There is a tiny bone nestled deep in the hollow of my ear. There’s one in yours, too– a tiny piece of calcium that knocks at our eardrum, rap-tap-tapping to open a whole world of sound. Sharps and flats, singing and screeching, the wail of popstars and the crooning of jazz stars gone by all travel through the maze of the cochlea to make it to the brain. I wanted a new realm of noise, a brand new way to listen. So I turned to retro: vinyl.
For months, I had been looking online at record players, wanting one for my own. I wanted one that was good quality, but wouldn’t break my budget. True “audiophiles” (as my research online told me this was what vinyl fanatics were called, I immediately said it as often as possible to sound clever,) had only the best turntables, and pages and pages of how to care for it properly. I did not have the funds for the best, nor the humility for the worst. I wanted what I wanted, dammit!
So, as summer turned to fall, my hopes withered and died with the leaves. I crunched them under my shoes, listening to the crackle, crackle and wondering what vinyl would sound like. I had read that vinyl produced a warmer sound, a more true noise. I liked the sound of that. I couldn’t imagine what truth would sound like, but I imagined it as a ray of light, lancing through my ears. So, I continued to look. And complain, every chance I got, that David Bowie would certainly not listen to himself and I had to be the one to do it. I wanted to hear Bowie’s voice as true as it could be, scratched into the grooves as He was etched into my soul.
I would not rest until Bowie had the treatment he deserved.
Many weeks later, my search exhausted but my hopes soaring, I was lounging on the couch. The day before, my dad had taken me to Diabolical Records, and I had purchased six LPs. My first of what was turning out to be an expensive hobby. Thought I hadn’t been able to find Bowie, (which I hadn’t expected, anyone with a lick of sense would have snatched them up as soon as they saw them, and I was very late in the game.) but I had found a few old favorites and picked some I hoped to be new favorites.
I was waiting, impatiently, for the day I got my record player. It was expected any minute! I had just got back from a walk, heart thumping in time with the bass, again dreaming of Bowie. There was a ring at the door. My mom got up to answer it.
“Todd!” she said. “Thank you so much! She’ll love this. It’s all she’s talked about.” My head snapped up. My mom had put out a plea on Facebook for anyone’s old record player, and my old neighbors had volunteered to give theirs up. I was ecstatic. It was here!! I had a turntable!!!
My mom brought it in and set it on the table.
I wiped the dust from it lovingly, turned the knob to on, pressed the button marked phono, and held stock still. This was it. The very first time I would hear vinyl. I quivered with excitement. I took from it’s sleeve the record I had been saving for this moment– Henry Mancini’s Big Latin Band. I set it on the spindle, pushed back the arm rest with a satisfying click, and lifted the stylus to the record. It began to rotate. I held my breath.
Out from the speakers came a wash of noise, cleansing my soul and purifying the air around me. What I had read was true! This was warmer, brighter, just more. It was the truest thing I had ever heard.
My hands clapped to my cheeks, my mouth opened wide until my jaw clicked. I looked to my mom. “It’s making noise!!!” I said, stupidly. “How is it doing that???” I had done the research, I knew how it worked. But to see it in action was incredible. Tiny grooves were making that noise. Some plastic disc was producing this wonderful music.
I took the needle and gently ran the pad of my index finger across the point. A crackling, popping hiss came from the speakers. I caught my breath. Was this what my identity sounded like? If the blood running through my veins was scored into the grooves of vinyl, would this be my heartbeat?
The record was slightly warped, waving gently as it rotated. The tonearm ebbed and swelled, rose and fell, breathing life and sound into the room.