Some kids in my old neighborhood collected "Star Wars" action figures, some collected Atari games, some collected cigarettes (it wasn't a terribly nice neighborhood). I collected records. Whenever I got a dollar from my grandparents, parents or the Tooth Fairy, I'd ask my mom to drive me right down to Camelot Music in the mall, where I -- as a 5- or 6-year-old developing nerd -- would buy a 45 record. I know, it's weird that I never got very good at sports, isn't it?
In this manner, I amassed a pre-tty accomplished collection of 45s for a second-grader, one that featured "Mr. Roboto" and "Pac-Man Fever," which I guarantee is still around here somewhere. And it would have been bigger, except that one night, my mom left my Camelot Music box of records atop the wood-burning stove in our living room, and I woke up to find my collection of many records had melted together into a single very thick one. (The lone survivor of the Great Vinyl Melt-Together of 1981 was, ironically, "Another One Bites the Dust," my first indication that the Universe thought it was really funny.)
Record players, of course, were how people used to listen to music in the 1800s, back in the days of "phonographs" and "Tommy Dorsey" and "paying for music" and other stuff that people don't really pay much attention to anymore. But for years, I've kept an old-ish record player and a couple of boxes of vinyl stored in the exact location they should be: under some other boxes in a damp and humid attic in South Carolina. That is just smart planning there, people.
Anyway, last week, while digging around the attic for Christmas stuff, which also doubles as my annual chance for attic-spider-carcass removal, I figured I'd get out the old record player, see if it works, show the kids how we used to listen to music during the Industrial Revolution, how we danced around to Al Jolson and whatnot.
Now, we have a 2-year-old in the house, so obviously, if there's anything you want within reach of a 2-year-old's peanut butter-covered hands, it's a precision device that doesn't work if you bump it. But the 9-year-old, he was just fascinated by this relic from the past that played music from his present. A few weeks ago, we saw a brief Pearl Jam show in New York; the 9-year-old met and got a handful of guitar picks from singer Eddie Vedder, a development that caused panicked heart palpitations in myself that have almost subsided and maybe sort of a little bit caused my son to briefly look up from his game of Angry Birds Star Wars on the iPhone. (Seriously, I was like, "DUDE, STOP EMBARRASSING US IN FRONT OF PEARL JAM.")
But in the weeks since, he's gotten into Pearl Jam, so I bought us a Pearl Jam LP. And I don't want to sound too much like the Everything Was Better in the '40s guy, but we spent a few hours up there. He flipped the covers over, paged through the lyric books, got excited at the sheet of collectible stickers. Once or twice, I caught him reading the lyrics and singing to himself, which made me think "HA, IT'S A LITTLE ME," and then I made him go run around outside for a while because no one wants to turn into that.
On many nights since, we've sat up in the little room where the record player is, paging through things, looking at art and pictures that seem literally massive in size, messing around with my wife's collection ("Meat Loaf?" he said one night, shaking his head in bemused disbelief. "Why don't people make any sense?"). And I don't want to say it's a visceral and different experience than these kids with the Spotify, etc., but it is.
Everything was better in the '40s.