Confessions From My Man Cave

Since today is June 15, 2011, known in Boston as Stanley Cup Game 7, I have a confession to make: watching hockey makes my eyes glaze over. I know this is ridiculous coming from a baseball fan who can spend four hours watching (and with intense interest) a meaningless Sox-Angels game in April. I try, but after a few minutes of watching bearded Canadian dudes skating back and forth and bumping each other into the walls while slapping around a little black speck (I thought HDTV was going to vastly improve this aspect of viewing), I am soon paying more attention to the music at the Garden or the Rogers Arena.

At the home ice, the Boston stereotypical classic rock comes out — a bit of the Cars, Boston (the band), and, of course, Aerosmith. For some updated flavor, they might throw in “Shipping Up to Boston” from the beloved modern classics, the Dropkick Murphys. All of this is an improvement over present-day Fenway. One would be forgiven for thinking that the “lyrical little bandbox” has been transported to suburban Nashville for all the lamestream modern country-pop music played there this season. And I guess we can be grateful that at least hockey players and the fans of the sport share a reputation for the sort of toughness that would not allow for the unfortunate tradition of “Sweet Caroline” (made worse as a post-Fever Pitch phenomenon) played between periods. (Or is it? I am never at live hockey games, but I can’t imagine that would fly.)

Either way, during the series, I’ve found myself turning down the volume (though I really enjoy the excellent play-by-play of Doc Emrick) and reaching for my records — yes, my old, dusty records. They reside in my basement man cave, which just was improved by the addition of a knock-off of the classic Eames Lounge. Mine is a Plycraft recliner variation and, damn, if it isn’t one of the most comfortable listening/viewing spots. Coupled with some recent turntable tweaks, I have been back to enjoying the vinyl experience again on a regular basis.

Now, I am not one of those old record-collecting SOBs who will bore you with tales of what has been lost with the age of digital music. For me, it has been less of a revolution (excuse the pun) and more of an evolution, embracing the new without forsaking the old. However, I actually had the old records in the attic for a while after we moved house. They were up there for a couple of years during which I did not play records at all. It wasn’t until trying to describe to my daughter the experience of acquiring Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour LPs that I decided to get all the records out again and actually show her.

Another confession: I did not miss the old things for a long time. For all that we’ve lost with the passing of the LP, we’ve gained even more in the digital era. I don’t just mean mere convenience. And don’t let some self-styled audiophile tell you as a rule that records sound better than digital files. It all depends on what you’re testing. I have some great sounding digital files and some horrible sounding records. Sure, if you have flawless 180 gram vinyl playing on a $40,000 turntable running through a Manley tube amplifier, it is going to sound better than an MP3 through cheesy ear-buds. But these are not the only choices.

If you had told me as a kid that I could buy an album or a song with the click of a button, I would have signed up immediately. Now, I can look up session details and interviews. Now, I can see old videos of artists I loved or was curious about, an experience I was only able to have by collecting VHS tapes and visits to the Museum of Television and Radio in New York.

Sure, I miss the hunt. I miss walking into independent record stores and book stores. I miss the independent proprietor as a curator. We used to have five record stores in the town I grew up in on Long Island. Each one had a bit of a niche. And we could stop at the bookstore, the guitar shop, and then grab a slice a pizza on the way home, dripping the grease on the old square brown paper bags that held our finds. I miss sitting on my bed and spinning the new wax. Most of all I miss the artwork, the seemingly perfect medium of the album cover (and if you’re also an album art junkie, check out the ICA’s new exhibit, The Record: Contemporary Art and the LP).

See how good they look? (And this is in a dim basement photo shot with an iPhone.)

Even though I miss the art and the hunt, I gained a new hunt. The eccentric record store owner has perhaps been supplanted by obsessive bloggers who unearth chestnuts as a labor of love. I have discovered more new and old music much faster online. The evangelic record store clerks and proprietors who shared their joy in turning folks on to new sounds, or the secret-handshake jazzbos, soul freaks, or garage-rock heads over at places like Stereo Jack’s, Skippy White’s, and Nuggets are more easily approached online. What might have once been intimidating presumptive orations on discographies of, say, Archie Shepp, are now launching points for musical self-education. It is all out there if you want to dig.

All of this is great for a kid living anywhere, never mind some place out in the boondocks who had no access to record stores or even decent radio. But it is also excellent for middle-aged dads with limited time. Part of my nostalgia for those many hours on Saturdays I used to spend combing record and bookstores is a yearning for the day of having “hours” of “free time” on a “Saturday.” Now, though, I can sit back with great headphones and listen to nicely mastered mixes of old vinyl soul 45s at Funky16Corners or at Red Kelly’s B-Side. Fanatics put these selections together with passionate essays about the artists. This is like a personal invitation, a guided tour through a record collector’s top choices. They are gifts to mankind which should make their founders considerations for the Nobel Prize.

And the artwork — well, yeah, the 12-inch cover has sort of come back as a niche product, but has mostly faded. But now we have rich and often deep websites with animation, photos, videos, and so on. But when I am watching the third period of the game, perhaps with a beer, I will put on the vinyl London Calling, the newly remastered Exile on Main St., and Miles Davis’ ‘Round About Midnight, and nothing sounds better. Call it nostalgia. My reply would be: And … ? It’s impossible to separate the nostalgia from any music that has lasted for more than a few years. Music and nostalgia go hand in hand. Embrace it. Wallow in it. But I have never felt more open minded about searching for and discovering new music than I do now.

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In addition to those blogs/sites mentioned above, here are a few I recommend. Let me know your favorites via the Comments section below.

Bradley’s Almanac: An excellent Boston-based blog from Brad Searles, focusing on new music, from established and up-and-coming indie rock bands. Brad retains a Boston bias and still hits the clubs on a very regular basis.

Ryan’s Smashing Life: Boston-based Ryan Spaulding covers similar ground to Brad with maybe less Boston-centricity. And clearly has his own views and choices.

Boston Band Crush: As you can probably tell from the name, this one is far more Boston-centered. Don’t confuse with bostonbandcruch.COM, though, as I did. In fact, the current post at the latter is a tribute to the Boston band named Boston, featuring a picture of the Boston band Boston’s first LP, Boston.

As for great national/international indie rock blogs, there are such tastemakers as Pitchfork, Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan, and Largehearted Boy, all of which often feature premiers of advance tracks and videos. Few of them are limited to music, taking in literature, film, and pop culture in general. And, as with those funk, soul, and R&B blogs mentioned above, they each usually provide sets of links that will lead you down a wormhole of discovery. Pour yourself a drink, strap on the headphones, open your mind, ’cause it’s about to be blown. You can thank me later.


Crossposted at Part Time Man of Rock