Friday, April 30, 2010

(Me-Morrissey)=And And And(A Big Smile and Two Thumbs Way Up)

The other day, I was listening to Your Arsenal, and I realized that Morrissey and I have very little in common. He likes to write and record music, I like to listen to the music he writes and records, we both look smashing in a billowy, blue-sequence shirt unbuttoned down to our navels, but after that, I see very little similarities between the two of us.

Now granted, I don't know Morrissey. I've never met him, I've never spoken to him (I have seen him live and that was rather amazing), and in all honesty, I haven't even read a whole lot of interviews with the man. Still, I know we aren't similar, mainly because I've decided that there are a handful of songs that truly represent Morissey's character ("The First of the Gang" is not one of those songs. I have a very hard time believing Morrissey was some kind of street tough wreaking havoc on the streets of Manchester. Sorry Moz, the image just doesn't ring true). I hear an absolute sincerity in "I've Changed my Plea to Guilty", there seems to be genuine malaise and melancholy on "My Love Life", and he seems to be genuinely happy on "Now My Heart is Full", but above and beyond everything else he's done, "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" sound like Morrissey to me.

I'm not saying Moz is a dick, or even that he's not that good of a guy. He quite possibly is a fantastic gentleman, and at the absolute least, he is a remarkable singer/songwriter/performer, but there's something about him that makes me think he is just little bit petty. Certainly, this song was written and recorded 18 years ago, and a great deal of personal growth can occur over the course of nearly 2 decades, but that doesn't matter. To me, Morrissey then is the same as Morrissey now because my only gauge of him personally is his music, and although it's stayed consistently good over the past 18 years, it's also stayed consistently spiteful.

So for this reason, I'm sure that Morrissey and I have little in common, because I can honestly say I do not hate it when my friends become successful. When my friends enjoy an exuberance of success, I can say with the utmost sincerity that I am not simply "happy for them", it actually makes me happy. I enjoy it when my friends achieve something that gives them something they didn't have before. Both personally and professionally, it impresses me when my friends set their minds to reaching a goal and do their best to go out and make that goal their bitch. Don't get me wrong, when my friends out-stride me in the race towards success, it puts an internal spotlight on my meager treading of water in the ocean of life (how's that for a mixed metaphor...), but I don't begrudge them a single bit. It simply highlights my own failures at attempting to be the man I once thought I would become. (I apologize for the sympathy-pandering self-deprecation.) But when my friend Tyler Keene e-mailed me a song he recorded with a fella named Nathan Baumgartner that he met after moving to Portland, OR, I was met with a wholly new, unexpected, and I have to say, rather creepy feeling...pride.

Pride is supposed to be a feeling a parent feels for a child, or a grandparent feels for a grandchild. Uncles and aunts can feel it for nieces and nephews because I know I am proud as hell of the people my little guys (and not so little guys, kids grow up fucking fast...) are becoming. I guess even a kid can be proud of their parent once they get to a certain age and phrase it right. As long as a child is old enough to be taken seriously (I'm thinking 27 or older), and says "I'm proud to call you my...(insert gender specific parental title here), or your parent has learned to live with or overcome some sort of extreme adversity (i.e. being paralyzed, beating addiction, etc., etc.), then it's okay, but outside of those examples, pride is weird. In my slightly oddball mind, pride should be an emotion reserved for a blood relative (a spouse or significant other works as well, but it's still a tiny bit weird if you're not married). Felling pride for a friend is, well, not a normal feeling. But nonetheless, there I was, positively beaming.

(I realize I'm kind of exposing the alter-ego here T-Boz, but I just can't write this and refer to you as Run4YoLife, not to mention, only 12 people are going to read this anyway, and I'll probably 4 of that 12...nonetheless, sorry.) Tyler and I met when I was a senior in High School, and after hanging out twice, I knew that this guy was meant to be my best friend. Tyler and I have a weird relationship. As best friends (I guess I'm speaking for him by making that plural, but I think that might be okay), we rarely discuss our personal lives. Sometimes the facts of our day-to-day lives bleed into our conversations, but it's always by accident, and it's kind of ultra-rare. I can say with a reasonable degree of authority that neither of us are uncomfortable when it happens, and, at least for me, an increase in frequency of discussion about our everyday lives wouldn't be frowned upon. In fact, (again, at least for me) it would be welcome, because it would be simply one more facet of our lives that we could share and most likely connect with. But ultimately, the day-to-day doldrums of everyday life aren't important when it comes to our friendship.

The birth of our friendship hinges on 3 inter-related factoids. 1.) I wore a Led Zeppelin T-Shirt to school, 2.) He asked me a question about a Led Zeppelin song ("Dazed and Confused"), and 3.) I could accurately answer his query. That was it. He hummed me the bass-line, I knew what it was and told him what album it was on, he bought the C.D., and then decided he should start sitting next to me in 4th hour. And we began to constantly talk about music.

Music has always been the thing that connects me to other people. I think I have a stunted personality. I think I'm a perfectly pleasant person to be around sometimes. I can be funny, witty, insightful, I try to be a good listener (though I think I always end up dominating the conversation, regardless of how hard I attempt not to), but in the end, I have a difficult time relating to people outside of the context of what music they listen to. This is a sad fact about me, it's also the plight I'm stuck with. Whether I like it or not, this is who I am. Because of this, I've always seen the music people listen to as not only an extension of who they are, but a extroverted, physical definition of who they are. Understand the music, understand the person. Is this a twisted, perverse, psychologically fucked? Probably, but oh well, it is what it is.

For this reason, I spent the first 18 years of my life feeling remarkably lonely. I had friends who liked music arguably as much as I did. I had friends who liked the same bands and the same songs, but to everyone I knew, it seemed that they simply saw a band like The Cure as being my favorite band, not an extension of me or some sort of sonic road map to my soul, but this is how I saw it. I felt that, because no one could see me in the music I loved, no one really knew me. Regardless of how many friends I had, if I were to die, I would die with no one knowing who the real me was and that's a very lonely place to be.

But then I met Tyler and we started hanging out a lot. We began to know each other through the music we listened to and I felt like I had finally found a friend who truly understood who I was. Our friendship developed and I think is now at least partially defined by the music we love. The funny thing is, we don't even really like the same music. There's certainly some overlap, but by and large, we're excited by different sounds, but we both listen to music the same way. We both look for the same things, it's just that those things happen to sometimes be a little different. But the key is, I can hear a song I know he likes, and I can see why he likes it, even if I don't agree with him, and I think he would probably say the same thing about me. Even if he doesn't like something I happen to, he seems to understand why I like it. For me, this is one of the main reasons our friendship is important and special.

So when Tyler moved to Manhattan a few years ago, he was inspired by the city and began to write and record his own stuff. He had done this before, but his songs had always been more for the purpose of making his friends laugh. They were musically-infused, well orchestrated jokes. But the stuff he was doing after he moved to NYC was different. It was serious. It was attempt to really communicate something about himself through music. This was exciting to me, because not only was he speaking the language that I understood best, but the music wasn't simply an interpretation of him through the efforts of someone else but his own words and his own music expressing his thoughts and feelings. What was even more exciting was that the stuff was good, really good.

Over the course of 3 years, he wrote and recorded a ridiculous number of songs. Some were funny, most were not, all were good, and a lot fantastic. But I have to say, something was missing. Tyler is a musician, not a computer programmer, and without a band, he couldn't tap his full potential as a performer. The recordings fell short of capturing the brilliance that was there. Songs that should have sounded mind-blowing and explosive simply sounded really excellent. But then he moved to Portland, and after about 6 months, things changed.

In the fall of 2009, Tyler e-mailed me a handful of songs that one of his neighbors had recorded and given him. He was impressed, but wanted to know what I thought. He wanted to know if I thought he should try to start doing something with this guy. Now, don't think I'm trying to take any credit here, because I could tell by the way Tyler talked to me about this guy that he was going to play with him come hell or high water. I could have said I was thoroughly unimpressed and my opinion wouldn't have changed a thing, but I didn't have to do that because the songs were amazing, and his performance of them was even more compelling. Nathan Baumgartner's voice is other-worldly. He sounds like Ian Curtis without the manic-depression, he sounds like Brandon Flowers without the self-important pretension, he has the intensity and inflection of Serj Tankian without any of the restraint. He is Morrissey, Bowie, Robert Smith, yet he's none of these; he sounds like every singer I had ever loved and like no one I have heard before. He is dynamic, emotive, exploratory, and fearless. His talent has given Tyler a reason to rise to the occasion, and since working with Nathan, Tyler's voice sounds more powerful, clear, and brilliant than it ever has before. He is Tyler's musical soul mate.

Nathan has grand musical presence without ever sounding grandiose. He feels lofty but with no traces of bravado. Tyler has this innate ability to hear melody in every possible crevasse, but never overdoes it. Tyler has a penchant for noise and an innate ability to find complexity in the beautifully simple. Together, these abilities (along with 4 other gentlemen who, I sadly have to admit to know literally nothing about, sorry fellas...I look forward to forming strong, complimentary opinions about you as well, given that I don't think you suck. I assume you don't, but anything is possible) create a fantastic sound, and that sound has been given the moniker And And And.

And And And is not so much a band as they are a mind-fuck experienced through a dream sequence in the most accessible Fellini film that was never made. No pretension, no gimmick, no rules. They do exactly what they want to do, exactly when they want to do it. There's no formula, there's no rubric, everything is on the table, nothing is off limits.

And And And's music has the straight-forward, melodic simplicity of The Beatles or The Beach Boys, with the depth and complexity of The Flaming Lips or The Mars Volta, saturated in the chaos of the drunkest Replacements or Pavement show that ever happened. It's easily accessible without ever sounding obvious or overdone. The songs are layered and multidimensional but never busy or self-indulgent. It's raw, sincere, down-to-business, down-to-earth Rock n' Roll music that is fun as hell and loud as shit.

They're a little punk, a little indie, a little lo-fi, thrown into a bucket full of mud and poured over top of sweet, well-written pop music. On their first album, We'll Be Better Off with the Plants, they plow into you with sweeping, Indie-Rock grandeur ("The Great Tide"), dirge into noise-drenched dirt-Folk ("Seize the Day", "I Will Still Break Your Heart"), toy with British Invasion era Pop-Rock tripping on acid and saturated in fuzz (She's Got A Gun, There is No Meaning Here), and thud and grind with Punk-soiled, American Rock N' Roll ("Seeding"), somehow managing to sound consistent and honest regardless of the aural twists and turns.

I have to be honest, I've only heard a few rough snippets from the forth-coming A Fresh Summer With And And And, but from what I have heard, this record will not disappoint me. If anything, it will only tether this band to my heart tighter than they already were. From what I've heard, it's more focused but it loses none of the rawness and honesty of the first record. It sounds bigger but not pompous or over-inflated. It's ambitious but still true to what they do. This band seems to be able to do what ever they want to and somehow remain in their element.

And And And has blown me away. I guess I might be biased because having your best friend be the co-lead singer/songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist of a band seems like the perfect cocktail to get you drunk off bullshit, but I love music (and cocktails, both the liquids and the Hot Leg song) too much to sully its name with lip-service. When it comes to "my tunes", I cannot lie, and And And And is most definitely My Shit. Personal relationships be damned, And And And is the real deal. They are a band that you should be listening to, a band you should be watching. Two, three, five years from now, you'll be thanking me if you do because you'll be able to say I was listening to And And And when...and that's going to be an amazing feeling, maybe you'll even feel proud.

To listen to And And And music, visit AndAndAndspace

To buy And And And's music, visit Super Dream Music.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

If You're Not Already Listening to The Hold Steady, You Should Be

I wish I could say I was a Hold Steady fan from day one, but the truth is I didn't start listening to them until 2006's brilliant Boys and Girls in America, and even then, I wasn't sold at first. I could tell there was something there for me, I just couldn't figure out what that was. It took a little while; a couple of months listening to the record at least once on an almost daily basis, trying to decipher some code that would provide me the key to unlocking the mysteries of this band that so many indie-media hounds and "clustered-up, clever kids" who were obsessed with "the scene" adored. Then one day it plowed into me like a mac-truck. I still didn't know what hit me exactly, I just knew that I was lying on the ground with pulverized bones and blood pouring from my open and confused mouth. 11 days from now, The Hold Steady will release their fifth album, Heaven is Whenever, and although I haven't heard it yet, I can guarantee it will be the best album released in 2010. (Just as a side note, I now have heard the album. I attempted as best I could to avoid listening to it until the record came out, but NPR's free stream of the album proved to be too great a temptation. Oh, and by the way, I was right.)

I know this to be true. I know this because 1.) The Hold Steady are the best American Rock n' Roll band recording today, but mainly because 2.) I have realized something about The Hold Steady. I have realized that The Hold Steady know something about Rock n' Roll music that most bands have either forgot or never knew in the first place; Rock n' Roll is music for the young.

The greatest records in the pantheon of Rock music have been written and recorded by aged musicians (When it comes to Rock n' Roll, I consider anyone over the age of 24 "aged") recapturing the spirit of youth: Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (that one's got a whole lot of other shit going on too, but still...), literally everything The Ramones did pre-Too Tough to Die, virtually every Kiss record made before Unmasked, pretty much every Thin Lizzy album recorded between the years of 1973 through 1977 (the "great, youthful Rock n' Roll exception" here is Thin Lizzy's exquisite Black Rose: A Rock Legend, which is quite possibly the absolute antithesis of youthful, and also quite possibly the band's greatest achievement, but Thin Lizzy was one of the greatest Rock bands in history, those dudes made everything sound kick-ass...Well, not everything. 1981's Renegade and 1983's Thunder and Lightening are not so good; the keyboard had no place in the music of Thin Lizzy.)

Even great Rock that has no overt lyrical or thematic ties to youth still embody the spirit of the young in its sound: Zeppelin, The Flaming Lips, The Replacements, everything Justin Hawkins has touched, C.C.R., Nirvana, T. Rex, Ryan Adams (sometimes, maybe often), Bowie, Lucero, basically every metal band from the 80's and early 90's, etc., etc., etc. But recently, something has changed. New rock music, I guess what hipster's refer to as "Indie", has shifted the focus from experienced guys recalling what it meant to be young and stupid and free and, well, just pretty fucking awesome to younger guys trying to sound older, wiser, more mature. (I know I'm generalizing, but frankly, I like to make broad, sweeping declarations about the way I perceive the world, especially when those perceptions are music related, and even more so when those perceptions are fact.) As a result, the world of Rock music has started to kind of suck. (Again, this a generalization. I know there are a lot of "grown-up" bands making (or made) remarkably brilliant music: Wilco, Joy Division, Bon Iver, Sigur Rós, Built to Spill, Pearl Jam, Cursive, the ethereal genius of The Cure; again, etc., etc., etc. There are always exceptions to the rule, it's just that in this case, the exceptions comprise around 40% of the good Rock music out there, and The Cure comprise about ½ of that 40%.)

The fact is, Rock n' Roll has always been liberating because it allows the "older folks" to relive and get lost in the memory of what it felt like to be 17, while simultaneously giving the lifestyle of the Seventeener meaning, but now, the Seventeener is trying to be a Twenty-Sevener. (This is a problem for multiple and more obvious reasons, but mainly, what self-respecting 27 year-old is going to take advice from a 22 year-old kids on how you're supposed to feel when you are 27?) What are we left with? We are left with a bunch of kids pretending to understand what it means to be us (maybe I should say "me", someone under the age of 24 might read this, though I doubt it.)

What happened to the escapism of Rock music? What happened to falling in love with a song and falling into a song, forgetting the things that ail you, feeling young and strong because the music feels young and strong? It appears that The Hold Steady must have sucked up all of that energy and are using it solely for themselves, because they are the only ones writing tunes that feel classic, inspired, young, and rockin' (Exceptions...Lucero and Hot Leg, look them up, learn something). But as sad as it is that only one American band out there is truly capturing the spirit of youth and playing real fucking Rock n' Roll, that one band has decided to dole that energy out in spades.

Craig Finn's songs are about firsts: the first hand-hold, the first kiss, the first fuck, the first epic party, the first beer, the first time you decide you are, in fact, invincible, the first time you spend all night next to the toilet vomiting up fire and blue from too much Five O'Clock Vodka and "Mountain Blast" Powerade, cursing yourself from ever suffering from the delusion that you were, in fact, invincible, the first time you fuck over someone you like for no good reason, the first time someone who likes you fucks you over for no good reason. They're all about love and lust and drugs and booze and music and drugs and friends and booze and enemies and hopes and dreams and drugs and failure and despair and booze. Craig Finn's songs aren't about memories though. The mind tends to filter out the bad and leaves only the good when we're dealing with memories. Everyone has a great memory about the biggest party they went to in high school or college, but no one ever seems to have memories about how awful they felt the next morning. Those latter kind of recollections are for people who don't deal in memories, they simply remember things. And Craig Finn definitely remembers.

His songs are not nostalgic; there is no sentimentality clouding up his images of youth. They are lyrics that are about what it felt like to be 17, but clearly from a 38 year-old's perspective. He remembers that being young was amazing and painful and sometimes detrimental to the remainder of your life. Some people do all the wrong things until they graduate High School, and then they go to College and still do all the wrong things but at more appropriate times, and then they graduate after figuring out ways to occasionally do the right things and they get a job and come out relatively unscathed. They may still choose to exhibit occasional bad behavior, but they recognize that there are right times to do the wrong things and work within the confines of this socially-constructed yet still liberating structure.

Some kids aren't so lucky. Some kids lose their innocence earlier than others. Some kids do all the wrong things and never figure out that there are better times than others to be wrong. Some kids become adults who just keep doing all the wrong things. Some kids become adults who end up never doing anything right. Craig Finn knows that, and he knows that when we were 17, all of us were friends regardless of what are inevitable (or not-so-inevitable) destinations might be. Some were on the road to success, others were on a crash-course with disaster, but for at least a little while, we all partied together at that fork in the road, taking shots of Black Velvet from a plastic half-gallon jug and chasing it with warm cans of Hamm's and choking down Marlboro Reds while listening to The Police on somebodies crappy car stereo. Some times were great, others were shitty, but they were all times we had when we were younger and these times were magical because of that. High School wasn't great, but being 17 was. College was better, but still not always great, but being 21 was. This is the crux of The Hold Steady's music, the reality of being young; black and white, good and bad, success and failure, we'll always experience both, but all of the bad shit was sufferable as long as we were young when we were suffering.

Craig Finn writes lyrics about being a kid but for people who no longer are. The "old-timers" get it because his words are honest and sincere, and they remind us of how it felt to be young and indestructible. The kids get it because his words are honest and sincere, and they validate their existence, validate exactly who they are at the exact moment in time that they are listening to them. He somehow manages to write lyrics that mean completely different yet equally important things to two very different groups of people.

And that's only the lyrics. The music, well, I could describe the music, but I don't need to. The Hold Steady are writing songs that are as unique, original, and good as the best bands out there (if not better), but I'm guessing you've heard them before. If you've ever been listening to a song with friends at 1 a.m. and felt compelled to sing every word at top volume in each others faces just because you were there, the beer was cold, there was still a half pack of smokes in your pocket, and the song was just that fucking good, then you've heard it before because that's who The Hold Steady are and what The Hold Steady do. The Hold Steady write music that's meant to be listened to at top volume while driving in the summer with the windows rolled down and no particular place to go. They write the kind of music you listen to while getting ready to go out for a "massive night", only to cut your evening short so you can go home and listen to The Hold Steady again.

If you can hear the opening riff to "Slapped Actress" and think that these guys aren't as Rock as fuck, then I'm not sure what to say to you. If you can put on "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", and not smile at the lead-in to the chorus, I'm not sure I understand you. If you can listen to even just the first 20 seconds of "Hot Soft Light" and not be convinced that this is some of the most kick-ass, serious, and essential Rock n' Roll that you've ever heard, than I don't think there's a thing I can say here that's going to make you think differently. And to be honest, I wouldn't want to, because if you can listen to these songs and not feel those things, then you don't deserve to listen to The Hold Steady.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

If You Love the USA, Listen to Vinyl

Do you remember the magic of summers as a kid? Every single day was filled with unlimited possibility. You would wake up and see the bright light from early morning sun sneaking its way through the slots in the blinds of your bedroom and it was impossible not to smile because that day held so much boundless opportunity. Each day was another compressed spring just waiting to be released of its potential energy. Looking back now, it's funny just how liberating imagined freedom can be, because, let's face it, none of us were actually free (at least not the well-cared for ones, sorry if that hits a sore spot for anyone). At the time though, nothing seemed imagined about that freedom, because if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, isn't it a duck?

During those times in between the early waking hours and dinner time (possibly a brief lunch interlude), we were our own person; no one to answer to, no one to regulate our movements, no one to question our behavior or motives. We did what we wanted to do, said what we wanted to say, were what we wanted to be. Summer does something to the hearts and souls of children that no other time of the year can ever hope to compete with. The freedom may have been "imagined" in reality, because there were still always rules to adhere to even if it seemed like total lawlessness, but it was nonetheless a form of freedom. We had stretches of time that were ours. No expectations to fulfill, no social or parental mores to live up to, we were anything and everything we had ever wanted to be and it was absolute, mother-fucking brilliance.

So on the second day of summer in 1994, I found myself with nearly an hour and a half left before dinner, and no one to hang out with or a place to go. I couldn't go home, that was a non-option. Early arrival was tantamount to blasphemy; it would be like spitting in the face of liberty. I wouldn't have that on my conscience, but I didn't want to wander around aimlessly because that was just as fruitless as going home. I needed something to do. The walk home took a half an hour, so I had an hour to play with and needed to find a way to fill it, and then it hit me...Records and Tapes Galore. It was a mere 5 minute walk from my friend's house and it didn't fuck up my walk home all that much. It might have taken me slightly longer (by like a minute), but it was more direct and I had only been inside Records and Tapes twice in my whole life, and, both trips were nearly non-existent. The first time, I walked in through the door to order and pay for an Anthrax import e.p., and the second time, I walked in to pick up Penikufesin (Nise Fukin ep) and then bolted as quickly as I came in. Both experiences lasted less than 10 minutes combined.

I had passed by this store who knows how many times, probably two or three times a week for nearly my entire life but never browsed, never spent a significant amount of time in there. For a normal, well-adjusted person, this isn't all that strange. All of us pass by businesses everyday and never step through the door once, but for me, this was equivalent to a crackhead walking by a dealer a few times a week and never stopping to pick up a rock. That shit just doesn't happen. (As a side note, how fucked up is it that the word "crackhead" doesn't trigger a spelling error?) I didn't really have a choice, I had to go, it was an act of Patriotism. Going was a display of love for freedom, and what's more American than freedom? The way I saw it, I not only had an obligation to my own "personal" freedom, but to the notion of freedom itself. I had an obligation to my country. I had to go to Records and Tapes Galore.

It took about 2 seconds to notice that this was not like any other record store I'd been in. They had C.D.'s, tapes, and a decent selection of music-oriented VHS lining the walls just like all other record stores, but on an island in the middle, they had stacks and stacks of records. I was blown away, records in a record store? How fucking novel. I'd thought I had seen it all, but here I was, browsing through racks of this dinosauric medium, this "ancient" nod to the music of the past, but as I dug, I discovered something remarkable...there were new albums shoved into those bins, albums I owned, albums I wanted to own, on fucking vinyl. And one of those new records, amongst the multiple used copies of Journey's Greatest Hits and the sun-faded covers of Linda Ronstadt LP's was the album, my favorite album in the history of music at that point in time, Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral on glorious 12" black vinyl with larger-than-life album art.

It's hard to explain my exact feelings after finding this, but I can tell you they were revelatory. I have to imagine it was akin to the first time a baby discovers it has a nose. It's literally in their face the whole time, they just never knew it existed, but once they do, their life is unalterably different, there's no turning off that switch, there's no going back. Records had been there my entire life, I just never knew I wanted to listen to them, but once I did, music was inherently different.

It didn't matter that I already owned this album on C.D., or that I didn't own a record player; the only thing that mattered was that I needed this record. I had to get it. So I did. How I had the money I can't exactly remember, because generally speaking, the second I put a dollar bill into my jeans, it tends to fall out of the hole it burned in my pocket, but how I had the cash doesn't really matter now I guess. I had money and had to get this record, so I did. After that one, I got more...and more...and more. Within less than 2 months, if they pressed it on vinyl, I bought it on vinyl. (I still didn't have a record player at this point, and wouldn't have one for nearly 8 more months, when I used the money I received for my 16th birthday to pony up and buy a Sony turntable of very underwhelming quality.) I saved every penny I earned or found. I did extra chores, collected bottles to return for the deposit, dug through couch cushions and never hesitated to pick up a loose dime or nickle on the ground. I needed more records. I didn't care that I couldn't listen to them, I just wanted to own them. And for me, that was OK, I would just make a copy of the tape or C.D. from a friend who bought it. Then I could look at my record while I listened to my dubbed copy. It worked for me, worked for two years. It worked just fine...until I got a car with a C.D. player.

I now found myself in a serious dilemma. By that point I had my player and a sizable vinyl collection. I loved laying around my bedroom spinning my records. I loved talking on the phone to my girlfriend and spinning my records. I loved cleaning my room and even doing my homework while spinning my records. I just plain loved spinning my records...but I absoluetly hated FM radio. For a kid whose favorites were The Cure, The Ramones, Jeff Buckley, Sebadoh, and The Misfits, there wasn't really much of an option for me on the radio dial. I couldn't deal with shitty rock bands, and could handle vapid pop bullshit even less. I needed my tunes, but I didn't have money for a new tape deck for the car, couldn't afford to by a C.D. and vinyl copy of something, and I obviously couldn't play my records in the new ride. I was royally fucked.

Of course, it never occurred to me that there was a happy medium; continue buying the stuff I could on vinyl and listen to the stuff I had to buy on C.D. for lack of a vinyl pressing in the car, but my mind doesn't work logically. It's probably a result of the addictive personality, but I've always thought in "all or nothing" terms. I realize now that I was wrong, but the way I saw it then, I either had to suffer with fucked rock radio and continue buying records, or I had to give up the ghost and submit to the C.D. It was choice between sanity and love. In the end, I chose to remain (semi-)sane and go with those tiny, sterile discs, and it did crush me a bit, but luckily, the beast didn't die, it simply lay dormant, waiting for the day that it could awake from its long, forced slumber and return to its rightful place at the throne of my heart and musical existence.

For more than a decade I bought C.D.'s but I never forgot about records. I never forgot about those "large and in charge" 12" masterworks of human invention and engineering. And then, after far too long of dreaming about records and being broke because of irresponsibility and spending the little money I did have in nickle and dime fashion, an opportunity presented itself.

I was turning 30. My wife and I had spent our youth showering each other with lavish and irresponsible gifts for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc., and then we got married and discovered we were broke and wallowing a decent-sized pool of debt due, at least in part, to the lavish and irresponsible gift-giving. So we made the decision that gifts were suspended. No more $200 birthday presents, no more $300 anniversary nights, no Christmas gifts, done, over, fin. Oh, we cheated a little here and there, but comparatively speaking, we were pretty well-behaved. But in 2009, we were both turning 30 and the 30th birthday is a milestone. She thought we should get each other something bigger that year. Nothing insane, no Lexus with a big red bow or anything, but something that was ultimately otherwise unobtainable. And I knew what I wanted, I wanted a record player and some records. She thought it was a good and reasonably-priced idea...and thus the beast awoke.

When people asked me how my birthday was and what I got, my reply was met with looks of confusion and thinly veiled ridicule. No one go it. The question everyone asked was "Why?", but I could tell from the way the one-word inquiry fell from their slack jaws or snickering lips that the real question was "Why are you an idiot?" I wanted to explain myself, but how do you put into logical words something that was never really thought about, just instinctively and viscerally felt?

So I fell back on science. It was easy to point to the science of vinyl recordings. Wider and fuller dynamic range of analog recording and playback, the sterility of hearing actual sound transcribed into 1's and 0's in digital, the warmer, more complex tones records reproduce, the bastardizing compression music is forced to go through in order to be heard in a digital medium, but as compelling as those arguments can be, none of them really mattered.

See, when it comes to advancements in technology, I'm actually kind of terrified. Maybe there's some sort of new-age social politico or neo-hippie living inside me that I am unaware of, but it seems like with each technological advance we embrace, we are forced to choose between our humanity and the ever-alluring pull of convenience. We no longer have to actually speak to people in person, shit, we no longer have to hear the person's voice we're speaking to at all, shoot an email, send a text. When I get an incoming call on my cell phone, there's an option to text back a response without ever having to hear the person who is actually calling me at that moment. How disgusting is that? My phone gives me the option to communicate without ever hearing a human voice.

Then there's audiobooks. Apparently we don't have the time to set aside a half an hour or 45 minutes a night to read 1984. No, we'd prefer, I don't know, Patrick Stuart or Ian McKellen to interpret Orwell for us. Fuck internalizing the words as we read them, making every paragraph, every sentence, every syllable our own, hearing it in our own voice, in our own head, with our own ideas about its meaning. We have more important things to do. We can't be bothered to read some of the most thought provoking and important works in modern history, that is beneath us. And e-books aren't any better. Throw a novel on your iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, or Kindle. The smell of the paper, the feel of the page as you turn it, that's meaningless. We don't need it.

We can skip human interaction and possibility of the character-building humiliation that just might come with that. Why bother when we can imitate sex with only a few keystrokes and a credit card number? We can skip commercials with our DVR's, ultimately forcing product placement and gratuitous advertising down our throats and into into our favorite TV shows and movies. We can even take out the responsibility that comes with learning to drive a car; just buy a nice enough ride that turns on the lights itself when it gets dark and parallel parks for you with the push of a button. That way, you don't have to remember the skills we learned that once seemed so important. And of course, there's the iTunes/iPod/mp3 player.

We no longer need to go to the record store, it's in our computer. We no longer need to take a chance on discovering a new band, just listen to the 30 second clips, they'll tell you whether you'll like it or not. Don't like a song or two, don't feel like listening to an entire album regardless if skipping songs fucks up the context and continuity of an album, a single work, a single piece of art...delete that shit, save space on the "Pod". Fuck it, if I don't care, why should you? And if you don't care, why the fuck should I?

The only problem is, I do care. There used to be pride in making a discovery, stumbling upon some album no one else you know has heard and buying it just because it looked like it might be something you'd like. No doubt, you would buy a stinker or two, but you'd also find things that two months later you couldn't imagine your life without. There was a thrill in that, a rush from taking a chance and having that chance pay off. But the days of that thrill, that rush are gone.

And hey, I won't pretend or lie, I use "new" technology. I even like "new" technology. I'm not trying to say "new" technology is evil. I haven't watched a live TV show in about 2 years, I send at least a handful of texts a day (generally only when my friends won't answer their fucking phone, but still...), when my wife is too tired, busy, or pissed to get a little naked with me, I have been known to employ the (free) services of an occasional busty, virtual lady to appease my most base of needs, and I use the shit out of my iPod. It's possibly the life-blood of my working existence. But to forget the past, to forget what it means to be a human for the sake of convenience is nothing short of taking part in actively destroying the human race.

Think about it. At a time in the not-too-distant past, if you wanted to have a conversation with your friend on the phone, you were tethered to the kitchen by a curly-Q chord and had to say what you wanted to in front of God and everybody. If you wanted to watch your favorite TV show, you had to suffer through commercials hawking products you had no intention of buying. If you wanted to get laid, you had to put yourself out there and try to actually talk to a human being. Even if you were just planning on whacking it, you had to go through the embarrassment of bringing a Playboy (or Playgirl for the ladies) up to the counter and not only shell out the hard-earned bucks but endure the awkward stares of the clerk. You had to suffer for the things you loved. And there was strength and character in that suffering. Nowadays, suffering is a thing of the past because new technology has given us a way out. With new technology, life isn't easier, it's just easy.

And the people who have embraced this new technological age have either 1., Forgotten history altogether, or, even worse, 2., Decided to disregard the importance of the past. One way or the other, this is very dangerous ground, because to automatically equate technology with advancement means that what has happened before, which is the foundation of today's existence, is meaningless. And when you remove the foundation, the building collapses.

As much as I enjoy the use of today's technology, it is always used as a last resort (with the exception of DVR. Commercials today aren't anywhere near as entertaining as the "Coco Wheats" talking bowl of breakfast "poo" or the "Dunkaroos" sweet-ass jingle, so the less of them I have to see, the more happy I am). I would never choose to read a conversation with a friend over having a conversation with a friend, I would never pick to hear a book or read it on a sterile, pixelized screen if I can hold the book in my hand, turn the pages, feel the paper. I would never choose to sit in front of a computer screen to achieve carnal satisfaction if my wife was willing and available, and I would never choose, not in a million years, to listen to an album in a digital format when an analog one is available.

Let's leave behind the fact that we don't hear in 1's and 0's. Let's not talk about the fact that computers are at best a bastardization of the human condition. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my iMac and when I'm watching Short Circuit, I'm going to do my best to believe Johnny 5 is in fact alive. I mean, shit, I love that little fucking robot, he's super kick-ass, but when all is said and done, a motherboard is not a brain, a CPU will never be a body, a fan isn't sweat glands, and machines can't feel. To expect a human to hear the same way a computer (robot) translates sound is absolute bullshit. We're not the same and, God willing, never will be.

But honestly, fuck the science of it. The science is meaningless. Because whether or not there is a wider dynamic range of sound in analog playback or not, throwing in a C.D. or pressing a button on an mp3 player can never replace the feeling I get from putting a record onto the turntable. Records are the exact opposite of new technology. Obviously, that's a ridiculous statement, because Thomas Edison invented the phonograph nearly 150 years ago. Clearly, this is not "new" technology. But when I say it's the opposite, what I mean is the point of new technology is to make everything simpler, easier, removing the human responsibility and even interaction to at least some extent. Vinyl records force you to be involved in nearly every action. From the way you remove the sleeve from jacket and record from sleeve, to incessantly cleaning the records before and after you listen to them, dropping the needle onto the surface of the record, flipping the LP, putting the record back into its sleeve and sleeve back into its jacket just as carefully as you removed it, these are all important parts of the experience.

Then there's that initial pop when the needle hits the surface of the record. It last only a split second, but that little click let's you know the tunes are coming, so you better get ready. There's the painstaking task of adjusting the stylus and the tonearm's counterweight to coax out the best possible sound from your table. And then there's the simple fact of not only hearing the music but getting to see the it pour out of the speakers.

Last summer, I was babysitting for my brother and sister-in-law, and the second the kids saw the record player, they were entranced. They wanted to listen to records, so I played them Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman's Bat Out of Hell. I figured it was innocent enough and it gave me the chance to tell them the story of how their dad had played this for me when I was their age and I laughed at him, only to discover a decade later that it was one of the greatest rock records I had ever heard (Any opportunity to bolster an already mythic image of my brother to his kids is a good thing). I'm not sure what they thought about Bat..., but the youngest, who was 5 at the time, my nephew Jack, stood in front of that player and watched both sides play. He was amazed; he loved watching the tonearm slowly creep from the outside of the record towards the center. He was so interested in how it worked that he made me draw him a picture to explain the process. And since then, nearly every time I've spoken to him, he's asked me about the record player. That, as much as anything else, is part of the magic. Getting the opportunity to actually watch your music play is a wondrous and beautiful thing.

It's all of this and more that makes vinyl the king medium for music. It forces you to try, to work, to suffer and care about what you're listening to. They're not just good songs, good albums, they are things that require your attention and pampering. Listening to vinyl pressures you into a deeper connection with your music. Vinyl forces you into a greater intimate relationship with your tunes, and that's what truly matters. That's why vinyl's better, that's why it's brilliant.

I recognize that vinyl isn't for everyone. Some people simply "like" music, some "really like" it, some people "love" it, and vinyl is for the people who "really love" their music, the people who are unyielding in their passion for the music they listen to. I'm not saying you can't love music if you don't listen to it on vinyl, I'm just saying you can't love music as much as I do. Maybe that's a "My Dad can beat up your Dad" kind of statement, but it doesn't make it any less true because in this case, my shit does in fact trump yours. You can say that hearing is the only really important of the 5 senses when it comes to music, and you'd be right, but if it's possible to integrate other senses into the mix, why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't you want to touch, feel, smell the music if you could. Why wouldn't you want more out of the listening experience? Why wouldn't you want it to hit you at every possible angle? You wouldn't, period? You can have the most important part with C.D.'s or mp3's, or you can have everything with vinyl, end of story.

When you scrape away all of the muck and bullshit, vinyl forces you to love your music not only mentally and emotionally but physically. It forces you to care about your tunes in a way you never have or never could otherwise, and it furthers the idea and art-form of "the album" and degrades the importance of "the song". It's tangible, it's emotional, it's cosmic. And Goddammit, in the end, vinyl is just fucking cooler. 'Nuff said.