I was at a well known national bookstore chain tonight wandering aimlessly among the shelves hoping to find something not geared to a 20 year old (or younger). I was mostly disappointed in my search, for it seems everything nowadays is published in the form of Manga, or, as the younger generation calls them, Graphic Novels. In my day (shakes my walking stick angrily in the air), a graphic novel was a book that contained scenes of such horrible violence or such detailed sexuality that it caused parents or educators to say things like, “That book is far too graphic for someone your age.” The irony of those words, of course, was that there was nothing in those books but words; no pictures or illustrations at all. All of the graphic stuff would have appeared in our heads as images inspired by those words (or question marks if we did not understand what the words were saying). But nowadays, the books are actually graphic (i.e. they contain lots of pictures, and comparatively few words). I wonder what goes on in the heads of the youth that “read” them, since the images are there for them to see. Perhaps the images in the books cause typewritten words to appear in their minds.
But I digress (which is not unusual for me).
I was roaming around the bookstore looking for something that would be of interest to a person my age. You know, something in a stone tablet, perhaps; or a papyrus scroll. I didn’t find either of those things, but when I went over to the music section, I was very surprised to see that there were almost no CDs at all. They had all been replaced by vinyl albums.
I’m of an age where I remember a time when vinyl albums (or records, as we called them back then) were pretty much the only format you could buy music in (save sheet music). Edison phonograph cylinders had pretty much gone the way of the horse and buggy. Even though I loved music passionately and considered myself something of an audiophile, was not particularly fond of vinyl albums as a medium. They were fragile; being very prone to warping, being scratched, and even breaking. Even when they were pristine, right from the record store, they tended to have a lot of unwanted “noise” on them in the form of hiss, pops, and some more technical issues caused by playback, such as “wow” and “flutter”. Those of us who appreciated high fidelity recordings, handled our records with kid gloves (sometimes with actual cotton gloves) by the edges only. We bought special anti-static album cover sleeves to replaced the paper ones they came with. I cleaned each album before I played it with “D4” and a special brush from a company called Discwasher. I painstakingly balanced the tone arm of the record player to a very precise number of grams. I even “shot” the album with a special “ion neutralizing” gun from Zerostat that purportedly neutralized the static charges on the albums to eliminate pops during playback. Each time I played an album, I died a little inside because each playing of an album removed a little bit more of its life and its fidelity. And, worst of all, you could not play albums in your car, but had to record them on a cassette tape (which had a whole new set of problems on their own).
In short, I was not a big fan of vinyl albums even though I loved music and that was the best medium available at the time.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when compact disks (CDs) came along. They produced crystal clear music with no hiss or pops, wow or flutter. There was no needle and tone arm that had to be meticulously adjusted before each playing. CD players would fit in the dashboard of your car and on the shelf of your home. And, best of all, you could toss a CD in the floorboard of your car or jam it into the crack between the seat and the seat back of your car and it could stay there for a month and would sound just as good after that month as it did when it was brand new. CDs were not indestructable, of course, but they were certainly much more robust than vinyl albums and would take a surprising amount of abuse before they began dropping portions of the music. Even then, a good polishing would probably fix them right up. Also, you could play a CD a thousand times in a row and it would sound as good on the thousandth playing as it did on the first. Therefore, it was no surprise that CDs supplanted vinyl albums in a very short amount of time (less than two years, if my memory serves me correctly).
So now, suddenly, everyone is vinyl album crazy. Tonight there were literally more vinyl albums at the book store than there were CDs. What’s worse, some of these vinyl albums were ridiculously priced. I saw a Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” album that was selling for $42! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
As I looked out across all these shelves of vinyl albums, I was reminded of the phrase, “Everything old is new again.” That is certainly the case here! I was also reminded of a couple of other phrases. “Not all advancement is progress.” And, of course, “A fool and his money are soon parted.”
I wonder how long it will take the hipsters to realize that vinyl albums are more trouble than they’re worth. Perhaps the first time their $42 copy of Jud Strunk’s “Daisy a Day” album develops a skip or gets warped because the summer was too warm, they will trade in their vinyl albums for some good ol’ CDs.