Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Riveting World of Records

With the purchase of a new record player, old memories have burst out unexpectedly. Our previous attempts at installing old record players and speakers in various permutations have always been unsuccessful - something or the other inevitably breaks down. But now, with this new American machine connected to our existing music system, we are able to play (and record from) all the old LPs. And how wonderful it feels to hear those old sounds (and the occasional scratches) blowing through the house.

So far we have just opened a few of our enormous family collection - and memories come drifting in already. We each remember buying our precious few records after painstakingly listening to them in tiny booths or small shops that have since begun selling other things.

I can now fill the house with the lilting Scottish tunes of Kenneth McKellar, the haunting simplicity of the Singing Nun, the whackiness of Peter Sellers and the tongue in cheek songs of Tom Lehrer.

My husband (and his parents') collection is a whole new world. One of the most miraculous finds for me is Glenn Gould (whom I had never heard before) playing The Well-Tempered Clavier. We find ourselves playing it over and over at different occasions - while cooking, at dinner, with friends or even at a party and it sounds perfect each time.

It's not just the sounds of the records which are nostalgic and warm, it's the covers as well. Large, expressive and radiating a certain seriousness of intent or screaming out a distinctive mood, they leave impressions that the modern CDs just cannot. Moods of the sixties and seventies - a stark picture of a starving baby on the cover of the Concert For Bangladesh record is striking, as is the intensity of an album with close ups of Janis Joplin. Gifted to my husband by Simon, a family friend, at a time when no one here had heard of the heartbreakingly intense songs of Janis Joplin. Another gift is a beautiful set of German recordings from the Villa Hugel - I vaguely remember the extremely courteous gentleman who presented it to my grandfather decades ago.

There are also old, original recordings of Indian classical musicians, of unusual concerts at Albert Hall, of music from Spain and Iran. Biddu and Carl Douglas's 'Kung Fu Fighter' docilely reclines against The Monkees and it appears that Frank Sinatra doesn't mind sharing shelf space with Cat Stevens.

All was harmoniously well till yesterday, when our record player mysteriously fell ill. Perhaps it's just fatigue or a sore throat. It now lies quiet, wrapped in bandages, and will soon be taken to a suitable clinic. I wish it a speedy recovery, the house seems very still in its absence.

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