Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Workin' On It

When I was a kid, I grew up on a farm about 5 miles east of Ava, Mo.                          
 Just about every Saturday morning when the weather was nice, I’d climb on my Schwinn and ride 4.7 miles into town. Back then, I had the many chores to do that one normally did on a working farm in the late sixties. I would get compensation for my work, as my father was, if nothing else, a fair man. On those Saturday mornings after chores, I would take my mere pittance of an allowance and spend it at the Dairy Queen, the local pinball place, shoot a couple games of pool with the old men at the pool hall, grab a burger at Norman’s Rexall Drug (by the way, it’s still there and serving great burgers) and I would ride to Cummins Electric to check on the status of the latest record I had ordered earlier.
This was how I bought my music back then. I would hear something through the crackling airwaves on the far away AM radio stations I listened to at night that would catch my ear. I’d write down what it was (if they said) and then go to Cummins Electric every Saturday so Mrs. Cummins could order the song for me. I would grab the latest issue of Billboard magazine and devour it’s contents, trying to learn everything a farm boy could learn about the big city world of music. It would usually take about two weeks to get the song in that I ordered. Sometimes, by the time I got the song, I was already tired of it. It was quite a chore to get the music I wanted in that small of a town in 1968. Quite an investment, I guess you could say.
         Later, I moved to the Quad Cities and Saturdays during high school would be the day that I would enter the closest thing we had to an art gallery in the city and that would be The Curiosity Shoppe in downtown Davenport Iowa. I guess you could called it a “head shop” now but back then, it was a place where you could walk through aisles and aisles of records, 12 inch by 12 inch works of art. Album covers dedicated to catch your eye. In fact, there were many times I discovered some great music my buying an album for it’s cover. I made some great discoveries that way, Osibisa, Mandrell, Lee Ritenour and the list goes on. Most of the time, there was something cool and far out sounding being played in the store, whether it was Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu Orchestra or Steve Hillage and Gong. Some of it was junk, but with some of the other songs that were played, you could then take that piece of music home and impress your friends with what you found.
Back then, it was word of mouth between neighborhoods that made the stars of their day. The main way to spread the word about a new artist was to hear them on the radio or go buy their new album.
Albums. LPs. Virgin black vinyl.
            LPs stood for Long Playing. When I was much younger, we had a number of Jo Stafford songs on “78 rpm” records. The turntable spun so fast, you could only get one song on the disc. “45 rpm’s” had a little better fidelity, they were more compact, but, still, only one song per side per record. Then, they slowed the turntable down to 33 1/3 rpm to get more songs on a record. My generation benefited from that technology.
There is something about an album that requires many senses. At first, I look at it and see if it has the “eye appeal” that provides instant recognition on who it is or, something to be inspected in greater detail. First sense. Of course, I must feel the album while inspecting it, looking it over in greater detail. Second sense. Certain albums had a certain “smell” to them. It wasn’t the album per se, but, whatever it was, the paper, the vinyl, the card board, whatever, there were certain albums that had certain smells. I will never forget the smell of a new album freshly unsealed. My enjoyment of listening to Fragile by Yes was definitely enhanced by the album cover and the little booklet inside but also the smell. I still have the album 40 years later and it still smells the same. One whiff and I’m back in my bedroom under the headphones. Third sense. Sometimes, there were unexpected pleasures when you opened up the album cover for the first time. I know that when I took “Dark Side Of The Moon” home for the first time, while I was listening to the album, I explored all the cool stuff inside. Remember the poster and the pictures that accompanied Dark Side of the Moon? Just about everyone from my generation had those stickers and posters prominently displayed and their room…because they were cool.
So, let’s review. You make the investment in the music of finding it in the store, bring it home, pull it out of the bag, carefully unwrapping the cellophane that surrounded the album to keep the investment safe, you open the album up and inspect the inside, then gently pull the beautiful piece of virgin black vinyl out of it’s paper sheath, trying all the while to NOT touch the grooves or the vinyl in any way, shape or form. You then gently place the record on the turntable and oh so gently lift the needle onto the one solo groove that fills the vinyl. Then, of course, you hear the end result of your “sensual” investment. Fourth sense.  Usually while you are listening to your musical investment, you can read everything you needed to know about the band by glancing through the liner notes.
 Before you ask, I have never tasted an album. We can only go so far with this.
When CDs came along, the music sure sounded better but then the trade off was the artwork, the product was smaller and not conducive to letting groups put a lot of attention to the visual stimulation that accompanied this great sounding invention.
Sadly, today’s youth will never know that opportunity of making an “investment” into a piece of music . All they do is order a song on line or download a song from this website, or that website and wham it’s in their computer or Ipod.

Maybe that is why music doesn’t mean as much to kids as it did to us. There isn’t the investment of our day. I guess the only sense being stimulated today would be hearing (and with today’s music, I’m questioning that). They can’t feel it, see it or smell it…and that’s too bad.

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