MY VINYL LIFE WITH THE STEREO KIDS By Donny Levit
After too many months of online learning, here’s how our family went analogue again
I admit this sounds like a plot point right out of a Judd Apatow movie: 1) Wife seeks advice from husband’s close friend about turntable and stereo speakers. 2) Husband’s close friend is a hardcore vinyl collector, stereo aficionado, and owner of over two thousand records. 3) Amazing wife orders said items for Father’s Day. 4) Husband almost passes out with joy from gift.
Now if only Apatow would cast Paul Rudd to play me, I’d really win the jackpot.
But back to reality, yes? After a late-night record player assemblage bonanza, I crawl out of bed early the next morning and pull “Murmur” by R.E.M. out of its record sleeve. Before I drop the needle, I take a minute to admire the strange kudzu on the album cover as memories of my college years living in Georgia start giving me all the feels.
Enter my 7-year-old son, Jack, who freezes in his tracks as he watches me carefully balance the record by its edges. “That smells weird but good,” he says, referring to the vinyl mixed with that unmistakable used-record store scent. Weird but good, indeed.
I gingerly place the record down on the platter, move the tone arm over the lead-in groove, and drop the stylus on the record. Jack starts reading the sleeve.
“What’s Radio Free Europe mean?” (He fumbles over the word “Europe”)
“It’s a song by R.E.M. It’s the first one the band ever put out.”
His questions continue: “What is 4’03”?”
“Well, the song ‘Radio Free Europe’ lasts four minutes, and three seconds,” I explain.
“So, I can add all those together and find out how long that record is?”
Leave it to vinyl to bring out the math nerd in my kid.
By the time we get to the song’s chorus, our 5-year-old daughter, Alexina, is dancing down the stairs and makes a bee-line for the record player. “Hey, make it louder!” I do.
“Even louder!” she says.
“Also, can you pour me some milk?”
“I didn’t hear you say please.”
Their heads are rotating in twin circles as they follow the movement of the vinyl. I flip the album over to play side two. “Wait, there’s more music on the other side?” asks Jack. “You bet. We need to listen to the second half of the album.”
Remember that moment in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta opens the briefcase and stares in awe at the golden light shining from inside? “Woah,” the kids say, almost in unison. Although they don’t exactly sound like Vincent Vega.
After watching him read off a computer screen for more than a year, it’s a calming tonic to see Jack work his way through analogue liner notes. While he’s become an expert in logging in with a comedically long district email address on a daily basis, it’s a pleasure to watch him sit on the floor and sound out unfamiliar words. Currently, he’s reading the back cover of a live Dixieland jazz album I bought at a used book shop on Magazine Street in New Orleans many moons ago. “George Finola plays jazz for people who want to hear jazz as it should be played; with guts, fire and imagination,” he reads. Jack’s also sparing my middle-aged eyes from squinting.
Alexina is digging the beautifully-colored vinyl of the album “Seeds” by the band TV on the Radio. The records are awash with swirls of pink, aqua, and purple. She’s trying to convince me to let her bring it into show and tell when she starts kindergarten next year. I’m feigning hesitancy, but that would fill me with great fatherly pride.
The computer is shut down. The TV is silent. The Nintendo Switch is in the cabinet. And instead of screaming “Alexa, play “Lava” by the B-52s,” my kids are listening to the band’s entire debut album.
Here’s hoping for many more analogue days ahead.
Donny Levit is a writer and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. You can hear him DJ his indie rock show "Under the Influence" and his jazz show "Kind of Pool" on Bone Pool Radio. Follow him on Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio and @kindofpoolradio.