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Home Base: Participating in the vinyl revival




At my family Christmas last week in Arkansas, my twin nephews, age 16, sat restlessly in the living room after lunch. 


They wanted to go home -- for them, just a block's walk from my parents' house where we were celebrating -- and enjoy a pair of Christmas gifts they had received earlier that day. These gifts weren't gadgets, video games or some other tech-heavy wonder often associated with the younger crowd's taste. They were 12-inch vinyl records, two they had specifically requested, and there was nothing "new" about them, other than their being new to the boys. 


One twin grabbed "Billy Joel's Greatest Hits," while the other made off with Johnny Preston's "Running Bear" album featuring the 1960 hit that had to have been the most depressing song released that year. These albums would add for the boys' listening to the paltry dredges of their mother's old record collection, headlined by Michael Jackson's "Thriller," a greatest hits collection from Air Supply and music from the 1980s blockbuster movie "Ghostbusters." The boys spin their vinyl on a turntable I bought at a garage sale 10 years ago that I thought was broken but apparently just needed to be plugged in. 


The record-playing phenomenon is hardly restricted to my nephews. And Millennials, it seems, are fueling the vinyl revival. 


Record stores are popping up all over the country, setting something of an anachronistic scene of 20-somethings pocketing their smart phones for a moment so they can peruse vintage albums once relegated to flea markets or the back corner of their grandfather's closet. 


Once idle album presses are buzzing again at a breakneck pace trying to keep up with demand, reissuing brand new versions of old albums. Today's artists, too, are catching on, often releasing their new albums on vinyl. 


My Facebook feed on Christmas day streamed photos of teens and college-age kids proudly showing off their new turntables and records. 


The trend has hit my house, as well. We have a new turntable (that I plugged in this time) and I am assembling quite the impressive record collection in my opinion. My three daughters love when the record player is on, as it is often. Sometimes, after the kids go to bed, my wife and I will listen to records instead of watching TV. 


By most standards measuring such things, I am considered an early Millennial (born in 1983), though this writing marks the first and final time I'll ever admit that. Still, I find it refreshing to see a generation who grew up with the technology to cram hundreds, even thousands, of songs on one device that can fit in your pocket now willingly conscripting itself to listen to music the "old" way -- four to five songs at a time before they have to get up and turn the record over. There's just something irreplaceably authentic about that experience young people are clearly recognizing. 


Most interestingly, many of these Millennials aren't hearkening to their past as a way to hold onto their youth. Often, vinyl records are a new experience for these guys, something from the past they have found value in preserving or renewing -- something they can, on their own terms, be a part of making great now with no thought of whether it is "great again." There's probably a lesson in that for everybody. 


We older folk -- or in my case just someone who considers himself older -- often throw significant shade at Millennials, whether it's because they have their "heads in their phones" or because we believe they show contempt for the conventions that helped evolve society to where it is. Sometimes, we don't trust they will properly handle the reins when it comes their turn to run things. This may be an instance that shows the "lost generation" isn't quite as lost as some think. 


Or, it could just mean they like listening to records.



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