Victrola.

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

A few days ago I acquired a new record player / am/fm console stereo system.

Well, new is a relative word, I guess…. It’s new to me.

It’s a 1963 RCA Victrola. It’s about 5 feet long, 3 1/2 feet high, and 3 feet wide, with a flip top protecting the turntable and tuner.

It’s heavy– solid oak I think.

It’s got a bevy of old tubes in the back, and the design screams “early 60′s.”

The records spin a little fast, so I have to nudge a sock gently against the side of the platter to slow it down– you know, so Waylon sounds a little more like Waylon and a little less like, well, Willie. It’s not too bad, but if you’ve heard a song a million times a certain way, it’s always a little nicer to hear it that way when you listen to it for the 1,000,001th time. The radio is killer– it’s a manual knob tuner, so I can dial it in perfectly. I hate digital tuners… sometimes the best sound lives right in between the two numbers… anyway, there is this super high tech gizmo in it that lets you know when you’re honing into the best signal– a window with a bar of blue light on either side of it… and as you get closer to the perfect tuning, the two bars creep towards the center of the window. If the station is fairly local, you can almost get them to touch before they start backing down again, letting you know that you just passed the sweet spot. It’s not perfect, but I think that’s why I like it.

It’s got all sorts of knobs and lights… there’s this sweet green light that shines from behind one of the speakers (the speakers, by the way, are housed behind wooden lattice and avocado green burlap, all held within this enormous beast of a thing) that lets you know she’s up and running.

Sometimes a station that was coming in crystal clear for the last 20 minutes will fade into a staticky oblivion… and you won’t be able to find it again until you turn the radio off, let it rest, and then turn it back on again. After about 45-50 minutes of continuous play, the bass starts to break up, which I assume is a result of the tubes heating up a little too much in the back… so you have to turn it off for a half hour or so to let it cool down.

Like I said, it’s not perfect… but I think that’s why I like it so much.

This thing is a remnant of a time when music played more of a central role in peoples lives. I don’t mean to say that people don’t listen to music as much anymore…. I see people walking around everywhere with their earbuds in, so they’re probably listening to music more now than they ever did before. What I mean by “central” is that this thing is, quite literally, a piece of furniture… not a small one, either. It had to hold a prominent space in a home. Not only that, but listening to music required more effort than it does now. I can set my ipod on random and not hear the same song twice for four or five straight days. With a record, you’re lucky to get 6 songs on one side before you have to get up and flip it over.

I like the idea that you have to work a little bit to listen to what you want, whether it be on vinyl or over the airwaves. I don’t know why I like the idea itself… the ease of putting a playlist together on a digital music player is incredibly handy… maybe it’s the notion that the average listener had to put a little effort into listening… flipping records over, adjusting the tuning. As a creator of music, I can tell you that while it’s extraordinarily fun to do, it’s a little more like flipping over records than it is creating a playlist.

I can’t get this picture out of my head– a family sitting in their living room together, listening to music, figuring out whose turn it was to flip the record over… or maybe it was always the job of one person– the real music lover of the bunch, who didn’t trust anyone else to take care of that fragile slab of vinyl in the same way that they would.

The point is, this vessel of music held a prominent spot in the house. It was finicky, and it was a bit inconvenient. The music creator in me wishes it was still that way sometimes.

I was glad to move some furniture into our guest bedroom so that I could place this thing in our living room, the most used room in our house. I was glad Holly was as excited about it as I was.

And, I was glad to give music more of an honored spot in our home. Even someone like me, who makes music for a living, can fall prey to the ease of its storage, in a device in my pocket–out of sight, out of mind.

Don’t forget that you can download my live acoustic record, Alone, But Not Lonely for free. You can listen to it without having to flip anything over… but you do have to click here to get it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the bass register on my 1963 RCA Victrola is getting a little fuzzy… time to give those old tubes a rest.

2 Comments

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  1. Eric says:

    My grandfather owned a bar on the southside of san antonio when i was very young and i can still remember going there afterschool and doing my homework on a barstool listening to old rock and roll or country. Music has been a part of me since my earliest memory. At my parents home in China Grove during my highschool years i overtook the garage and coverted it into a pool hall/poker room. The pool table came from my grandfather who owned it during the time he had the bar. Its an awesome table that was only a quarter to play. The radio we listened to belonged to my father,(you met this past weekend) which was a 1960-1970ish model and it was a “realistic” i believe(its been a while). It too had the two windows with the needles to tell you your signal strenth and where the perfect tunning was. Also if i remember correctly, a red “stereo” light right above the long face of all the bright green lit numbers. it also had all kinds of silver knobs. As far as the record flipper of the family, well that was me. My dad and i would play pool till 2-3am or even later in the morning until we were just to tired to play anymore. But before we could go inside there was always one more song my dad wanted me to play and it had to be on a vinyl record. it usually was 1. the mashall tucker band 2. Santana 3. grand funk railroad or 4.bad company. AT my house now i have refurbished that old pool table and it is sitting in my garage now as the centerpiece of own little pub we have created. I couldn’t get the old stereo away from my dad, who still uses it today. I have a family of my own now and i hope and wander sometimes how my 2 sons will embrace good music and great writers such as yoursellf and rodney. Hopefully as much as i did and continue to do. Thanks for the great music, and until next time take care my friend

  2. Tammi says:

    What a flood of memories you just brought back to me from reading this! I grew up with one of these at home and at my grandmother’s house. My mother was a Johnny Rodriguez freak and I can remember the sound of him singing “Yes, your love put a song, put a song, put a song in my heart” pouring out of that old stereo just like it was yesterday!! I woke up early in the morning to her singing at the top of her lungs with him! My grandmother was an avid Jim Reeves fan and I can remember laying in her living room floor, either playing with our “zoo animals” or coloring as he belted out another beautfil song that (as a child) I had no idea what he was talking about, but still it sounded so beautiful and soothing! I passed on the opportunity to purchase one of these, not long ago…and of course, I regret it now. I seem to remember thinking “it wasn’t practical” and then later thinking what an idiot I was for not snatching it up!! I hope that you and Holly have many an enjoyable night sitting around listening to all of the static, the pops & the scratches….and I hope,if I’m fortunate enough to, that I am able to come across another one of these jewels so that I can snatch it up!! :D

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