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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vinyl: The record of who we were (or weren't)

Larry Cornies is a former editor with The London Free Press who now writes a weekly opinion piece for the paper. The weekend column, it runs every Saturday, is a window into media groupthink. A column that ran a few weeks ago, Vinyl the record of who we were, ties a number of common media myths into one tidy package.

Cornies tells us "The children of the ’60s are easing their way toward retirement now, like an old hippie easing himself into a warm bath. . . . for many of us, the dusty, slightly warped and invariably scratched LPs and 45s, still wrapped in their fading and musty jackets . . . are the most revealing parts of the archives of our early lives."

Larry's core premise in this piece is dead on: The record collections of those of us who grew up in the '60s do contain clues as to who we once were. In reading Larry's piece one thing is clear: I don't remember the world like Larry Cornies does. My world is not and never has been the world of Larry Cornies.

My friends and I never had a "stack of vinyl" as Cornies apparently did. Records were kept in their jackets and stored on their edges. They stood upright on a shelf in an area of the room that did not get direct sunlight and was removed from hot air vents. Heat could warp vinyl LPs.

We played our records on either a Dual or Garrard turntable. No one used a record player as most were too wearing on the record's grooves. Record player tone arms were heavy and the automatic ones, which dropped 45s and LPs into the play position, were not trusted. I recall having an Empire cartridge on a low mass tonearm with the pressure set to less than two grams. Minimal wear was the goal.

It's funny but I am not surprised that Larry Cornies found the presets on the AM car radio so important. Most teens I knew found a way to upgrade their car radio, even if it was in the family car, to an AM/FM model. Not that AM wasn't important. It was but it was under attack from FM stations like WABX out of Detroit. AM DJs in the style of Juicy Brucey Bradley and Dick Summers of Boston's WBZ were going out of favour. (The skip enjoyed at night by powerful AM band stations gave DJs like Bradley and Summers tens of thousands of fans over an immense listening area.)

As for Cornies claim that the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band broke the mould when it came to cover art -- maybe. I'd argue the Velvet Undergound album cover designed by Andy Warhol and featuring a peel-able banana deserves the mould breaker honours. Peel the banana and discover a flesh-coloured fruit. Shocking! The difficult to produce album cover was a big reason for the album's late release.

Cornies may have dumped his record collection but I haven't. My albums are not warped and scratched. I still like to listen occasionally to Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys, Savoy Brown, Spirit, Kennsington Market . . . When Don Van Vliet died in 2010, I played my old Safe As Milk album by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Ah, the memories.

I hate to burst Cornies' balloon but I doubt the oh-so-conservative, oh-so-religious journalist knows anything about hippies. True hippies, not the hangers-on so loved by the media, were dedicated. Some of the hippie types I knew are still fighting for the big issues. Maude, of Harold and Maude fame, would understand.
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Two of my music heroes from my youth have died since I started this blog. One, Jack Bruce, the bassist-composer-singer of Cream died at 71 in his home in Sussex. Read about Bruce here.

Bruce was, for me, a cross-over artist. Cream was a top-40 hit-maker as well as a popular underground band. Badge may have been 60 notches down from number one on the AM station charts, but Badge was a monster hit on the alternative FM network.

Steve Miller was another great cross-over artist. Think Song of Our Ancestors. AM radio often chopped off the foghorn beginning, if they played it at all. The whole piece, taken as a whole, is a great entry point to the psychedelic music of the time. I have been told dropping acid to Song of Our Ancestors makes for a very good trip.

The other artist from my youth that I have blogged about is Don Van Vliet, known to many as Captain Beefheart. He died at 69, succumbing to complications from multiple sclerosis.

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