I am way behind what’s trending, but back in December I received a turntable for my birthday. It was my first record player since the Fisher Price Phonograph I had as a small child in the 80s, which mostly played storybook records, but also accommodated my one and only 45 purchase, “Stand” by R.E.M.
For decades I have been really into music, but by the time I was out and about with my cousins and friends looking to build my music collection on the weekends, it was a digital world. By the mid-90s I never saw records for sale anywhere.
My favorite music store of all time (whose sign you see above) is East-West Music & More. It is in my geographical parish, which happens to be where I grew up. It is also in my heart. My uncle worked there in the 70s. Two of my cousins worked there later on. Most importantly, my wife was the beautiful face behind the counter there for nearly ten years. The owners, who are my daughters’ godparents, somehow weathered the storm of the MP3 revolution, when most music fans abandoned CDs too, opting to buy (or steal) their music by computer keystrokes instead of from the 3-for-$18 bins. But now East-West has come back around to where it started more than forty years ago. They are selling vinyl again, and I can’t get enough of it.
A vinyl record is an object with music literally on it. CDs and MP3s contain bits of data — albeit data that do not warp or get static, that allow for skipping tracks quickly and arranging songs in whatever way you like. I’m no audiophile, and I don’t find it terribly important to decide if an analog or digital medium produces a technically better sound. When it comes to convenience, there’s no question that digital music wins.
But I simply enjoy the analog experience more — much more.
In fact, I join those who are saying that convenience is sometimes overrated. Maybe it can even obscure what is good, holy, and true. Despite the ever increasing number of inconveniences in my life, I am more convinced that there is much higher value in a whole range of things that the easy alternatives have abandoned. You have to take better care of records and face the fact that even on a top-of-the-line turntable, every play brings a record closer to its demise. But so what? That’s life. Until then you have something precious that provides enjoyment by demanding protection. Records turn listening into the intentional and embodied activity that it should be.
Christianity may be coming through a comparably “digital” revolution too. Those of us who have weathered our own storms (like my record store friends) find that the old analog faith is more desirable than its replacements. And we’re now in a position to sell it really well. Our inconvenient, niche-market product may be just what a culture weary of the latest-and-greatest wants — a different kind of thing than everything else. We do our thing with incense, prayer books, vestments, bread, wine, icons — in short, stuff. Our thing will not simply integrate into the life you choose. It will slow you down, suck your time, put you with people you do not like, and ask you for things you do not want to give. It is glory through sacrifice — eternal grace poured into precious but perishable materials. It is the ancient faith of the Church.
This analog faith is special. I would love to see you in my shop.
The featured image was provided by the author.