Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book Review: Old Records Never Die by Eric Spitznagel

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past

Author: Eric Spitznagel
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Date of Publication: April 12, 2016
Pages: 288

     I have five packing boxes of LPs from the 1960s and 70s in my basement.  These are always on the top of my wife's list of items to dispose of, but I just can't bring myself to do it.  Keep in mind that I haven't had a turntable hooked to my sound system since about 1992.  Why keep them?  This book helps to answer that question.  Old Records Never Die is beyond a nostalgia-fest, over and above a memoir and more than entertaining.  This book is for those of us who grew up flipping through the record racks at our local record shops.  This book is for those of us for whom music played a formative role in our adolescence and young adult lives.  This book is for those of us hooked on the "Classic Vinyl" channel on Sirius radio.  It is fitting that the book cover features "Let It Bleed" by the Rolling Stones.  That record along with The Beatles' "Abbey Road" and The Who's "Tommy" formed the soundtrack of my senior year in high school (1969).

       In Old Records Never Die Eric Spitznagel relates his quest to find his lost record collection.  He doesn't want to just replace the records of his youth, he wants to find his actual records!  He wants his Bon Jovi record which has an old girlfriend's phone number scrawled on the album cover.   He wants his copy of Kiss' "Alive II" which he listened to repeatedly with his younger brother.  He wants his records because he remembers where the skips and pops are on every one.  A pristine new version or, even worse, a digital version just wouldn't be the same.  The author takes the reader on a tour of used record stores, flea markets and discount stores in the Chicago area.  We share his disappointments when he finds albums that might have been his but turn out to have been somebody elses.  The reader also shares the author's excitement when he discovers a former used record store owner who has his old inventory in storage.  

     Eric Spitznagel is an executive writer for Men's Health magazine and has written essays in many other popular magazines.  He has also written six books and is a contributing editor for "The Believer" magazine.  He is a very humorous writer and combines irony with funny anecdotes, both from his past as well as from his current quest to find his records.  Author David Eggers writes on the book jacket: "When he searches for the records he lost and sold, Spitznagel is trying to return to a tangible past, and he details that process with great sensitivity and impact."

     So why go to all of this trouble?  This music is now available through the magic of the internet with just a few clicks on the computer and a credit card.   Charles Fernyhough writes in his book Pieces of Light that certain sensory stimuli can evoke very strong memories (or "involuntary memories").  Spitznagel tells how each of these records he is searching for brings back memories of certain formative experiences for him.

    So, I went down to my basement and opened one of my boxes of  records.  I randomly pulled out a copy of "Crosby, Stills and Nash" and immediately recalled their epic show (with Neil Young) at the old Capital Centre in August of 1974.  This was three days after Richard Nixon resigned (and about two days before I started medical school).  I found a forgotten copy of "Welcome to Fat City" by Bill Danhoff and Taffy Nivert, two Georgetown students who co-wrote "Take Me Home, Country Roads" with John Denver after a show at the old Cellar Door at 34th and M Streets in Georgetown.  They went on to form the Starland Vocal Band (one hit wonders with "Afternoon Delight"), an album which must be in another box.  The "Fat City" album has a picture of the two singers sitting in front of a mirror in a bar called Tamminy Hall on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.  I hadn't thought of the Cellar Door or other D.C. nightspots in a very long time.  So , Eric Spitznagel and Charles Fernyhough are right!  These old record albums do evoke some pretty strong memories.  Lucky for me all I need to do is go down to my basement (until they finally go to the dumpster or Goodwill).

Photo from "Welcome to Fat City" Album Cover

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