Vinyl Musings

Eartha Kitt listening to her record collection in her Los Angeles home in 1957.

This picture…

It’s glorious in its own right.

It also takes me right back to how, growing up, we used to bring our favorite records over to our friends’ houses and sit on the floor with the records spread all around us – safely, of course, jackets and covers on – and just…play them. Play the whole album, not just the favorite song. Be entranced. Be talking all through it at the same time. Somehow it all meshed together, the sound pouring around and through you as you talked about everything and nothing. Somehow you could listen and speak at the same time, hear and feel, give and take. There was no separation, really.

You do get that with tapes, CDs, mp3s, streaming playlists. Portability and lack of breakability are fine things. So is the opportunity to have a massive collection that fits on the head of a pin, to borrow an allegory (or metaphor).

Still. Because it was records first in my formative years, it is pictures like this, memories like that, that take me right back to the bedroom floors and the record players or old stereo systems and the tactile feeling of the cardboard cover and the vinyl and the tone arm. And then the delicious moment before the needle reaches the beginning of the track, or the unadulterated glee when you manage to drop the needle exactly at the start of the groove.

And then the sound, the glorious sound, bringing with it the exquisite moment of connection with you and the music and the people you are sharing it with on the exact same wavelength at the exact time.

Back to Eartha. I love how she’s sitting back the way you would sit when you’re looking at records on the floor. One could imagine she’d been hunched over just before, pulling out albums. I love the portable record player and the artfully poised record just waiting to drop. And sure, she’s looking at her own records – this is a promotional piece, after all – but it’s a fabulous advertisement for her and her work.

Tangentially, I love how there’s a copy of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt on the top shelf and a phone cord that has seen heavy use. I’d like to sit with her, see what other albums she has, see what the rest of the room looks like, the rest of the house.

What’s your favorite early-music memory?

Read This: Eliza Cook & The Old Arm-Chair

Earlier I waxed both nostalgic and hopefully elegant(ly) about the Book of Knowledge.

Here’s one of the many poetic gems inside that also speaks to nostalgia. I don’t know anything about Eliza Cook, but I sure like what she wrote.

First stanza:

“I LOVE it, I love it; and who shall dare
To chide me for loving that old arm-chair?
I’ve treasured it long as a sainted prize;
I’ve bedewed it with tears, and embalmed it with sighs.
‘Tis bound by a thousand bands to my heart;
Not a tie will break, not a link will start.
Would ye learn the spell ? —a mother sat there;
And a sacred thing is that old arm-chair.”

ElizaCook_Armchair

“The Old Arm-Chair” by Eliza Cook, from the Book of Knowledge (1939 ed).

Full poem here if the picture doesn’t work well for you.