birthday

My Son’s New Retro Obsession

record-player

“What is that?” our 6-year-old son asked, as he made a beeline towards the curious box propped against the wall. The kids were wandering around a cool freshly renovated motel room we had just checked into, doing their usual assessment and getting the lay of the land within the couple square 100 feet that would be home for one night. To them, the dusty mechanism propped above a portable speaker and topped with a rotating wheel and a moveable arm had an intense appeal, as did the collection of thin square cardboard folios, each emblazoned with different images, standing next to it.

What was an essential part of my upbringing has become a readily mocked symbol of anachronistic-obsessed hipster culture— and an unknown artifact to my kids. I was embarrassed and stunned that they’d never seen a record player before. But best of all, they loved this thing.

Prince’s 1999 stood at the front of the selection, which contained other significant records and artists of my late 1970s-through-1980s childhood and adolescence: Prince, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder. This motel knows its demographic, i.e. what the 30/40-somethings and the younger set who didn’t grow up with this music first hand might dig. I pulled disc one of 1999 (this was the double LP edition) out from the sleeve and put on side one. It contains three cuts that are both some of Prince’s best and PG rated–ok, more like PG-13 when factoring in the innuendo. We gave the title song, “Little Red Corvette,” and “Delirious” a few listens, and headed out to the pool.

We came back to the room after dinner, stargazing, and hanging around the campfire where some local musicians were cranking out acoustic renditions of Beatles songs, “Country Road,” and plenty of stuff I didn’t recognize. Our eldest, who recently turned 7, lay back on the roll-away bed, tucked his arms behind his head, and listened to those three songs as many times as we’d let him before lights out. Instead of being at his happiest surrounded by piles of Legos in various states of construction and chaos, he was deeply listening to the music as the primary activity, not just as a background soundtrack.

After a few spins he knew the lyrics and could sing along to “Little Red Corvette.” We did some goofy dance-arounds to “Delirious.” Being in a different environment helped explain the bright shiny appeal of the record player, but nonetheless, it became clear that music is an area I’ve seriously dropped the ball on. Part of it is my laziness, and I also blame new technology.

I was raised by serious music fanatics. My father is a ghost writer, primarily for musicians, and the passive way I’ve handled music appreciation with our kids isn’t one of my prouder parenting accomplishments. In the car I mostly zone out and leave on what my niece calls “junky music,” i.e. top 40 radio, but our kids will demand certain artists and albums, thanks mostly to my husband. Our older son can belt out Katy Perry number one hits as boldly as Tegan & Sara, and lately, Kacey Musgraves songs. (As luck would have it, these artists recently all played together at the Hollywood Bowl two days after our kid’s 7th birthday; going to the concert was one of the highlights of his seven years on this planet.)

“Purist” or a “Rockist” or any of those inflexible categories don’t interest me. I totally love pop music. That said, the feeling of being in a suburban basement (the motel room was clad in wood panels, which fortunately for the new chic owners, works in a retro Ranch-style way) with a needle scratching 30-plus-year-old grooves of a disc on a low-fi system had an immediacy that’s missing when I stick a small rectangular digital device into a tinny dock, or operate our entire A/V system via my iPhone. So this cultural cliché turns out to have a specific value and use in our family, after all. Thank to the so-called hipsters, I guess.

“Can I get a record player for my birthday?” my son asked when we left the motel. Usually gift requests are met with eye rolls and long explanations riddled with my own anxieties about the tyranny of Too Much Stuff. Instead, I was psyched at the prospect. In the birthday deluge, I forgot all about the record player, frankly. But now that Hanukkah’s here, it’s time to research compact turntables, and think about finally making that trip to the family storage unit to dig through crates of vinyl.


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