I suppose the first record I got was the Mary Poppins soundtrack. Then, Sound of Music. Then, Meet the Beatles although it had been out a couple years by the time I got it. I was young. My mother bought them and opened them for me. I played them on a black and white RCA record player. A record player is not a turntable. A record player is a turntable with a single speaker. Back then, “component stereos” were for guys who listened to jazz or classical music. They had berets and little beards like Maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis.
My first experience buying a real record of my own that I opened with my very own actual fingers was The Monkees. An LP record. I’d bought a zillion singles. In fact, I bought Bobby Sherman’s single called “Little Woman” and even ventured to the other side to hear my first Bob Dylan song. It was Bobby’s rendition of One Too Many Mornings.
But an LP was so adult. An LP was one step short of cigarettes or Playboy magazine. It was large and I could see my reflection in the cellophane. It seemed like it was my giant face superimposed over The Monkees like I was one of them, the fantasy somewhat ruined by the round “AS SEEN ON TV” sticker in the upper lefthand corner. I took a pair of scissors and opened them up wide. I nervously slit the plastic. The brown cardboard opened a little but I had to pry it open with trembling fingers. You don’t have to be Fellini to figure out that this was actually my first sexual experience. And it would rank right up there with any that came after.
The paper sleeve was perfect. The record came out in my hand. I didn’t know quite how to hold it. I knew that fingerprints were bad and if my hand was larger, I could have employed what would later become my (and everyone else’s) signature move: Thumb on the outer edge, index and middle finger on the center label.
The first playing a vinyl record was always transcendental. It was as if Mike Nesmith invited me into his cool bachelor pad in the Hollywood Hills and offered me a cold Diet Rite soda while he smoked a funny cigarette and we both sprawled out on the glorious avocado green shag carpet and let the music wash over us. So powerful. No skips, crackles or pops. The first pop was always heartbreaking and the first skip was beyond tragic. A skip in a great record would cause insane mental gymnastics to pinpoint the exact moment the vinyl was damaged to the point that it wouldn’t play.
I’d go on to greatly upgrade my stereo and buy and open hundreds if not thousands of records and while it wasn’t always as toe-curling, underwear-changingly erotic as that first time, it was always special and nothing to be taken lightly. Even when I was older and I’d go to Tower Records on Bascom Avenue in Campbell and buy them a dozen at a time from Scott Shifrel, a clerk who would become a good friend and colleague at The Spartan Daily at San Jose State, the openings were always special.
Eventually, the CD came along and what was once a glorious ritual became a maddening chore. The horrible plastic wrapping that wouldn’t open. The ridiculous tape strip that held the CD jewel box closed. Most record stores were easier to break into in the middle of the night than the damn CDs were.
The last record I bought was Bob Dylan’s Infidels. At least, that’s how I remember it. It’s been 30 years. But today, a package came in the mail. My brilliant and thoughtful girlfriend bought me a vinyl copy of Jason Isbell’s wonderful new record Southeastern. When I saw the clean sexy package, everything changed. The cellophane with the sticker that said “180 gram virgin vinyl”. I felt like a virgin as well. I was back in that place.
My son has a turntable so I can listen to it. I haven’t opened it yet. Opening that outer packaging was good enough for today. But tomorrow, I’ll open a nice bottle of wine. Maybe fire up a Montecristo cigar and experience the full impact of my vinyl rebirth.