The most exciting present we opened this Christmas, not counting the striped bow tie my family gave me that I’ll have to learn to tie, was this big, boxy record player that looks like something from the 1950s, but with all sorts of modern bells and whistles.
Vinyl is making a comeback of sorts, I hear. The last time I listened to a record on a turntable was sometime before either of my children was born, some quarter century or more ago.
But my older daughter asked for a turntable for Christmas, because some of her favorite new musicians were recording on vinyl again. I searched around, read reviews online, chose a model that seemed to fit our needs and sent off for it.
The big box arrived and I hid it in plain sight with a blanket thrown over it until Christmas morning. The cat liked to lie on top of it during the days, when the sun climbed over Egg Hill and shone through the window.
When Christmas came, we opened the box and took out the beautiful retro wooden stereo/turntable, digital recorder/cassette/CD player and set it up near the Christmas tree.
There are not many places to buy vinyl records anymore. I went to downtown State College the week before Christmas to Urban Outfitters, where the trendy people shop, and they had a couple of dozen choices, including one I was looking for.
I then went to Webster’s Bookstore, which sells a large collection of secondhand jazz and rock and roll from before the death of vinyl. There were many records there I had once owned and loved. It was hard to choose among them, but I found one I thought she might like.
We have been listening to digital music for a long time now, and many young people have never heard the old analog technology. CDs and MP3s are convenient and instantly gratifying — you can download a new song from your computer in a few seconds.
Devices small enough to fit in a shirt pocket hold 10,000 tracks of music, an entire library of songs. Plug them into a larger speaker and they even sound pretty good.
We put on “Modern Vampires of the City” by Vampire Weekend, an album ranking near the top of most 2013 music critic lists, and after a few fumbles getting the stylus in the opening groove, we heard the first notes opening up and filling the room.
It was like expecting to see something in two dimensions, but it opens up in 3D. Or watching black and white change to color the way it does in the opening scenes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There was big sound and depth and color that my daughters had not expected and their mother and I had forgotten.
The girls ran up to the attic to see if any of their parents’ long abandoned LPs had survived 20 seasons of summer heat and winter cold in the uninsulated attic. And somehow the hardy ancient analog technology had survived almost unscathed.
They sat on the floor in front of the turntable, holding the records by their edges the way I showed them, dropping the needle carefully into the opening groove, brushing the old records free of dust with a cleaning cloth in a ritual so familiar from my older sister and her friends as they played records and danced to Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. It was like Christmas presents out of the past, and all day long music filled the house with its warmth and color.
Walt Mills can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 174, Spring Mills, PA 16875