Today I bought an LP. Yes, that’s right: a vinyl long-playing record.
I saw it in the window of Oxfam in Ipswich, as the rain pattered on the glass and a cold wind blew through the streets under a grey sky. It was a second-hand copy of Christian artist Steve Taylor’s third album, I predict 1990. It appeared in 1987, through Myrrh records.
I never owned a copy of this album. I bought his first album-ette, I want to be a clone, and liked it. His second album, On the Fritz, I also purchased. But the third album got him into trouble with some elements of the Christian music industry in the US and his career came to an abrupt halt. The three albums can be obtained in MP3 form, although not in CD these days.
The LP was in good condition. It must have been purchased by someone of my generation. Oxfam stock tends to come from house-clearances, after funerals, so I infer that one of my contemporaries has gone to meet the Lord, leaving me his LP.
Buying it was rather a ritual. The sleeve was in the window, but the LP itself was behind the counter. I was invited to inspect the disk, to see if it was scratched. Then the record was placed back in the sleeve, and the whole in a specially square plastic bag. It was bulky, and awkward to carry, and I had to carry it upside down as I went out into the rain. I knew that I had bought something tangible with my money. It cost me a shade under five pounds, which is probably a little less than the original cover price, but not much.
Arriving home, I found a package on the doormat with a CD that I had ordered. I placed the CD on the pile of music next to my CD player. But I took the LP out, and placed it on my record deck — I still have an old-fashioned HiFi separates system, although it now has a CD player and some of the elements are not those from 1980 — and started it playing while I prepared lunch. The 80’s sound came out of the speakers. Somehow … it was worth listening to, all the way through, just as I used to do in the old days when buying music. The sleeve and inserts rested on top of a pile of books nearby, conspicuous as I did this and that.
We’re all human beings. We do tend to judge something that is small as being of limited value. A CD doesn’t seem nearly as important as something several times larger. The cover art on a CD is always squeezed into this tiny little square. The notes are inserted in a little booklet, hardly large enough to read. A CD is … just a disposable consumer item. Has anyone ever felt about a CD as I felt, buying an LP today? That I was doing something which was important? I doubt it, somehow.
As for MP3’s… these were originally free. The record industry has found a way to charge us for them, but somehow they don’t seem worth even the eighty pence or whatever the charge currently is. A song in MP3 format is nothing, seems like nothing, feels like nothing. Gigabytes of them are passed around by students on keydrives, I’m sure.
This is not nostalgia. It’s about human perceptions of worth. There is a reason why it matters whether the church steeple is the tallest building in the town.