Records, Batting Cages & Mustangs
I have been listening to a lot of vinyl records lately. Probably for the first sustained period of time since when I was ten and I listened to my grandmother’s shiny black vinyl on her giant old wooden radio set. She had this crazy great system where you could stack several records on this spindle and they would drop one at a time on to the turntable. Her radio set was a mechanism, cutting edge at one point, but awesome, it provided a complex choreography of moving parts, it was one of the single greatest kinetic sculptures I have ever touched. Maybe one of the greatest sculptures ever, full stop.
It moved, it worked on its own after you set it in motion, it was finicky and took a precise user. It allowed for pure joy, and required the user to bring it to completion. It was interactive sculpture, it was exactly the kind of thing 10 year olds fall in love with passionately. I just turned 37, and took my birthday money to the record store on De La Guerra, the shop is called Warbler, they have the kind of selection that could break your wallet and fast. I have been scouring their cheap records section for old memories, Cat Stevens, James Brown, Merle Haggard, a little Cash and even some blues and jazz. But they have this new plastic, Fleet Foxes, the Liars, LCD Sound System and too many more for my mind, its worse than candy. Turns out the leather bag I have fits seven records. Which is hard because a lot of the time they are double record albums or double album records, so I have to balance it right. I literally ran up the steps after throwing my bike in the garage today, anxious to spin them.
Do they sound better? Who the hell cares, they feel better. I have to do it just right. I have to be precise with my movements, and you have to wait until the record player plays the record. That’s the best part, there is a chance and a risk. It might not work right, it might not play it perfect, it might skip or have a scratch in it. Looking for the bloody metaphor, you should be able to see it coming now.
Life should be filled with failure and chance. I love my digital life, the computer I type on now, the blog this will be posted to, but god damn if I don’t go out to my mail box every day hoping for a letter addressed to me. I read hundreds of emails every day and I have thousands of songs on my computer, but that record sounds sweet on the turntable on the other side of the room.
John D MacDonald wrote once before I was born that music should exist on one side of the room or another, like the band that recorded it. Having music in your head completely is creepy.
I want my music to take up space in my house like a physical object. I want it to wash over me like breeze from an open window or the heartbeat of a woman close at hand. Because I am just tired of not feeling what I am listening to. We have made all the components of our lives so disposable, music, pictures, films, books, and each other. Oh I know Cissy Ross, you told me years ago while reading my thesis, that I wasn’t going to surprise anyone with a claim that contemporary life has made us more disconnected. I am not advocating surprise at that now complete fact, more the complete faith that we can recover and build a new model.
It’s not a return, it’s a new development. The greatest musicians in the world are releasing their work on vinyl, not as a throwback but as a legitimizer. You buy the album and get a free download with it. The object is not the presence of the music in your archive it’s the presence of the vinyl on your turntable. That is the real achievement. Ownership is in possession and you cannot posses the digital. The early adapters or adopters are no longer the most respected. It’s the ones who own and care the most, the sacred monks of any genre. The foodie who seeks the ingredients and the cook’s technique, not just the first one to eat there, but the first one to eat there a hundred times. Real experience, real mastery is replacing a drive to simply have the new thing, besides most of us can’t afford the new thing anymore. Oh and besides they keep making new cars when they got the 68 mustang right, or the 65 or the 66 or any of them from then. Why the hell would the only car company who holds the patents and copyrights and trademarks and reputation of the 68 mustang not produce them? It would be like having the rights to play Led Zeppelin. The only rights to play it and never playing it.
Really Detroit, you want to fix your economic conundrum start making the Mustang again, you are the only one who has the right. Just open up a small section of one plant, bring back the crew that already knows how and do it. Just a few, how good do you think they would sell? Oh I know you would have to tool up and pull a bunch of sheet metal stamps and dies out of storage or the scrap heap, but seriously what the hell else are you doing with your time, counting how many more people you can lay off this week?
We liked those cars because they became a part of our identity and part of our joy in driving to work. We bought them because we liked them, not because it was the only thing on the road. The gray Honda isn’t even a car compared to a 1959 Lincoln Convertible with suicide doors. My uncle David sold his before he went into the marines, because quote, “We thought cars were just going to get cooler, but they didn’t.”
I don’t want us to go back to that fuel mileage or safety record but we could certainly go back to that style.
Style is not so hard, it’s in the hips.
I took my students to the batting cages today and Norton’s famous pastrami sandwiches. We hit hard balls and soft balls for two hours. Some of them even spent time in the 80 mile an hour cage. You know how stressed out about life you aren’t when a ball is coming at you, breaking the speed limit, answer, not worried about your life at all. You know what you are thinking, “Swing this bat, hit that ball, oh shit that was fast, man I wasn’t even… oh here comes the next… wow that one seemed faster… oh swing this… damn that one was close to my head… okay… remember swing…”
You aren’t worrying about the distant future or even tomorrow, your brain is just completely engaged with what is right in front of you. This is why artists are most happy while they are making and most frustrated and depressed when they are just thinking about making. Doing is the difference between momentum and stagnation. I wanted them to be faced with an unstoppable situation for 19 pitches. A machine that doesn’t care who you are or aren’t. A piece of finicky kinetic sculpture that spits fast balls at you. It worked, they walked out of the cages different, not earth shakingly different, just a little different. They all swung the bat and when I offered tokens they all jumped up to do it again. Fear gone, that is how I want them to make their art. I have to change the record, James Brown just finished making his point.