Ode to a Record Player
Destiny Smith, Division 2, 12th grade #ws17e-s1d2

For years, I begged my parents for a record player. I was incandescently in love with the seemingly hipster concept that vinyl has a warmth and color that digital music could never have. A record player makes music sound raw, organismal, and dynamic. It’s a time machine. When you close your eyes, you’re suddenly transported to the vivacious and hungry ambition of 1960’s Motown or Jim Morrison’s garage. As a contemporary woman, experiencing vinyl becomes a posthumous recognition of legends. Songs on vinyl are miniscule glimpses into a different time—a different life: a culture completely foreign to modern youth. Music contains the souls of people. Everyday people. People from the highlands of Scotland and the shores of Río de la Plata. People who endured the adversities of segregation and people who reveled in the exploratory freedoms of the psychedelic movement. And the record player is our oracle. It’s our spiritual intermediary between the soul and man: the past and the present.

Many have mistaken me for a Luddite. But I’m not opposed to digital music. In fact, I would be lying if I said that I’m not a regular consumer of popular media applications like Amazon Music and YouTube. I am. However, there’s a certain mundane clarity to digital sound that takes the life out of music. It’s too metronomic—too correct. And this doesn’t just apply to modern pop songs. It’s not about the age of music. A digitally remastered version of The Grateful Dead’s “Box of Rain” sounds just as mechanic as “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. It’s about the medium of playback. It’s why couples often choose to have live bands instead of DJ’s at their weddings: i’s just more real, more tangible. Listeners can feel the vibrancy of the stories being told in the music, in the soul. When it feels like Jimi Hendrix or Bill Withers is recording a song in my living room, I become engrossed in what I’m listening to. Music no longer exists as a mere pastime, but as an indelible experience—forever etched into the recesses of my musical memory.

Though others might not completely understand my relationship with this unique way of listening to music; though many might dismiss it as infatuation or a fleeting, juvenile fondness; though my friends might deem it as impractical and antiquated, I gather a great deal of invaluable life lessons from it. Life Lesson No.1: Go against the grain. I might not be conventionally normal—and that’s okay. In fact, I should revel in my uncontained, weird personality because the only other option is to be normal—and what fun would that be? Life Lesson No.2: Enjoy life. This might seem simple to most people, but happiness is probably one of the most difficult aspirations in life. Often times, we move so fast; we have this tunnel vision fixed on our futures that we forget to stop and smell the roses along the way. The tedium that goes into listening to vinyl has taught me the importance of appreciating the simplest things in life. Life Lesson No.3: Stay humble. I never want to forget where I came from or undervalue my roots. Just like we should never forget the beauty of vinyl records just because we’ve evolved into a digital world, we should also never forget the many forgers of our youth and the previous lifestyles that led us to become who we are today.

I will forever carry these lessons as a perpetual reminder of the importance of perspective. Literally. I will literally carry my record player and robust collection of vinyl records with me to college, study abroad, my first home, and wherever life takes me. Most people carry with them a physical reminder of the things that mean the most to them. Whether it’s a necklace or a lucky sock, the purpose is more or less the same. It grounds them. A physical embodiment of our values allows us to remember who we are and what’s intrinsically important to us. My record player—although not primarily intended as a device of moral teachings—contributes to my life not only as a producer of music in a natural form, but also as a daily reminder of who I am as a person: unapologetically unique. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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