I’m old enough to have live through four formats for home music: vinyl records, cassettes, CDs, and computers and portable devices (I’m excluding 8 Tracks, which I never used). With each change of formats, some of my music has been left behind, especially since much of my music collection is from small distributors, some of which no longer exist. That’s why I was delighted to buy a USB turntable recently. As I convert my old records to electronic formats, I’m rediscovering music I haven’t heard for years.
Of course, I could have dusted off our old turntable, and jacked it directly into the computer. But, as I wrote in a how-to article I submitted yesterday to Linux.com, a USB turntable has features that, twenty years ago, would have cost ten times what I paid now. The result is a vast improvement in sound-quality, including a reduction of all except the worst hisses and squawks from damaged vinyl.
On a personal level, my first recordings have been a sustained bout of nostalgia. Ordinarily, I regard nostalgia as a middle-aged disease to which I refuse to succumb, but what I’m recording is the music of my youth. If, as Frank Zappa said, the music that you listen to is aural wallpaper, then the first vinyl I’ve converted is a direct reflection of what I used to be.
The closest these first recordings come to Top 40 are several albums by Alain Stivell, the virtuoso Breton harpist, and some early releases by the folk rock-group Steeleye Span. Otherwise, most of them are by solo singer-songwriters. Most, too, have a more or less leftist political perspective, although it’s sometimes covert. They include, for instance, Pete Morton’s first album, Frivolous Love, a couple of albums by the Australian singer Eric Bogle, early albums from OysterBand when the group was still in the process of converting from a folk dance band to the more activist group it is today, and lots of satire and political commentary from the English songwriter Leon Rosselson.
I see several common threads running through this list. First, most of these artists pay a lot of attention to the words, something I still value in music today. Ditto the political perspective.
But the strongest influence on me, I think, is that all of these performers insist on never letting their convictions dominate. They aren’t just activists; the music is as important to them as their messages. Just as importantly, they deliver their message with a good deal of humor and wit. Looking back, I think that their example has been as important as any literary influence in determining the sort of writer I would like to be.
So far, I’m enjoying being re-introduced to my young self. I find him naive and short-sighted, but not entirely unlikable. I wonder what I’ll think a few hundred recordings later, when I finish converting all my old music?