and making cassette tapes. And some songs, like Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, just sound better with cracks and pops thrown in.