Jeremiah Walter blissfully defies technology when he listens to his favorite music. Instead of indulging in the ultra-convenience of streaming, he places venerable records on his aged turntable and carefully places the needle on the vinyl.
“With streaming services and YouTube, can find anything in a split second,” says Walter, 43. “Because of that, you can develop musical ADD. Know what I mean?”
I do, Jeremiah.
“It’s, ‘OK, I listened to 15 seconds of this, and I’ll move on to the next thing.’ You have the entire music catalog of the world available to you.”
With vinyl, one record is available, and it’s a slight hassle to remove the album from its sleeve and get the sounds kicking from your speakers.
That hassle, Walter says, adds power and focus to the experience.
“There’s really a ceremonial aspect,” he says. “You pick the record and you place the needle on, and then for the next 15-20 minutes you’ve made the decision to immerse yourself in that. For somebody who really likes to dig into the music, it allows you to get there.”
We’re in the middle of a music revolution I struggle to understand. Retailers, according to Nielsen, sold 16.8 million vinyl albums in 2018, the highest total since 1988 and a jump from 3.9 million in 2011.
In 2002, compact discs accounted for 95.5% of recording industry revenue, and vinyl seemed on a ride along a path once trod by dinosaurs. Vinyl sales even dipped under 1 million per year.
Today, streaming rules the recording industry. CDs are more compact and durable and far less likely to warp than vinyl.
And yet . . .
CDs wander toward extinction as the new T-Rex with records the fresh and dashing alternative.
Bob Willard, known as “Cowboy Bob,” never departed the vinyl faith. During decades when music lovers were dumping vinyl collections, Cowboy Bob, 84, added to his vast collection with frequent visits to Goodwill.
He says he owns 1,000 records. After examining the massive collection that spills into two rooms, I’d say his estimate is conservative.
He sits, wearing a cowboy hat and Western shirt, in his music room on a rise in Monument with a superb view of mountains and lush fields. Willie Nelson’s “Stardust” is playing, complete with occasional scratch, on his turntable.
He often sits in this room, listening to Willie or Jim Reeves or Hank Williams while looking back. He grew up on a “little farm” near Cañon City, but dropped out of school at 15 and hitchhiked across the Midwest and West. He later worked at a steel mill in Pueblo and owned a clothing store in Colorado Springs.
All through his life, he’s listened to vinyl. Sitting here in his favorite room, Cowboy Bob recalls the strife and joy of his yesterdays.
“There’s an old saying, vinyl is final,” Cowboy Bob says. “There’s nothing like a good record playing on your phonograph. There’s just a wonderful sound to a vinyl record. There’s just something about it.”
Still, he says, there’s a downside to the upturn in vinyl popularity.
“It’s getting more expensive,” he says. “I used to buy albums at Goodwill for 50 cents.”
“Now they’re 2 dollars!”
Jeremiah, like Cowboy Bob, is not a serious collector. He is a serious listener. He’s not picky about the condition of the sleeve. It’s about, he says, “the music within those grooves.”
Years ago, he purchased a 1956 pressing of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. The songs had originally been recorded in the 1920s.
“This is as close as I can get to hearing how these folks were hearing it on old Victrolas,” Jeremiah says. (Those old Victrolas are back in style, too. Prices are soaring.)
Jeremiah later discovered Bob Dylan’s 1962 debut album at an antique store. A Dylan fan named Crystal scrawled her name prominently on the sleeve, forever lessening the album’s value.
“To me, that is cool,” Walter says of the signature. “Whoever this Crystal was, that adds an extra little level to the story.”