Over the course of the past few months, I've been transferring my vinyl records to MP3 files in preparation for selling off the collection. I put the decision off for awhile because I really like having the old vinyl around, and I like the way it sounds to have a little crackle and pop in between songs when I listen to them. Which just means I grew up listening to music in a different time, I guess.
I bought my first turntable of my very own just before my senior year in college. I had been a cassette listener because they were smaller and easier to store in dorm rooms, plus buying a cassette player or "boom-box," as we called it back in those prehistoric days, was a lot cheaper than picking up a whole stereo system. But after a summer's worth of mowing lawns and mopping floors at a local nursing home, I had enough saved up for an adequate little system. It was kind of like a compact car, designed to save space. The actual stereo and cabinet were narrower than a full-sized LP, so cutouts in the turntable lid allowed it to be closed while the record was playing. The very first LP I bought after picking it up was called Dressed Up to Get Messed Up, by the journeyman R&B outfit Roomful of Blues. At the same time I bought the single "Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron," because I think that song is funny.
Many LPs, as well as more good old 45 RPM singles, followed. I frequently gathered favorite cuts off of the albums in tapes that I could play in the car. That wasn't so easy at first, because the combination of transmitter proximity and metal-frame building construction of my dorm meant that the campus radio station signal could be heard on every tape. Somewhere some of those tapes may still rest quietly at the bottom of an often-moved and never-unpacked box. Archaeologists will have to piece together the sequence of their creation from arcane titles like "Tunes VII" or "Tunes XXIII."
And now, as I have a profession that involves moving around every few years, those large, lovable and extremely weighty LPs have become a liability. They will be sold off. As I've played each one while recording it to the hard drive, I have asked myself "Exactly what in the heck was I thinking?" more than once. I've also noticed the steady decline in LP construction as CDs gained ground at the expense of vinyl sales. Older, previously-owned records from the 1960s and 1970s were solid affairs with squared-off edges. In the last days of vinyl dominance, the flimsy black albums stuck inside wrinkly plastic dust covers that never fit back into the sleeves right had edges that offered a serious danger of paper cuts for the unwary.
Although I'm keeping about 20 LPs for mostly sentimental reasons, they will all be reduced to bits of data stored along with all the other music I have on a single external hard drive (note to self: Back these files up someday). The CDs haven't yet gotten so massive they have to be purged, and I still like having an actual physical thing that I can look at and handle. Their time may come, though. But I think that'll have less of an impact. Yes, I do know -- and still own -- the first CD I ever bought (Let It Bee, by Voice of the Beehive). But most of the time I've been buying CDs, I've been a grown-up -- legally speaking, that is. The lifespan of my LP collection stretches across my last summer at home, my last year in college, my first year at a real job, and so on. That's a bridge across lots of different countries, and the fact that I can still listen to the songs themselves and recall the journey doesn't make me any more eager to part with the bridge.