Not only can we baby boomers track our lives through the evolution of music, but as New York City native Clare Garfield writes, we can track our lives through the evolution of the different devices that we use to hear the music.
I recently unearthed an 8-track tape of Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman. 8-tracks were already almost obsolete by the time I started listening to music but, for sentimental reasons, this one kept getting rescued from the trash pile each time I moved.
As a teenager in the 1970s, I had spent my formative years in the era of record albums. My father disapproved of “wasting” money on records though, so when I came home with a bag from Discomat, I’d hide it under my coat and race up to my room. Could anyone understand the depth of my adolescent loneliness like Jackson Browne? My friends and I used the cardboard double albums such as the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach to sift seeds from the pot we bought in Washington Square Park, near Greenwich Village. I loved poring over the album covers and the printed lyrics and the photos on the inside. An occasional enclosed poster, like Milton Glaser’s multi-colored image of Bob Dylan’s head, was the ultimate prize.
In the 1980s, records were on their way out, and I had to move with the times. I attempted to transfer albums onto tape cassettes, but my amateur method produced recordings where background noise, including interruptions from family and pets, were audible. So I stuck with the records.
CDs? I resisted them as long as I could, but was eventually forced to buy them if I wanted to keep up with my favorite artists. I quickly learned that I wasn’t going to be able to replace my entire record collection on CD, though, since not everything I owned, especially bootleg recordings and less popular albums, was available in this format.
Then iTunes arrived. Now I had access to nearly every song or album I wanted. I imported all of my CDs to iTunes, gave the originals away, and only purchased new music digitally. No more excuses. However, while I didn’t even have a turntable, still I hung on to the albums.
Finally, when I was going to get married and move to a new home, I decided to get rid of them, saving only my favorite— Neil Young’s After the Goldrush. I had misgivings, but I reminded myself that I never played the records, that most of them were warped from years of inadequate storage, and that they were taking up precious space. I got $25 at the iconic Greenwich Village record shop Bleecker Bob’s for 200 albums, just a few dollars more than it cost me to get them downtown in a taxi.
I have had moments of regret, but I appreciate the ability to take my entire music library with me, wherever I go, on a tiny portable device. Sometimes I still expect a song to skip at the same spot it skipped on my record so long ago, and am pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t. But when I really miss the skips and scratches, I still have After the Goldrush. In fact, I have two copies — it turned out to be one of the very few records my husband had saved from his collection as well.
And he kept his turntable.