Sunday, May 24, 2015

Letting go

Did you ever see the movie "Almost Famous"?  It's based on the real-life adventures of writer and movie director Cameron Crowe, who was touring with rock bands and writing for magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone when he was still a teenager. There's a scene near the beginning, when William (the Cameron character)'s sister leaves home and leaves her record player and collection to her little brother. There's a close-up of the needle dropping onto the vinyl disc, and that wonderful anticipatory hiss before the music  (The Who's "Tommy") kicks in.

I love that movie. I started crying when I first saw that scene. It made me homesick.

Once upon a time, music was at the centre of my life. It was at the centre of most teenagers' lives, when I was growing up in the 1970s.  I'm not sure kids today feel quite the same way, as viscerally, about music as we did back then. The music itself and the musicians who created it meant so much. It was the soundtrack of our lives.

Of course, we had far fewer distractions back then -- only a few channels on TV, no video games (at least until I was almost out of high school -- i.e., Pong, and a bit later, at university, Galaga, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man), no Internet. We would listen to the radio late at night, dialling around to hear our favourite songs, calling in requests to the DJs -- and we'd buy albums. My sister & I used to pool our allowance to buy ones from our favourite bands. Most of those shared albums are still in my parents' basement (!), but over the years, I accumulated a fair collection of my own. My parents had one of those huge cabinet stereos that took up half a wall in the living room, and we'd lay in front of the speakers or (if our parents were around), plug in gigantic headphones.

I missed the stereo desperately when I went to university. I listened to the radio, but it wasn't quite the same. I envied some of my dorm friends -- mostly guys -- who had huge, towering stereo systems with gigantic speakers -- the bigger and louder, the better!  (Pioneer was a coveted label.)  I begged and pleaded and hinted for a stereo -- knowing it was a hugely expensive item and I might as well be wishing for the moon.

While I was at university, my parents moved to another town, and my dad had a good year in his business. That year at Christmas (1982, when I was 21, on the verge of 22), I got sent on a scavenger hunt. Hidden behind a roll of carpet in an unfinished shower stall in the basement sat a stereo. A Zenith all-in-one -- turntable, cassette player and AM/FM radio -- with two big speakers. I cried.  It was the best and most memorable gift I had ever received. (Maybe even still!)

I had to leave the stereo at home when I went away to grad school, and then when I got married (in 1985), but my parents brought it & my record collection with them when they drove out to visit us a year later. After we moved into our house a few years after that (1990), the stereo sat in what was supposed to be the dining room. The records themselves were upstairs on a bookshelf. Not particularly convenient, so they got played less and less. Of course, by then, vinyl was well on its way out, replaced first by cassette tapes and then by compact discs (and, much later, by digital audio files).

Then I had my piano shipped out from my parents' house, and there was no room for it upstairs anymore. We had (finally) recently gotten a CD player anyway, and were now playing most of our music on CDs. (In some cases, we had LP, cassette and CD versions of the exact same albums...!) So into the basement it went. I would occasionally turn on the radio or put on an album when I was down there cleaning or doing laundry, but both stereo & records have been (sadly) mostly untouched for quite a long time.

Fast-forward to the recent present.  Oldest Nephew (age 26) was telling us about his newfound passion for classic rock music. On vinyl. (Who'da thought, right??) He has a tiny little record player that closes up like a suitcase -- like the first record player I had when I was 6. 

He was going to pay $70 -- SEVENTY DOLLARS!!! -- for a vinyl LP by Pink Floyd!!! 

"For Pete's sake," we told him, "do NOT buy any more vinyl!! Call us first!! Because the record you want is probably in our basement!" 

For the record (no pun intended), I looked, and unfortunately we didn't have any Pink Floyd in the basement (although I know my sister had "The Wall.")  But we did have the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, The Police, The Cars, The Clash, Cheap Trick, Boston, Bob Seger...  (and albums by umpteen Canadian bands that most Americans have probably never heard of, like April Wine, Trooper, Prism, Triumph, Queen City Kids and Harlequin, who used to play at my high school dances).  Over 180 albums, mostly from the 1970s and early 1980s -- some of them dh's, but most of them mine -- gathering dust, along with my old stereo, down in the basement.

Now, I am a packrat. I don't give up my things easily -- especially stuff like records & books.

But I could NOT watch our nephew spending $70 on an album that we probably had in our basement (and paid maybe $7 for).

Besides which, we are talking (again) about condos. If/when we ever move, we will not have room for bulky stereos & album collections. And I would much rather hand my records over to the nephews than to Goodwill. (In a perfect world, I would have been passing this stuff along to my kids... but... well, you know... So this is the next-best thing.) 

So we packed up (almost) all of our vinyl collection, along with the cassettes and my stereo, & and this afternoon, we're taking them to a gathering of the extended family. Nephew will likely not be there, but we'll hand them over to his parents to pass along. 

He was THRILLED when we offered him the records, and the stereo to boot. (And dh -- who is NOT a packrat -- was thrilled to get a few more things out of the house, lol.) I know not everything in the collection will be to his tastes. He may wind up trading some albums with his friends, or selling them.

But maybe he'll listen to a few bands he hasn't heard of before, make some new discoveries, broaden his musical tastes a little. An old auntie can only hope. ;)

I did set aside a couple of special LPs to keep, for now -- including "The Best of Herman's Hermits, Vol. 2," which was one of the very first records I ever got, for my 6th birthday. (I've scoffed at the idea of bucket lists in the past, but if I had one, one of the items on it would definitely be to attend a Peter Noone concert & try to get him to autograph it for me.  ;) )

I feel a bit wistful letting it all go -- the stuff itself, the visceral reminders of my youth, my dreams of handing everything over to my own kids some day.  But I know it's the right thing to do.

(Next: to pare down some of my gargantuan book collection....!)


  1. What a wonderful tribute to your collection! Made me nostalgic.

  2. Vinyl has made a huge come-back. It's all the rage out here and people are willing to pay top dollar for classic rock. I imagine your current collection is worth a small fortune. 😉

    What a wonderful gift for your nephew. And I love "Almost Famous" too. Makes me wish for that era when things weren't so digital.

  3. How fun! It's the best of both worlds, really. You get to clean something out of your house that you haven't used in a while but your collection will also go to someone who really appreciates it. Hubs is also a collector of vinyl and when I read some of the albums that you have to him, his response was "that kid is lucky."

  4. I'm so behind on my blog reading - I open tabs and then take forever to get to them - I guess I'm paring down tabs right now :)

    I love vinyl. Maybe it reminds me of childhood when I had my own tapes, but my parents had a ton of vinyl and I preferred to lay on the floor and listen to that.

    Good job on the letting things go. It's hard! I'm working on having less stuff in my house and oof, it can be so tough to let something go.