R.I.P HMV (1921-2013) - Some thoughts on growing up and falling apart.
Like I say, didn't matter if you had money. A place to go, and hang around, and rack up the daydreams and yearn, tucked under Cov's other palace of dreams, the ABC cinema. Corrugated fingertips from all that rifling. Pure pleasure, self-directed. Pulling out gatefolds, reading. If you'd managed to liberate a quid from yr mums purse then straight to the singles. When something massive, like a new Prince or a new Public Enemy dropped, I'd go to the shop just to slaver, just to be near. When I did have money, when I knew what I was going in to buy, I'd still tease myself, pretend I didn't know what I wanted, have a scan through the sale racks, check out the classical section, eventually find the self-teasing unendurable and stomp with righteous joy to the thing I wanted, pull it, take it to the counter. Seeing the counter-staff bag it up, handing your money over, taking the solid flat thing you got for your squids, finding a bench outside, getting it out of the bag, running your hands over it, keeping the cellophane unripped til you got home but maybe popping the side so you can tip the disc out, check the grooves. And then, of course, getting home, dropping it on the spindle, placing the needle, sitting back, waiting. When the first thing you hear might be 'Rocks Off', 'Five Years', 'Mambo Sun', 'You're Gonna Get Yours', 'Wendys Parade', 'Love & Haight', 'Holidays In The Sun' these moments become charged with significance, the further away you look back the deeper the hit. The first time I heard 'Rebel Without A Pause'. The first time I heard Kristin sing 'Call Me'. The first time I heard 'Teenage Riot'. All from this shop. All bought on a wing and a prayer.
Part of the problem being an old fart and being in that intermediate generation tween analogue and digital is that the old formats seem so more imbued with magic, and so more upfront and honest about that magic. That's not just a reactionary habit - showing 78s to students, the 16 and 17 year olds I teach were entranced with the shellac heft, the fragility, the fact that these objects didn't hide their love away, could, as demonstrated, be fixed if they went wrong with a dab of ivory soap or a penny on the needle. Scratches you grow fond of, locked grooves that accompanied long nights of narcosis. Records LOOK like they contain something, CDs (perhaps the most deceitful unsatisfactory format of all time, lying about their reliability, hiding their inconsistent workings behind a black impenetrable door) never did, and MP3s don't even look like anything other than numbers rotating on a screen. Don't get me wrong, no true luddite I, the MP3 is THEE ultimate format because it answers all the questions previous formats have left unanswered (portability, storage, taking up NO physical space). But with its tactility and warmth, vinyl remained an umbilicus back to the beginnings of recording technology, the fantastical sense that electricity had etched these hills and dales in 45 degree Westrex waves, the always barely-believable sorcery that could drive a needle up and down these PVC cravasses, sending signals out that saved your life.
Vinyl was the format that nurtured me, that accompanied that burning stretch from 12 to 20-odd when you feel MOST at odds with the universe: consequently looking at these photos gives me feelings like nothing else because memory at its most vivid is contained not in the head but in objects and places and the feel of something in your hands, the way you could look at a record and imagine its sound all the way from the edge to the Porky's Prime Cut. Remembering that crazy 2 year period when file-sharing was just kicking off and I downloaded every single thing I ever wanted, will never give me the same sense of trepidation, fun, risk, discovery. The internet replaced all that waiting (the way the maths went was 1 record = tenth of your giro = only really afford a dozen albums a year, a few more dozen second-hand),
all that yearning, with a glut and ease you'd have been mad not to engulf yourself in. But whilst I have a fondness for my heaving hard-drive and my thousands of mediafire/rapidshare thieves, I have a love for those few-score slabs of PVC HMV and others sold me in those Nice Price years, things bought blind with no preview, things that I HAD to learn to live with to make the money spent seem worth it, things that went through twists of fear/affection to stay with you, things that friends, writers, elder sisters and other talismans pointed you towards with intrigue and suggestion. Of course there'd be the joy of specialist shops as well, and later on outside of Cov. But that HMV was a place where the whole city went for music. It felt like everyone inside was chasing the same joy, albeit down myriad different alleys, all of us entranced by the sheer magic of soul and spirit and imagination transduced into wax.
"Letter writing and all kinds of dictation without the aid of a stenographer. Phonographic books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part. The teaching of elocution. Reproduction of music. The "Family Record"--a registry of sayings, reminiscences, etc., by members of a family in their own voices, and of the last words of dying persons. Music-boxes and toys. Clocks that should announce in articulate speech the time for going home, going to meals, etc. The preservation of languages by exact reproduction of the manner of pronouncing. Educational purposes; such as preserving the explanantions made by a teacher, so that the pupil can refer to them at any moment, and spelling or other lessons placed upon the phonograph for convenience in committing to memory. Connection with the telephone, so as to make that instrument an auxiliary in the transmission of permanent and invaluable records, instead of being the recipient of momentary and fleeting communication."