Every time we visit my parents, my mom begs me to go through the boxes of my old junk that are cluttering up her (immaculate) basement. She’s entering that phase of life, I guess, when things are cast off and simplified, when you have to get a little brutal about all your stuff — what’s essential and what’s not. “What am I going to do with this?” is the question she keeps asking and for which I have no good answer. Last time we visited, in July, I finally gave in. I took an hour and sifted through the old books, making piles of what could be tossed, what could be donated to the library, and what would come back home with me, to molder in my own (not immaculate) basement until the cycle repeated itself somewhere down the line. One thing, however, became clear as I went: my mom wasn’t quite as ready to let go as she’d led me to believe. Turns out, stuff is more than just stuff, and it’s not so easy to kiss it goodbye. A sample exchange:
“Are you sure?”
“You don’t want that one?”
“Awwwww, really? You loved that book.”
“Yeah, but — ”
Actually removing the book from of the donate bag, and setting it aside: “Maybe I’ll keep it, just in case. You’ll want it one day.”
After the books, I moved on to the other pile she wanted me to deal with: records. At one point, my mulleted and guitar-playing older brother and I had a fairly massive amount of records but, gradually, as we purged over the years, that collection had been boiled down to the 100 or so albums that now sat on her plastic shelving unit, to the right of the sump pump and just behind the treadmill. I started digging through. Books are great and all, and they served me well, but this is the stuff that will kill you dead. Lot of memories come swirling up out of this mess, wow. Some Girls. Free to Be You and Me. Harvest. Live at Leeds. Greetings from Asbury Park. Loudon Wainwright III. The Smiths. The Muppet Movie. Songs in the Key of Life. Blonde on Blonde. The Police. Pleased to Meet Me. Briging it All Back Home. Simon and (Ugh) Garfunkel. The Cars. The Del Fuegos (?). Loverboy (!). The White Album. The Clash. Judas F’n Priest (who, by the way, I saw live at the Capital Center in 1985). And Elton John. God, so much Elton John. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh: To this day, I will argue the greatness of early Elton John — Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Honkey Chateau, Captain Fantastic. It was all there, in extremely poor condition, scarred by the hasty needle drops of impatient eleven year old boys. I’m not the first one to say it, but these days — when music is a literal abstraction, hovering somewhere above our house within a cloud I can never figure out how to access without Jenny’s help — there’s something deeply pleasing about vinyl. Most of these albums, I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. It’s enough to make a man nostalgic, and to make a nostalgic man even more nostalgic than his usual nostalgic self. I set aside a stack of about twenty I wanted for myself, and left the rest for my brother to grapple with later.
There was a problem: The last time I owned a turntable, I hadn’t shaved yet. In fact, my buddy Todd (he of the minty pea dip, a DALS classic) had been on me for months to man up and buy one already, as he’d bought one for himself and had been touting its restorative powers. And it was true, one had to admit: it did sound good. It took you back. When we got home from my parents’ — our trunk loaded with our new-old stuff — I went on amazon and bought a beautiful little portable turntable, which arrived three days later, and which has spent the last month perched on the edge of our kitchen counter, rocking us through our dinner preparations. The kids have picked up right where I left off — doing wince-inducing damage with their horrific needlework — and we’ve torn through all the old favorites. And, yes, Abby has fallen for “Crocodile Rock,” just like I did when I was her age. Not my favorite, but just for the sound of that crackle when the needle hits the vinyl, it’s worth it. That’s a pain I can endure. — Andy