Feature: Seeing Black Circles :: Confessions of a Music Junkie

It’s usually this time of year when I really start to think about my obsession. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but it’s not something I’m ashamed of either. It’s not an obsession that will land me in rehab, jail, or divorce court. There’s no lurid tales of back alley smack shooting, or maxing out credit cards on porn sites. It’s not even some slots addiction at the Four Winds. No, nothing that scandalous. It’s this time of year when someone will ask “So what do you want for Christmas?” that gets me thinking about how difficult, yet how simple it is to answer that question. What do I want? I want vinyl. I want music pressed on 12″, 10″, or 7″ circles. Remastered, reissued, 140 gram, 180 gram, 200 gram. I want beautifully colored swirled vinyl. Translucent colors, any colors will do. I want gatefold sleeves with vivid artwork I can gawk at while that record spins on the platter and fills the room with music. Glorious, glorious music. I want pressings from Germany. On virgin vinyl with whole sides dedicated to mind-altering soundscapes, motorik beats, freaked-out synths, and ear-shattering guitar.

That’s what I want for Christmas. But try explaining that to someone that is perfectly fine buying their entire music collection with a click of a mouse. They don’t understand that desire for vinyl. They don’t get that urge to finger your way through piles of records -old and new- just to find two gems out of hundreds. It’s a treasure hunt where a map, Long John Silver cap, and a defecating parrot aren’t necessary. It’s hours spent in a dank record store; some hole-in-the-wall shop that reeks of mildew, basement humidity, and the faint whiff of secondhand smoke. Some guy(or gal) eating from a brown bag spinning La Dusseldorf’s “Dusseldorf” repeatedly because they can all the while some shady dude with long, stringy hair, an army overcoat, and acid-washed jeans keeps trying to talk to said employee about the finer points of Klaus Dinger’s guitar playing on NEU! 75. That is my house of worship and those are my congregation.

And it hasn’t always been vinyl. My real obsession with music started when I was 9 years old and I bought Ratt’s Out Of The Cellar on cassette in 1984. That is where the addiction truly took hold of me. I had tastes even is a small child, spinning Kiss’ Destroyer, Dressed To Kill, and Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack on a small red, white, and blue Fisher Price record player. They were spun right along with Disney records and Sing-A-Long 45s. I’d hear my parents spinning The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Uriah Heep, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and Rare Earth records in the basement on an old Zenith console while they played pool, drank, and smoked with friends and my uncles. Music was a social event. It gave everyone common ground. I saw how it brought everyone together. I’d even incorporate music into playing with toys. Van Halen would soundtrack battles between the rebel forces and the Imperial fleets. I saw how a great soundtrack truly made a movie, so surely it would make GI Joe battles all that much better.

As a teenager I’d save the lunch money my mom would give me instead of spending it on lunch. I’d starve all day, then come home and eat two sandwiches before homework. By the end of the week I’d have enough money that I could go to Butterfly Records and pick up a cassette. Megadeth’s Peace Sells….But Who’s Buying?, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, or Anthrax’s Among The Living were nearly worn out in the 8th grade. My brother got me into thrash and speed metal, then in 1990 I got my big brother into Seattle. Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love, Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, and the Screaming Trees’ Buzz Factory were passed around between my big brother and I like a joint, inhaled deeply and with great love. Around this time I’d also fallen heavy for Rush, hitting the Montgomery Ward at the Glenbrook Mall whenever I could and scavenging their “Nice Price” cassettes for whatever I could find. A Farewell To Kings, 2112, Fly By Night, and Hemispheres were all bought for the nice price of $5.99.

By the time I was 18 I’d graduated to CDs. Plastic bins of cassettes in my bedroom were replaced by plastic bins of compact discs. First, only new stuff was purchased. Then I’d begun to go back and buy all those albums I adored on cassette again, only this time on those shiny plastic discs. It was a dirty, dirty habit, and one that became increasingly expensive. Still, it was cheaper than a cocaine habit. Or blowing money at the cockfights on the weekend. I’d even found this little record shop in the mid-nineties in Merriville, IN called Hegewisch Records. It was this little brown building off of US 30 that could’ve just as easily been a carpet or paint store. It was one of the coolest head shops I’ve ever encountered. I’d gotten into Procol Harum around 1995 and this place had import after import of their late-60s records. A White Shade Of Pale, Shine On Brightly, A Salty Dog; all were remastered and imports. Much like the first time I stepped into Wooden Nickel Records on North Anthony, I felt I’d found a home away from home.

Around five years ago I’d decided that I wanted to get back into vinyl. Well, I’d never really been into vinyl in the first place. I was just into music. But I’d been toying with the idea of buying a turntable since around 2002, when I’d seen Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on vinyl at a record store in Chicago. Before that point I’d never thought twice about vinyl, or music formats for that matter. But seeing that album on that glorious double gatefold sleeve woke something in me. It made me re-appreciate vinyl as the format to enjoy music on, much like being a five year old and staring with fear and awe at that Kiss Destroyer cover; or feeling kinda weird as I wondered if Roger Taylor was a guy or girl on the cover of Sheer Heart Attack. It wasn’t just the music. It was the artwork and packaging. It was the feel of that sleeve in your hands. The glide of the vinyl as it slides out of the paper sleeve. I knew then I needed to get a turntable. Six years later I had one. I’d actually bought some vinyl before I even had a turntable. Wes Montgomery Smokin’ At The Five Spot and Eric Dolphy’s Out There came home with my wife and I after a trip to Chi-town, courtesy of Jazz Record Mart. About a week later an Audio Technica AT-PL120 was purchased for a decent price and so began this vinyl sickness I’ve yet to be cured of.

This past Friday was ‘Black Friday’ Record Store Day. Thanks to Wooden Nickel Records I was able to score The Flaming Lips’ Peace Sword(it’s quite wonderful, by the way.) I also snagged Miles Davis’ Jazz Track from my good friend John Vance at Karma Records in Warsaw, IN. And thanks to Morrison at Neat Neat Neat Records I got some amazing stuff on Record Store Day in 2012. Guys like Bob Roets, Morrison Agen, and John Vance keep the spirit and excitement of the vinyl hunt alive and well. Not because it’s a lucrative trade(ask any of ’em, it’s hard work to just break even…if you’re lucky), but because like me, they’re afflicted with this illness as well. They’re passionate about music. Vinyl, CD, cassette; it doesn’t matter. Music to player to your ear, that’s what they’re concerned about. They’re the pushers that keep my music affliction fed.

So what do I want for Christmas? Well, let me think about it.

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