Driving around Austin, Texas, today, I was suddenly struck by an epic wave of nostalgia. I was transported to the Portland, Oregon, of my youth … staring out a second story window, watching rain drizzle onto dark, wet concrete through the sparkling reflection of a street lamp.
Unfortunately, the blue collar, funky Portland of 1998 – the year I got my driver's license – doesn't exist in the same way I remember it, the way this flashback hit me. Nonetheless, I suddenly only wanted to listen to Elliott Smith, Calobo, and Hummingfish all day long.
That's what we do when struck with a longing for way back: we turn on the music from our past and live for just a moment in that simpler time. You may be getting older, but music is ageless.
For the first time in history, catalog albums have outsold current recorded music. That means that music made more than 18 months ago has outpaced anything that came out in the past year. Even with Adele and Taylor Swift selling piles of records, most people who are interested in new music are choosing to listen via streaming services … or they're buying vinyl.
The LP is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, with the highest selling vinyl album of the year being Swift's 1989. Also on the top ten list, though, are rootsy artists like Alabama Shakes and Father John Misty, and a few throwbacks: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
I'll say it again, though: streaming music isn't going anywhere. It's convenient, the price point is low, and you've got literally every option in the world. What it doesn't do is provide the tactile experience of pulling a piece of wax from a large cardboard sleeve.
With vinyl, I can smell my childhood as the record slides out.
Do you recall the first time someone taught you how to handle the fragile disc? Maybe that person isn't even around anymore. Make sure you don't touch the carefully constructed grooves. Place the record down, lift the needle, hear the scratch and hum, and listen to a familiar old song. Now you can have that with new music.
Though vinyl is hard to transport around the country, the current crop of musicians is likely to be selling vinyl at their merch table. The upsurge in sales of vinyl is a good thing for all of us, since it points toward the fact that music is still a sacred art. It’s nice to take the time and enjoy the ritual of putting on an album and listening to all the minutia of the work put into making it.
Having made my albums myself, I can attest to the detail of making recorded music. A friend once said it was the closest thing she knew to parenting – you want every aspect of it to be perfect and well-intentioned.
So, to celebrate my wave of nostalgia, I think I'll take my two kids down to the record store today and buy Elliott Smith's Either/Or. We will make popcorn and listen.