My first significant vinyl memory took place at a neighbor’s home when I was about 6 years of age. Of course my parents had a small collection of top 40 albums that they’d occasionally play on their Zenith receiver with integrated turntable, but for the most part, I took this for granted. I didn’t realize the true gravity behind those 12″ diameter black discs. Probably because the pop and crackle, due to a sever lack of cleaning, made it seem no more interesting than the static-filled music played by our local radio stations. This is where my neighbors and their adult children helped shape my understanding of vinyl.
I didn’t consider Benny and Leon Clark to be just neighbors. They were family, and in many ways I was closer to them than my own grandparents. Their kids, David and Edwin, were in their late teens during this period of my life, and Edwin was even entering the Navy. I always thought they had the coolest hobbies, which included everything from RC planes to woodworking. But nothing ever impressed me more than David’s vinyl collection.
Much the way parents rely on TV to babysit their children these days, I was fanatical about Mr. Leon’s extensive National Geographic collection, and could be hushed for extended periods by simply giving me a stack of those wonderful, yellow periodicals. I would spend hours looking at the amazing photography, thumbing through magazine after magazine. It never seemed to get old. It was in the midst of my shuffling through shelves, looking for an issue that I’d not yet perused, that I came across a stack of LP’s. On the top was a mostly black cover that simply said “Star Wars”.
Having been around 1982 at this point, I was familiar with the theatrical sci-fi opera, with the first two masterpieces commanding international praise for its originality and impressive special effects, and the third installment in the making. But why would anyone want it on vinyl? What was so special about listening to a movie? You can’t hear the special effects that made them so great. So I asked these questions and soon realized that I could not have been more wrong.
David sat me down in front of his imposing Pioneer stereo system, carefully removed the first LP from the cover, gave it a nice wipe-down to remove any particulate buildup in the grooves, and dropped it onto the platter. Although I’d seen my parents play records numerous times on their system, I found this meticulous ritual both confusing and fascinating at the same time. But when the needle dropped, the planets seemed to align and everything began to make sense to me.
The sounds that I heard emitting from my neighbor’s Hi-Fi system seemed impossibly robust and clear. I soon realized that whatever he’d been doing to this record a few moments earlier must have had a great influence on the quality of what I was being ushered into my eardrums. The London Symphony Orchestra was speaking a language that I understood, using no words at all.
This was my first great experience with vinyl. And every time I’d visit their home when David was there, we’d listen to another LP in his collection. Unfortunately, I began to see him less often, and he soon moved out of his parent’s house, leaving me with the pop and crackle of the records I had at home. But now that I’m older, and have assembled a fairly respectable stereo system of my own, I’ve decided to rediscover this fascination I had as a child. And much to my surprise, I find it just as invigorating today as I did when I was only 6.