If there was one constant in my home as a child, it was music. Nearly every weekend was filled with the sounds of my father’s vinyl 45 collection. At least I remember it that way. It has probably been nearly 15-20 years since I spent a lot of time with him listening to his records. As he got older, his weekend interest in listening to music declined, and his attention probably turned more towards watching baseball. Of course, no longer being a kid meant weekends outside the home, so my attention turned towards friends, girlfriends, and eventually a marriage and a child. Normal circle of life stuff. I suppose it would be a little odd if I were 38 years old and sitting around drinking beer and listening to old records with my father in my parents’ kitchen on weekends. (Although, at the moment, a week after his death, that doesn’t sound so bad. But I don’t think that’s really wanted he wanted for me.)
I remember not really being able to read (yet) and having my father tell me to put on the record player this or that Rolling Stones single or this or that Dion and Belmonts song. I’d start off by recalling the label design for the Stones or Dion, then I’d narrow it down from there, sounding out the words of the single’s title on the label. More often than not, the label would be deeply worn. Sometimes it would be corrupted with an ink inscription of a high school girlfriend of his, or maybe a label with the name of a guy he lost contact with after he was in the Army.
The record player seemed to be such a complex and sacred piece of machinery. We’d always somehow manage to misplace the adapter for 45s, which would have to be found before anything could happen. There was usually some awkward wrangling to get it seated correctly. The space in the record cabinet was never quite big enough for the player so you’d have to feel around blindly to get it seated correctly. Then there’d be that toggle sort of switch that you’d have to slide and release. That would get the whole process going with the arm rising up and gliding over the top of the record. It was this sort of pregnant pause that would follow, a really dramatic moment and the tension would release and the needle would land on the vinyl and a warm crackle or maybe a slow thump would emit itself from the speakers. Finally, the opening sounds of the record would come, until it would all fade out and the arm and needle would repeat its carefully orchestrated mechanical ritual.
I can remember my father, when I was a kid, saying things like, “when these records or yours.” I guess he knew then that I, like he, was the sentimental type and was also bitten by the collector bug too. He may have known that I actually liked the music as well. I suspected he always knew he wasn’t going to live to be an old man. I’m not entirely sure what his expectations were for life span, but I’m pretty sure he, like I, never expected him to still be kicking around when I was in my 40s. But I gotta tell ya, I hated when he said those words, given the obvious implication of what it would mean for me to own them.
When I was 8 or 12 or 15 or 20, it was inconceivable that I would ever be without him. Its almost inconceivable that it was just a little over a year ago that had my last drink with him at my sister’s wedding. There was nothing in this world he wanted more for my sister and I to graduate from college, have productive careers, and to be married with families. This was the success he sought. So following my sister’s vows, he told my mother, “my work is done.” I really wish he had consulted us on that. I’m not so sure we would have let him rest just yet if we had our way.
I left my mother’s house tonight with a box of some of his 45s. Not all of them, just a couple of handfuls to get started with a good, long digitization session at my home PC and USB turntable, which I hope to be therapeutic as I work my way through his collection. Those dreaded words flood my memory as I took to one knee, opened the cabinet containing the majority of his records, and loaded a few stacks into a box in order to bring them home. The words I wish I could forget about.
“When these records are yours.”