A hundred memories held inside a sleeve

The magical power of music. And vinyl.

At a time when more and more people are buying smart-speakers for their homes, I went in the other direction. Per my request, my wife bought me a record player for my last birthday.  lt must have seemed like a completely impractical request since most of the albums I intended to buy I already owned on CD, or have stored on my computer.

But my wife, bless her heart, never even batted an eye at my seemingly ridiculous birthday wish. She just bought me the record player. And I absolutely love it!

My motivation for wanting to shift my music collection to vinyl had occurred a few years earlier when I spent an evening with my friends, Geoff and Ashley. They had a record player, and while we conversed, a Decemberists album played in the background. There was something about its sound that sounded better than what I was used to hearing on my CDs and from my iPhone. Something about it was richer, fuller, deeper and warmer. Or something. Whatever the quality was, I liked it better.

I was born in 1969 and l spent the first twelve or 13 years of my life listening to music on vinyl records. Something in my past recognized the record’s richer, fuller sound, and really liked it. And then realized I missed it.

Was what I was hearing real, or was it just my nostalgic nature that made the record sound fuller and richer?

I did some research and learned that I had heard right: the sound quality of vinyl is superior to digital formats. The main reason, to phrase it in its simplest terms, is this: music is created using analog instruments, and music in its original and truest form is an analog form. But a digital recording takes only “snapshots” of that analog sound. For CDs it’s 44,100 snapshots per second, which sounds impressive, but still falls short of the sound’s full range. Using digital formats the farthest ranges of sound still get “pruned” off.

Even before we brought home the record player I began buying records to play on it, and I was happy to discover that most of the albums I wanted to buy could be found on Amazon. The first album I bought was U2’s “Rattle and Hum” for the simple reason that it’s my favorite album. It’s on my list of “Five things you’d want with you if I got stranded on an island.”

The reason it’s my favorite album is the same reason that anyone has a favorite album: listening to it takes you back to a happy, sometimes happier, time in your life. I started listening to “Rattle and Hum” during college, which was also the time in my life when I first started exploring the Colorado Plateau in depth and in earnest. I listened to “Rattle and Hum” while driving to Bryce Canyon and Calf Creek Falls, while driving home from rafting the San Juan River, or backpacking the Escalante River.

Music, as we all know, has many magical qualities. Perhaps its most magical ability is that our own memories, and experiences become written on the album as well, and when we play it back, those memories get played back with it. Magic!

Thus, when I listen to “Rattle and Hum” now it still transports me back to those happy days of youthful, uninterrupted exploration of the world’s most beautiful region.

With music, everything old is new again. That seems to hold especially true at Christmas time when we’re more susceptible to feelings of reminiscence, nostalgia and tradition.

As Christmas approached this year I purchased “For Christmas This Year” by The Lettermen. It was my parents’ favorite Christmas album and because of that we listened to it a lot growing up.  The first time I listened to it happy Christmas memories came rushing back like the blizzard of 1983:  I was six years old again, sitting in our darkened living room looking out at the lights on the eaves and the snowy street bathed in the blue light of dusk. I was ten years old, flipping through a JCPenney catalog picking out which Star Wars action figures to ask Santa for. Those, and dozens more great memories.

My parents were Christmas purists. They had a pretty strict rule that we’d play no Christmas music until Thanksgiving was finished, which for us was as soon as we finished eating Thanksgiving dinner. And the first record we put on was “For Christmas This Year”. And it was the last record we played at the end of Christmas season. When we took it off the turntable for the last time and slid it into its protective sleeve, well, it was a sad moment. It was almost as difficult as saying goodbye to a beloved relative we wouldn’t see again till the next Christmas.

The Lettermen’s “For Christmas This Year” was first published in 1966. The album which arrived from Amazon, even though it was 51 years old, was still in great shape. It played in the background this year as my wife, daughter and I decorated our house, trimmed the tree, and baked Christmas cookies and pies.

Listening to it again brought back a flood of happy memories from my childhood. And, naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder if the sounds of this favorite record of mine might also be  imprinting happy holiday moments on my daughter’s memory. I certainly hope so. I hope that 2in the decades to come she’ll listen to this record and be reminded of her own fond childhood Christmas memories.

That’s the goal, right.


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