Vinyl Revival, and the meaning of life

6th April 2014

The story came out of Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis Presley and BB King. But it had nothing to do with music, as it transpired in a mortuary and concerned Mister Walter William’s body bag, and the startling fact that it had suddenly, and unexpectedly, wriggled.

Walter was not quite ready to be embalmed. He insisted on raging against the dying of the light.

“It’s a miracle,” his nephew declared. “I don’t know how long he’s gonna be here, but right now he’s here, and the whole family is glad.”

On reading the article, I was unaccountably transported to thoughts of vinyl records.

The story of the re-emergence of vinyl from the ashes of homogenised, techno-fied music has been a thing of fascination since 2013. Grabbed by commentators in the New York Times and Wallpaper Magazine, it is as a salutary tale for all that is wrong with this soulless world we’ve made for ourselves. Like Brooklyn’s farmer markets and Manhattan’s rooftop beekeeping, the resurgence of vinyl is a mirror to the aching soul of man.

I am less breathless, but still fascinated. Vinyl’s growth is, as finance guys like to put it, ‘off a low base’. That is to say, it represents 2% of music sales – or 6 million albums in 2013. Not bad, given that we commended vinyl to the mortuary in the mid-80s.

So why has the patient in the square-shaped body bag begun wriggling its toes?

The answer lies within music itself.

More than a set of sounds, music is an emotional landscape into which we plant the great narratives of our lives. Melodies carry the memory of emotions lived – the song that played when you danced your first dance, the hit repeated on the jukebox that long hot summer out of school, the lyric that helped you understand the meaning of lost love.

In vinyl, there is a deeper, more generous invitation to spend time with music. An LP focuses not on the instant availability of any song, but rather on its visceral, ungovernable promise. Vinyl looks at the iPods of today and sees low-grade omnipresent hotels, festooned with crappy 24/7 vending machines. A system that prioritises availability over quality.

The physical contours of an LP allow music lovers to rediscover the caring rituals of a beloved art form and slow cook its meaning in consciousness. Vinyl allows a more intimate and beautiful interaction with music’s mysterious allure. The discovery is that of a new world; an Atlantis of forgotten beauty is awoken.

It is surprising how much life lies in the rubble of things, as Mister Dylan Thomas too well knew:

“Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion”

Brian McIntyre. 2014.


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