I gave the oldest son a chance to pick, and although his 4-year-old brother groaned a jealous protest, the 6-year-old boy jumped up with a grin and a look of contemplation on his face. He had a choice to make. He took the responsibility seriously.
The 6-year-old knelt next to a small IKEA shelf made of four perfectly symmetrical cubes, put a finger to his mouth, and scanned the shelf contents. Finally, with eagerness he reached and pulled out a plastic sleeve that contained a flat cardboard container. It was decorated in hand drawn green ferns with yellow bearded faces peering out.
“This one,” the boy said, a light in his eyes.
“You sure you don’t want Zeppelin?” I asked him, trying to drive him in another direction. But he went undeterred.
“No,” he replied. “I like the Beach Boys.”
Welcome to 2018, my friends, the year in which my family despite having two iPhones, two iPads, two Apple TVs, and more bluetooth technology than we can keep track of, has gone full retro. Thanks be given to a turntable and receiver wired into a pair of three-foot-high, 30-year-old Polk Audio speakers.
I took the double LP from my son’s hands, pulled out the first record, and placed it on the stereo. A moment later a needle met the groove, crackling came through the speakers, and instantly we were blessed with the harmony of the Beach Boys inviting us on a surfing safari.
The boys began shuffling their socked feet on the hardwood floors of our living room, gyrating knees and hips in a funny, fantastic dance only little kids can pull off gracefully, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I did the same thing 35 years ago in a little apartment my parents rented.
I’m sure I did.
But the question remains what will become of it all. Right now, we have a living room teeming with audio equipment and physical music. I’ve gone since Christmas from owning zero vinyl records to more than 300. Hell, I even bought a old Technics 5-CD changer like I had as a teenager and now have a collection of dozens of used CDs.
I’ve spent more money than a stay-at-home Dad with a freelancer’s income (which is to say I don’t make much) than I ever should have. Sure, I’ve scraped the bargain crates at local record stores and asked for donations from neighbors, but still, my wife eyes me with a bit of suspicion about the sudden appearance of a new Josh Ritter LP on the shelf or an Amazon box on our porch.
It’s all just stuff taking up shelf and floor space in the living room. Or is it?
There’s been a rediscovery of physical media in my house, including books and records.
Two years ago, I read an ebook on my iPad, and I realized my kids didn’t know I was reading a book. To them, Daddy was on a computer. Again. They wanted to be on a computer, too, because, I mean, what kid doesn’t? Forget reading a book. Holding a moving video of trains or a cartoon in your hands? Mesmerizing for a child.
Our kids tend to emulate and imitate. If I wanted them to value reading, then in part, I had to not just read but appear to be reading. They couldn’t tell what I was doing when I read an ebook on an iPad; to them, I might as well have gone down a YouTube tunnel or playing some video game. And so I began to buy physical books again because I wanted them to see me reading a book.
Same with music. We’re blessed these days with streaming services and portable music, but will my kids’ generation value music the same way we did? I dunno. Maybe. What I know is since rediscovering vinyl records and CDs, I’ve begun to listen to music with intention. In other words, if I’m going to the trouble of putting a needle to a vinyl record, then I want to listen to the music, not just use it as background music. I value it more.
Maybe my boys will too.
I’m setting them up for discovery. When I was 14 years old, one summer day I broke into my parents’ record stash. I pulled out So Far by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, put the record on the turntable, and was hit immediately by sonic pleasure. I went through their whole catalogue — Hotel California, Neil Diamond, CCR, and more.
Ten years from now, maybe 15, I can only hope our boys will do the same. Every Dad out there who’s also a record collector thinks of the same thing. There’s no guarantee, of course, and they may just roll their eyes at the suggestion because they have some amazing technology by then they prefer. Why do I wanna listen to another of your boring jazz records Dad? They’re so lame. I have 3D/augmented reality video games to play on my Apple glasses.
For now, at least, I can play DJ in their lives. I take a few requests — God help me with that whole “What Does the Fox Say” song — but ultimately I pick the soundtrack. I know their likes (Beatles, Beach Boys) and I give them a little challenge now and then (this is Elvis Costello, boys; You like this? Her name is Norah Jones).
I know one thing. Putting on a vinyl record is a great excuse to tell them, no, you can’t turn on the TV right now.
Dave Pidgeon is a writer (and father) based in Lancaster, Pa. You can reach him at email@example.com.