Recently, I was at a craft show, selling bowls and clocks made from repurposed vinyl LP records.
A kid, maybe 12 years old, ran up to my stand and picked up a bowl made from a scratched up Styx album…..Cornerstone. The kid sucked in his breath with excitement and called to his parent. “Mom, look what she has!” he yelled enthusiastically. “Can I have one of these….. PLEASE?”
His mother approached and seemed surprised by his choice. “Honey”, she said, “do you even know what that is?”
I, too, was surprised that he seemed so excited by the LP bowls. Vinyl record albums were widely produced from the 1930s to the 1990s, but lots of kids and teens have never even seen one. Today’s kids have been raised on digital music…..and for them, MP3s are way more familiar than CDs.
But this kid had hungry eyes. His enthusiasm made me speculate that some adult had given him an education in older music. I waited to find out……
“Of course I know what this is,” the boy was shining with confidence. “I saw it on the T.V.! It’s a tortilla bowl maker! You can take a soft tortilla and make it into a bowl…..just like they have at Taco Bell!”
I was disappointed…..but not nearly as much as the kid. He was facing a future without delicious tortilla bowls….and he was not happy.
To try to distract the poor kid, I decided to explain how an LP worked. Kids like science right?…..maybe he’d dig a little tutorial on sound technology.
I left out mass production, and factory presses and simply showed the boy the continuous spiral groove that was etched into the album. I told him how as that groove was being cut, the sound of the music would cause the stylus that was doing the etching to vibrate. Then, a record player had a needle that would sit in the groove and as the record turned, that needle would vibrate at that same frequency as when the groove was first made. And the record would emit the same sounds that were playing when the groove was etched there……..”the music is recorded right there in that groove,” I told him. “Pretty amazing, right?”
I waited for the kid to show some sign of awe. Was he not following? Or maybe he just didn’t care. I was leaning toward the “just didn’t care” option when I saw the kid scrunch his forehead and turn the LP bowl over in his hand. He wanted to know, but my description just wasn’t connecting for him.
I tried a new approach……”It’s like that record has a whole bunch of iTunes on it.”
His eyes lit up. “Really?….Cool!” he said with a big grin. He held the LP bowl at arms length and looked at it with new found respect. “Can you tell me again how the songs got there?” he asked me, genuinely. And then he turned toward his parents and said “Hey, mom….Can I get this?”
I do love records albums. I love that they have weathered the test of time and that when I buy an album from 20 or 40 or even 80 years ago, I can actually play it. I own a turntable from the 1990s, a box record player from the 1950s that looks like a little suitcase, and a RCA Victrola. When I listen to LPs or 45s or 78s, I am hearing the same music that the original owner heard, way back then……as long as the album was well treated and hasn’t sustained too many scratches!
So when I repurpose old vinyl albums, I only work with vinyl that is already damaged. Other music fans love going to rummage sales or used music stores and finding an album that is in really good shape. I, on the other hand, love finding albums that had irresponsible owners. I love scratches and pits, because then I can feel justified in giving that album a new life as a clock or a bowl or a letter holder.
But those pristine specimens….they deserve to be played and enjoyed! And hipper bands are even starting to make NEW vinyl records! NEW VINYL! ……How cool is that?!
So the vinyl album turned out to have enduring place in history. And it should! Cause, after all, those albums have a whole bunch of iTunes on them, right?