My vinyl ’60s rock inheritance
Each generation of music technology comes in its own package of sentimental associations. Cassettes were an evolution on the portability and freedom of the eight-track, with the advantage that songs could be mixed and matched in homemade mixed tapes. Also, growing up in rural Kentucky, cassettes were a lifeline from the vital indie music scenes of distant urban centers; I first heard Dischord bands like Fugazi and great ska bands like the Specials and the Selector from England’s two-tone movement on homemade cassette copies mailed through the US Postal Service by my cousin in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC in the late ’80s.
Then CDs came along – these lightweight discs in slender plastic cases that conveyed a crisp and unblemished sound. An aesthetic vehicle like a glossy and broad business card. The CD age is not done, of course, but it is gradually losing market share to an array of streaming audio conveyances via the internet that dispense with packaging and sometimes discard the album altogether in favor of songs.
My heart will never warm to any of these media quite like the vinyl long-player. I first fell in love with music through these scratched black platters in which the needle settled into the revolving grooves and wended through the scratches and pops into the recording’s warm music. And not incidentally, it was through vinyl long-players that my parents passed along their love of music to me. I remember the copy of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde quartered with strips of blue tape with my dad’s name inscribed in thin penmanship at the intersection from when he packed up his collection and shipped it back east at the end of a pilgrimage to San Francisco in 1966 (I would retrace his steps 27 years later as a literary punk in search of a variation of the same countercultural magic). Unsurprisingly, the first band that left an imprint on my consciousness was the Beatles, likely because my mom used to sing “Drive My Car” to me, from their 1965 American release, Yesterday and Today.
This morning my mom sent my sister, her fiancé and me down to the basement in her Champaign, Ill. home to sort through the stacks and divide the records among ourselves. I was also amazed to unearth my old stereo system with double-deck cassette player and turntable that I purchased at an Ohio flea market when I attended Antioch College and then packed away when I hauled myself and a few bags to Austin for an internship at the Texas Alliance for Human Needs. I’m experiencing this childlike wonder slipping the records on the turntable, turning the jackets over for some obscure nugget of information in the liner notes. Blonde on Blonde and Yesterday and Today have vanished, but familiar discs like Meet the Beatles, Loretta Lynn’s Greatest Hits, the Butterfield Blues Band’s East-West, and the Soul to Soul soundtrack, featuring Ike & Tina Turner, the Staple Singers and Wilson Pickett, and recorded at Black Star Square in Accra, Ghana in 1971 – they’re all in my hands.
I was born in 1975, and the music seared into primeval memory carried across the FM airwaves: the frightening “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors, some Creedence Clearwater Revival and Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Young’s “Long May You Run,” which somehow commingled with the Eagles’ “The Long Run” and a Marathon gasoline commercial in my tender developing mind.
My parents and their hippie friends pulled up stakes from their collegiate houses around the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana for lives of agrarian toil, communalism and freedom in rural Kentucky, trading the pursuits of art, film and politics for cutting tobacco, fording raging creeks in dilapidated pickups and convening impromptu skinny-dipping parties.
My dad’s record collection neatly tapers off around the advent of glam-rock and heavy metal, never mind punk. Thanks to the geographically distant journey from our home to the nearest record store, poverty or changing musical tastes, my parents appear to not have bought many records between 1973 and 1980.
Consequently, the classic Richard Green record collection is a distinctly telegraphed message from another time. Our entertainment was simple: National Public Radio broadcasts and those LPs. He had the Rolling Stones Let It Bleed, but also the late ’60s English psychedelic folk of the Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and a copy of Magic Sam’s Blues Band’s incendiary West Side Soul.
The most indelible legacy of my dad’s collection are the Grateful Dead albums, whose chronology and stylistic attributes he lovingly described for my benefit: the acoustic-tinged American song collections of 1970, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty; the hard-driving “skull and roses” live album from 1971; the speedy blues-folk-rock debut of 1967; and the psychedelic excursion of 1968’s Anthem of the Sun. Through years of punk-rock rebellion and contempt for the Deadhead parking lot scene, I tried to learn to hate the Grateful Dead, but I could never quite get over them.
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