Once we went in circles to move forward in time. We spun the records so much they impressed grooves in our minds. We played them all the way through even when we doubted the songs in between the “good ones.” We were patient, we let them teach us.
I remember getting Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again. I had heard “Everything Counts” that summer staying at the pub my grandmother ran in Croydon. The songs that I hated the most became the songs I loved best. I let them plant their seeds – they flowered unexpectedly. They gave me gifts when I had been reluctant to accept them.
You’d play records backwards to hear the Satanic messages – not realizing that any record played backwards sounded like Satanic messages.
You cherished the held thing, poured over the liner notes, the inner sleeves, thought you were the only one to discover the run-out etchings on the inner circle of the vinyl. You’d be mesmerized the revolving artwork, like watching Tamara Capellero’s drawn man for “Shake the Disease” going around and around. You relished the hiss and the rumble, the clicks and the pops, the remembered and unremembered scratches, the gunk stuck on the stylus, they became part of the song.
You’d fall asleep to Side A, waking up to the skipping of the needle, the locked groove. It was about the physical act of playing, a way of communing with the sound.
Albums — the invention of a poor French poet who called them “voices of the past” — were containers of memory and anti-memory, imprinting within themselves and ourselves the histories of their listening and forgetting, pieces of material and spirit that have no counterpart in the virtual. Archives of ghosts, ghosts of archives, silent for the playing…
In our high school hallway a guy named Jim Hibbler played “Your Silent Face” on a harmonica. Paul Lyren would wear a yellow zoot suit a la David Byrne. Sanjay Sharma would order obscure 12 inches from Japan and lend them out. My Welsh aunt would send me discarded 45s from the local jukeboxes and people in Akron, Ohio would think I was worshipping the devil. We would spend weekends driving to Coventry finding unknown imports. We were moved by decreasing concentric circles, diminishing circumferences. Records were our true lives.
It is true we can still love music in the age of streaming. Music will always transcend the means of its transmission. It will always retain mystery, never fully reveal its secrets, continue to rattle the air and color our silences. Nothing will stop its shiver.
But I have a strange longing for the unvirtual, and maybe too I mourn the loss of true randomness and the surreptitious. Where we used to roam record stores and geek out with real fans in real time IRL, now an algorithm tells us what we’ve “discovered.”
This is a grumpy lament. I am full of nostalgia. There are record crackles in my brain and I love them.
Lost In Stars was released on March 31st via Dark Sky Covenant Records. Dylan Willoughby is a musician who operates under the Lost in Stars moniker. He is also a published poet, with a new limited edition book set to release this fall. Keep up with Lost in Stars here.