Joy Magazine

Love affair with vinyl

I'm standing in an aisle at Crossroads Music, a Portland used-record and CD store, trying to decide how to spend the rest of my $24 in store credit.

In one hand, I'm holding "Return to Magenta" (1978) by Willy "Mink" DeVille, the late soul singer with street attitude who emerged from New York City's punk scene. In the other, I'm weighing The Beach Boys' "Holland" album (1972), which marked a career turn for the singing surfers as they took up such hippie causes as peace, freedom and the environment.

Either would be a worthy addition to my beloved record collection. But combined, the two would cost me $10, and after setting aside three other records as definite must-haves, I'm left with just $6 in credit.

These are vinyl LPs, mind you — baby boomer junk, as many people now regard them. The sonically superior and virtually indestructible compact disc supposedly made records obsolete. And then digital downloading came along to vanquish CDs.

Well, not so fast. Records have become cool again over the past few years, especially among young buyers who see them as a way of compiling a music library without spending a lot of money.

"Easily, the majority of our customers are young adults under 30," says Eric Swedberg, who runs Crossroads with three other business partners.

A few $10 bills can go a long way in a store whose bins are crammed with albums in the $3-to-$7 range. Trophy-hunting record collectors still look for expensive, original pressings, which they can display in their dens like Picassos. The primary goal for today's record-store rats, though, is getting the most music for their buck.

"They're fine with a more affordable re-pressing," Swedberg says. "They're searching for the music, not the artifact."

I'm a geezer in Crossroads, someone who actually lived through the '70s, when much of the music in the store was first released. Yet I share the current generation's hunger for a bargain.

This is not the main reason I love records, though.

For starters, I grew up with them. They introduced me to music and its life-changing power. Over the years, as my friends ditched their bulky record collections, I never once thought of ending the affair. I could never be that heartless.

Records speak to the soul with their cover designs. Some are gorgeous, others mind-blowing or provocative. The art just doesn't translate onto the small square of a CD cover. Even the labels on vinyl LPs are a visual treat.

CDs are fine for playing in the car, but their appeal is limited. You can't even read their lyric sheets and liner notes without a magnifying glass.

I keep a turntable in three different rooms of my house, and hardly a day goes by when I don't pull a selection from my wall of records and give it a spin. Frankly, it doesn't bother me that scratches and warps can compromise the sound quality. That's what gives a record its character.

Truth is, whether I ultimately pick DeVille or The Beach Boys, I'm overjoyed to be spending part of my Saturday in Crossroads surrounded by records, even if they have put me in such a state of indecision. It's great that record stores still exist.

In Portland, you could be deceived into thinking these shops will be around forever. Southeast Portland alone boasts 13 listings in the "Portland Guide to Independent Record and CD Stores" (a free pamphlet with map available around town), including Crossroads and its Hawthorne Boulevard rivals Exiled Records, Timbuktunes and Jackpot Records.

Whenever I travel to the Rose City, I bring a bunch of CDs to trade, expecting to come home with a few additions for my vinyl menagerie.

So I'm heartened when Swedberg tells me that business is good, thanks to record sales.

"We sell a lot more records than CDs," he says. "We haven't done a detailed study, but I wouldn't be surprised if vinyl was 75 percent of all sales."

This means that I can look forward to more trading expeditions — for a while, at least. Inevitably, though, won't Portland record retailers suffer the same fate as their compatriots in the boondocks who couldn't compete anymore in the digital age?

Therefore, in the end, my decision — both "Return to Magenta" and "Holland" — turns out to be a no-brainer. I carry the records to the counter and pay the $4 exceeding my trade allowance.

It's a tiny price to pay to keep this love affair going a little longer.

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at talenthouse@charter.net.


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