Tucked away at the end of a long hallway in my parents’house is a crowded room meant for one purpose: listening. Heavy cabling snakes out from free-standing speakers and subwoofers into racks of audio componentry humming under warmly glowing vacuum tubes. A turntable sits on a literal pedestal. We all call this room “Dad’s stereo room,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Truthfully, the first thing anyone really notices here are the vinyl LPs, thousands upon thousands of them, carefully catalogued into oak shelves that line the walls.
My dad’s collection is formidable. It spans the eras and styles of recorded music, from Billie Holiday to Billie Eilish. I’ve spent hours in this room in shared ritual. I sink into my grandpa’s old reading chair – an orange, drooping cube and the room’s only object meant to hold a human. My dad, with excited precision, places a record on the turntable, brushes it clean, and drops the needle, blanketing me in a glorious something. Tchaikovsky. Coltrane. Emmy Lou. Gabby Pahinui. Marty Stuart. Listening to records is as elemental to our relationship as playing catch
I was there when he bought a lot of them, too. In the 1980s, at the shrinking records bins of Tower on Sunset. In the 1990s, visiting a guy who sold self-imported audiophile pressings from Europe and Japan out of his apartment. In the 2000’s, canvassing Amoeba Records until our arms were filled with music and our ears were ringing from the droning clickclack of CD cases.
To be clear, my dad isn’t a luddite, or some vinyl-puristfor-vinyl-purity’s-sake. The man has Bob Dylan albums in hi-fi media formats you’ve never heard of. And streaming, instead of triggering some existential collapse in appetite, has actually done the reverse–his wish-list is now as deep and expansive as the time he spends test-driving albums on Spotify.
So, then, why all the vinyl? The routine of it? Or the deliberate labor, somehow more satisfying than tapping a screen, needed to get the treasure? Maybe it’s some deeper metaphor for, say, our physical relationship to the delicateness of art?
I ask him. “I like having it with me. Going to the store, picking it up, and having it in my hands,” he tells me. “I just really like that.”
But I already know this because, well, I do too. I guess it runs in the family.