Online or Live?

flipping_thru_recordsThe Boston record was shipped in a Domino’s pizza box. And inside the box there were pizza sauce streaks and grease stains. But the album looked okay, its jacket still had the original outer wrap with that 1976 promotional sticker slapped on it. But the vinyl inside was coated in dust, fingerprints and was severely scuffed.

The experience of buying this record online was joyless. It meant nothing. Empty.

It wasn’t hard to figure out that the missing piece in this transaction was the physical experience of going to a record store to make an album purchase.

This actual ‘going’ is a process that takes time and energy. To some, this process may seem aimless. But its not. Its a highly focused activity. When you’re in a record store there is nothing else, there are no distractions pinging you from the outside world. Just you and the records. Good stores play actual albums while you’re digging through the crates. This background music heightens the experience and provides inspiration.

When record stores existed as the only places to buy your music, albums were typically sorted by artist so you’d see a bin labeled “Beatles,” and in that bin was Beatles or you’d see a bin labeled “Clash,” and in that bin were Clash records.

But now, in most used stores, albums are simply shelved alphabetically so you experience a wild assortment under each letter of the alphabet.

And that’s the exciting part of the dig. Starting at the bin marked “A” and flipping through albums in the “A” bin, then flipping through the “B” bin, then “C”, etc., all the way to “Z.”

Flipping through each letter, you don’t know what’s going to come next and, often, you’ll run across something unexpected that may not have been on your mind at all. There’s no greater buzz than having a record you’d long forgotten about jump out at you as you flip through the alphabet. When this happens, you actually have a visceral reaction – heartbeat increases, you may smile or whisper some words of wonder under your breath. And you covet it, hold on to it while you continue mining the bins because that’s what you’re doing – you’re mining for gold…without a search engine.

So the online argument is this (and it is legitimate): “Well if I want the first edition Talking Heads Fear of Music, I can just go on Ebay, do a quick database search and find it.”

Well, yeah, you can. But what fun is that?

Sure, online sellers will post photos of the vinyl but online photos are deceptive. And, yeah, sellers will tell you its “mint” or “near mint,” but who are they to make this judgement? And why would you believe them? You can’t pull the record out of its sleeve and inspect it. Your own physical connection with the record – its jacket, sleeve and vinyl – is the best determinant of what you define as quality. Someone telling me on Ebay (or Discogs) that a record is ‘mint’ doesn’t replace the real interaction.

If you’re so remote and buying online is your only option, I get it. But if your town has a local store or even a Half Price Books or 2nd & Charles, you have to get out there.

Because that’s where the gold is.

© 2017 Chris Barry



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