So, wuzzup with “Vinyl Distractions”?
Simple. I was finally getting a reliable catalog of all my vinyl (and then all my CDs) set up in Discogs, when I realized that nearly all of these old records are precious to me in some way or another, and nearly all of them have some sort of story, musical importance, or emotional attachment. And rather than just have them go back up on the shelf after I was done cataloging them (though I play a LOT more vinyl these days), maybe it would be worthwhile to share my collection and thoughts on these old (and a few new) discs.
The name is just an honest assessment of what record collecting was for me at the height of my obsession – a distraction from the work I was supposed to be doing. In college, whenever the work got to be too much (apparently, that was often), off to the record store I would go.
And being on a college campus in the ’70s, I had choices for record stores, all within walking distance. There was the main Syracuse University Bookstore, if I wanted new releases at top prices. There was the Record Theater, a regional chain with a great selection, even a few imports, but it was also all new and somewhat pricey. There was Spectrum Records, part of a student-run cooperative store — this was where you were going to discover the first R.E.M. record and much, much more, way before the other places would have it and at something of a discount. There were even a few records for sale in the Bookstore-run convenience store in the basement of our dining hall.
But by far the place that I wasted the most time was a musty used-record store called Desertshore Records. It was run by an affable guy named Alan, whose last name now escapes me and whose first name may not be spelled right. It was at 730 South Crouse Ave., in Syracuse, “across from the Red Barn” when that was an indicator of location, in the back basement. (It looks to me like the building may still be there). It was first in a cramped space way in the back, then moved into a slightly roomier location in the same weird little basement arcade that I think was shared with a clothing boutique or a hair place — memory fails me. Here, I learned the joys of $2 and $3 used records (at a time when new records were usually $6 or $7), and things you couldn’t find new at all. Here is where I got hooked on the British Invasion, vacuuming up Dave Clark Five and Animals records. Here is where my obsession with the Ventures went out of control (what, you don’t have 18 Ventures albums?). Here is where I got nothing done, and was so happy doing it.
Anytime my roommate, my future wife (well, what’s a better descriptor? “main squeeze”?) or I needed to get away from work, someone would suggest a trip to the record store, usually meaning Desertshore. It didn’t always result in a purchase, but we could spend hours just thumbing through, trying to see what was new in stock, what we may have missed before, deciding whether we were finally going to buy that one record that we wanted but that was priced a little high.
And of course we scoured every other record store we could get to, in Syracuse or anywhere else we went. Plus thrift stores, City Missions, flea markets . . . all in search of that great rare piece of vinyl that would make us complete.
Of course, everything changes, and sometimes it changes fast. Record Theater moved into the Marshall Square Mall and actually got a little bigger. The guy who owned Desertshore sold the business to someone who had worked for him, and it moved to an upstairs space right on Marshall Street, but I wasn’t a fan of the new owner and didn’t spend much time there anymore. A newer, cooler tiny store called Modern Records that sold stuff we never heard on the radio in Syracuse, stuff like XTC and all the exotic Marc Almond records, opened out toward Westcott Street. Spectrum Records moved into a different building, what had been called the Student Center, as their rickety old building on University was torn down to make room for a new hotel. We graduated and spent less time on campus anyway, so running to the record stores became less of a stress relief valve.
Somewhere in there, I amassed about 1000 records. Make no mistake, much of my collection was used — I didn’t spend a lot on records. Some of it was not in good shape. Then, along came the Compact Disc. In 1985, I bought my first compact disc player, a fabulously expensive Denon, and three compact discs, which then cost $15 each. That was a huge premium over the most expensive LP at the time, which would have been no more then $10. But the CD promised perfect fidelity, and permanence. And, frankly, compactness. LPs are big, and they are heavy. Every time we moved, every time we redecorated and reorganized, there were those albums. So CDs were a huge attraction, especially for someone who was getting very into classical at the time, where all the pops, clicks and hisses are a huge distraction. By 1989, I had bought my last piece of new vinyl, and pretty much my last piece of used, for a long, long time. And I pared the vinyl down over time, getting rid of things that really didn’t interest me, getting rid of records that I had CDs of and didn’t really have any history with the album, getting rid of wrecked records.
Fast forward to the empty nest, a new town with a record store in walking distance, and the discovery of new friends who share an obsession with music, and an obsession with vinyl, and suddenly I’m back to using vinyl as a distraction. I’ll head down to the record store with no intention of doing anything other than browsing, and come back with three things I just had to have. I’ve branched out (never owned Tower of Power records before), and delved deeper into artists I was already into (like, how did I not own Manassas, or a big chunk of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young?). On top of that, a lot of current artists are releasing their stuff on vinyl. Suddenly, I’m back into it and the collection is growing.
So, armed with my cataloged collection (LPs seem to be standing at about 691), and a lot of fond memories, I thought I’d try to share. That sharing will be my next form of vinyl distraction.