A vinyl revival can free today’s bland music fans from their streaming ‘safe space’

From Julie Burchill at The Telegraph

Records encourage experimentation rather than the numbing balm of algorithmic suggestion

As a teenage runaway I slowed myself down considerably by taking my entire record collection with me. It must have looked comical; this slip of a girl with only the clothes she stood up in – and 50 slabs of twelve inch vinyl – teetering through the streets of London looking just a tiny bit conspicuous.

When I eventually returned home, my parents were concerned as to whether or not I was still in receipt of my virginity, but all I could fret about was that some rotter at the YWCA had made off with my banana-sleeved Velvet Underground LP.

Two years later I got a job at the New Musical Express because I fell in love with a record sleeve just as much if not more than I did with the disc within – Patti Smith’s Horses – and was inspired to write quite a lesbionic teenybopper flight of fancy about it.

If streaming had existed, I doubt very much that this would have happened, and though I might have had the benefit of seeing my sex-idol in action on Youtube, this development might have seen my career of evil sputter out in an epic episode of self-abuse. But the impassive woman on the record sleeve was the just the right blend of promise and denial; as Oscar Wilde said of cigarettes ‘It is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?’

I was shocked by my new colleagues habit of blagging vinyl from record companies and then selling it on for a pittance to record shops; innocent that I was, I could never imagine treating records so cavalierly and carried every last unwanted one home to my parents. I still have my teenage vinyl in storage. So even though I’m never nostalgic, I was pleased to see that only eight months after HMV – which will now celebrate its centenary in 2021 – closed dozens of shops, the music chain this week with this launched the HMV Vault in Birmingham.

The largest entertainment outfit in Europe will stock more than 23,000 vinyl LPs and their new boss Doug Putman spoke thus: ‘I want our stores to be at the heart of a community of music fans and a place where they can not only satisfy their passion, they can also meet each other’.

And there’s the rub – record fans are an outward-embracing community whereas when one thinks of today’s youngsters and their sterile streaming, you can’t help but feel that this may be related to how lonely and anxious the coming generation are always claiming to be. Records made us feel confidant because they helped us find our tribe.

They were big beautiful calling cards carried under the arm signalling our readiness to indulge in social intercourse with like-minded beasts. Yes, they took up too much space – but in return they provided physical proof of a world where you hadn’t yet been but where you knew that at last you could be yourself. Their very solidness and size was a harbinger of how one day you too might create more space than you needed in the big bad world.

Records encourage experimentation rather than the numbing balm of algorithmic suggestions; as a 12-year-old disco-bunny I returned weekly to a local record shop to stare in horrified, slightly parasexual fascination at the sleeve of Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh – a cartoon of a smiling man apparently enjoying being torn apart by aforementioned stoats. I never bought it, but I did eventually listen to it in one of the darling booths Boots The Chemist provided, and went back to school feeling thoroughly and not unpleasantly discombobulated.

When I think of the difference between records and streaming, I think of Candace Bushnell’s definition of the different ways of being with someone; ‘A relationship implies a dynamic partnership where people are going to get something done. Companionship implies the opposite; people are going to keep each other company while they mostly just sit there.’ Streaming helps maintain the safe spaces of those who feel happier in a sealed-off echo chamber. But when you put your records on, you put your arms around a world of possibilities.

 

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