By Peter Kaczmarczyk – Special to The Bloomingtonian
I set up my long-neglected turntable at the start of Covid, hoping it would help me maintain my sanity and reconnect with the music of my youth. After years of letting that connection flag, it was the perfect escape from a world often hard to endure.
I had never stopped listening to music but it was mostly single tracks on Youtube, which lacked depth of sound and the context of a whole album. I rarely got beyond a few dozen favorites and had forgotten the flow and rhythm of a well-crafted album side, where the placement of the songs was done with a purpose, with the goal of creating a cohesive and encompassing listening experience.
Soon I was rediscovering forgotten albums and deep tracks. Hero and Heroine by The Strawbs is a perfect example of an album I loved and played more times than I can count, during some of the most troubling times of my life, but had mostly forgotten. Hearing it again not only brought back memories good and bad but also allowed me to reconsider my past, my choices, and how I got from an often misguided youth to where I am today at 56 years of age. I found my record collection was full of such forgotten gems and the stories of my life that they told me.
As time passed, I realized an infusion of new albums was needed, to build new memories and create new stories. And I was determined to not just live in the past, though there was much old music I still wanted to discover. I have never felt the music of my generation was better than now, it was special because of its place in my life, but great songs have been around for hundreds of years and new ones are written every day. So I began to shop for vinyl, picking up bands I had long known but never really heard, such as Big Star, and newer artists who had caught my ear such as Death Cab for Cutie and Lana Del Rey. And with the revival in vinyl they could all be had in the format that provide me such much pleasure, with the tactile experience of carefully handling the disc, the details of the album covers and liner notes, and the full bodied sound that digital music played through a laptop will never have.
So with this passion in full force, I was excited to attend the Bloomington Music Expo, where numerous vendors brought a variety of musical flavors to my backyard for me to dive into. I was not disappointed. The first table I went to had an emphasis on the most loved music of my youth, Prog, though I had always called it art-rock. The dealer was knowledgeable and helped me pick out an album by Marillion, who I had heard much about but never listened to. Also from his selection, I found a 1970 album to add to my Strawbs collection, featuring Rick Wakeman, who went on to fame with Yes and his own solo work.
From there I checked out all the other album vendors. Many were focused on rock, though there was plenty of jazz, blues, world, and other styles to flip through. There was a strong selection of old and used and relatively cheap to choose from. For lovers of current artists, many newer releases were also available. Looking at some of these I finally purchased something by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, long on my list of ‘I should check them out’ artists.
And if you were into vintage collectibles, there were plenty of those to be found. It is probably best that someone grabbed the copy of Abbey Road on the Apple label before I got to it. I didn’t see the price but I probably would have bought it and ended up needing a second mortgage.
I should be noted there were plenty of CDs as well, and vendors selling music-related items, but I was there for the vinyl. I came away with a dozen albums, about what my budget allowed, but I easily could have purchased more. Of the three I have played so far two are of fine quality and well worth the price. The third, Crime of the Century by Supertramp, I am disappointed in, far too many pops and cracks for the $10 dollars it cost. However, it replaces a truly important album of my youth long ago lost, and the flaws became a minor distraction as my head floated away on the familiar strains of the music and the powerful lyrics. And it still sounds better than a digitally compressed online file or a cheaply produced CD.
Over the coming days I hope to play the rest, some I know and some will be completely new. To fully appreciate the new will require repeat listening’s, to study the nuance of the instrumentation, the subtlety, or lack thereof, of the lyrics. Some may disappoint, but that is always a risk when discovering something new or rediscovering something forgotten. I don’t mind. I love the feel of vinyl, the careful placing of the needle on the album, the care that needs to go into maintaining each one for future listens. The whole experience gives me a fresh window into my past and a wide avenue to take into my future. Nothing could bring me more joy or greater peace of mind.