All morning I’ve been sitting here listening to the Rolling Stones album, Let it Bleed. I mean, I’ve been doing other things besides just sitting here. Mostly, writing stuff: an article a website wanted on what creative non-fiction is, and a couple poems I’m finishing up for my collection Everything Neon. But I haven’t gotten very far away from my desk. And that’s because of two things, a) it’s snowing like a mofo outside, and b) I love my desk, and the things within arm’s reach of it.
A quick note on the desk: It came from the trash in 2006. It’s made out of the cheapest particle board junk. It’s nothing fancy at all, it’s warped and all nicked up from a billion coffee cup spills. The best thing about my desk? Without stretching I can reach my record player.
I could sit here forever, and maybe I will sit here forever. When You Can’t Always Get What You Want ends and side A of Let it Bleed stops spinning, I just reach over and flip it to side B, and Midnight Rambler comes on. There’s something perfect for me about vinyl records, this shitty desk, this cup of coffee, it all adds up so nicely.
Why vinyl records? Here’s why:
1. The sides are quick, twenty minutes or so.
A) when the record stops, I can start it again back at the beginning and re-listen to that 20 minute chunk again.
B) I like the meditative qualities of that. After listening to the same side of a record long enough, I feel lost in it.
C) It was very important as a recording artist how you opened and closed each side of the record. The sequencing of the tracks made a huge difference. That was lost once CDs became the norm.
2. I like the way records sound. A record sounds the same way that snow looks when it falls. And sound the same way jumping into a like off a tire swing feels.
3. I can hunt out cheap vinyls for a dollar or two at flea markets or on the sidewalks of New York City.
4. Digital music is fine, but I like the limitations of vinyl.
A) An album/a record used to be put together with as much care a novel. Think circa 1967-1984 thereabouts.
B) The 40 minute mark for me is enough
C) I don’t want an infinite playlist. I want an artists attempt at ‘assembling a finite track listing that reflects exactly where they are, in that exact year.’ No better example of this done well than Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
5. I like the stack of them, and the way they look under the bookcase (which is also of course within arms reach. Gotta keep the bookcase close to the desk.)
A) The album artwork used to be so beautiful.
B) It was a tangible object. I like tangible objects. I don’t like the idea of paperback books floating in a cloud. I don’t like the idea of a vinyl floating in a cloud either.
C) I can flip through them when Let It Bleed ends for the tenth time and I can say, “Ah, I feel like putting Nilsson Schmilsson on, or I feel like putting David Bowie Low on, and really mean it. Physcially take the thing out of the paper sleeve, set it on the turn table, drop the needle. I get simple joy out of that. We exist in a digital world, but every time I can ‘not click on something’ I’m going for it.
About the record player:
It was cheap. I got it as a gift from my sister in California. She paid about $75 for it. It’s a Crosley suitcase travel record player. Green. It has a side speaker that came built into the thing. You cannot upgrade the speaker. You cannot plug fancy-ass Bose speakers into it to make the sound rich and beautiful. It is what it is. And that’s what I love most about it.
Everyday for the last year, I’ve sat at this desk and written for at least half an hour and I’ve done it with that record player spinning, wobbling, hissing and popping.
I’m reminded of being a teenager again. I’ve fallen in love deeply with music again. It’s always been there, I’ve always been a fan and have always had a very large collection of music. But there’s something different now. It’s attached itself in a way to my writing. This space that I’ve created here, this desk—bookcases flanking it on both sides: a 1/2 size bookcase to my immediate right with the record table on top next to my bronze golden eagle lamp, countless books stuffed and piled underneath on the shelves, the bottom shelf reserved for about 100 of my favorite records … this is a nice spot to work.
There’s a chair facing perpendicular to the desk where Spout comes in and sits with me, we drink coffee or beer and talk, and play records real low. The radiator is next to the chair, so we’re always warm sitting here on snowy days like today, and in the summer this room is cool enough that we can just open up the window that lets out onto the fire escape and things are nice.
The records bleed into the writing too. I’m working on a novella about a boy and girl who get caught up in a cross-country spree killing. I’m wrapping up a book called Teenager, and beginning to send it around to see if some presses are interested in it. A big influence on the book is the movie Badlands, but just as importantly, the album Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf and the Bruce Springsteen record Nebraska.
I’m interested in simple repetition and how that translates, day in and day out to become art. There’s no three things I know that are better joined than this desk, this record player and this writing.
Almost time for a new needle.