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.