Changing history

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Burned into my memory is how we disliked vinyl back when it was the only medium available to us. That’s the history I recall.

It was vinyl’s variability we tired of. Small changes in weather, tracking force, shmutz on the needle, shmutz in the grooves, shmutz in the air, heat-warped grooves, the pressing itself, the slow and inevitable degradation of sound quality from repeated plays, the slow collapse of the cartridge suspension. But those issues paled next to what irked most people: symphonies cut into slices, pops and ticks, noise, getting down to eye level in the hopes of hitting a track, children and phono cartridges, flipping the album over, getting it in and out of the sleeve, scratches, washing machines, Zerostats, tiptoeing across the listening room floor, maintaining the cranky mechanical contraption.

And, when change finally came in the form of repeatable digital medium, its noise free presentation, entire symphonies uninterrupted, hassle-free play, full dynamic range, switch to any track at the touch of a button, I was one of the happiest campers on the planet. So happy I forgave its obvious sonic shortcomings because I knew it was an infant still wobbly on its feet. That over time its benefits would outweigh its downsides and forever bury vinyl. It’s how most of us felt and we happily chucked our collection of plastic.

What surprises me is how history seems to have changed. Most everyone I knew back in the vinyl-only days couldn’t wait to scrap their turntables and retire their collections to the second-hand store or the nostalgia buff. That was the prevailing sentiment at the dawn of CDs until a diehard group of vinyl lovers decided it wasn’t ok. That the sound of digital was so bad it had to be crushed at any cost. My good friend, the late Harry Pearson, was one the ringleaders of this group though he was by no means alone.

The funny thing is how history got rewritten. Many folks today tell the story that vinyl was and always will be the king, that CDs were merely uncomfortable blips in reproduced music history, blips that are now (thankfully) fading. That things were just fine until CDs came along and dethroned and defiled a perfect medium; a medium that today still betters the best of digital.

That history may be true for a few, but I do not believe it’s what really happened. Not in my world, anyway.

I have nothing against vinyl. Nothing at all. In fact, some of the best recordings available are only so on vinyl, an unfortunate fact of a bygone era of great mastering. Like Direct To Disc where it was microphones right to the cutting lathe. Amazing. Without these classics preserved we might never know what good reproduced sound was like.

I am just pointing out how easily history seems to change. How malleable it is.

Let’s not fall into the trap of believing history is the truth. It’s simply the stories people tell.