The Internet has made waiting in line for days on end to buy something a thing of the past and yet - on Record Store Day, there I was. At 8am, standing with two of my closest friends in the cold with a bunch of crusty old punks and young, hipster college students. We waited for two hours to dig through crates and hopefully find special releases of albums on vinyl, an arguably outdated form of media.
Twenty minutes later, after fighting a hipster for the last copy of The Misfits/Lemonheads Skulls release, a mostly successful Record Store Day looked like $80 and two David Bowie 45’s, the new Superchunk 45, a Zombies album, Graceland, a stack of old country, jazz, and folk albums, Bat out of Hell I, and the Best of Joan Baez.
I could have listened to any of these songs online, for free, without the cold or grabby gutter punk hands after my Bowie album. But I didn’t. I stood in line, chatting with strangers about our favorite concerts feeling all at once ridiculous and awesome for recounting the story of my punk show black eye in explicit apologetic-clumsy-crowdsurfer detail.
My new record player came in the mail yesterday - a little portable blue one, the kind I’ve always wanted, that makes me feel just like Suzy Bishop. I cancelled everything I was going to do, and just laid on the floor listening to the needle find the groove on Fats Domino and Harry Belafonte and Rosemary Clooney records, contemplating through the static all the people who’ve listened to these records before me.
It’s partially nostalgia, I suppose. As a child it was Cat Stevens and Beatles records. Then CDs, and then eventually, an iPad hooked to speakers. A few years ago my parents bought a new record player to replace the one that had broken years before. They giggled as they sorted through their record collection, laughing at the clear difference between my mother and father’s records (my mom has infinitely superior taste) and pulling out scratchy records from local bands they listened to in New York.
I’m not old enough to remember records as a primary source of music. The first music I bought for myself was purchased on cassettes in the 7th grade with saved loose change, when the cute grungy boy at the record store had to pop it out of the thick plastic casing for me. But I remember Saturdays and dancing to scratchy albums in the living room and loving the smell of old records almost as much as I love the smell of old books.
I travel with an old Brownie camera from the 40s (the same one next to my record player in the photo at the top) an iPhone, and a DSLR. There’s a typewriter from the 20s on my desk, next to my shiny Macbook. I wrote a grocery list on it once, and one of these days I’ll get around to replacing the ribbon so I can write letters on it. I don’t love my record player more than I love my mp3s or - gasp! - my CDs (I still listen to those!), but I love them differently. I love them deliberately.
Outdated things require intention. Changing the film on cathedral stairs and remembering the days when you had to document your trip in just 12 shutter clicks and you didn’t have space for photographs of food and architectural details, typing every word when delete isn’t an option, putting that needle on the record, watching it wobble away, and being unable to skip a track when it doesn’t speak to you in the first 10 seconds. Even finding the records that you want requires patience, digging, and a little bit of luck.
Old things want us to be careful and intentional in our creation and consumption. As they spin, records ask us to be still.
Today’s Weird Thing is this vintage Kodak camera.
I have a love of old things that were once used to create things. It’s why I love my old typewriter and why when I saw this camera on a back shelf in an antique store in a sleepy mountain town, I knew I had to have it.
This is a Kodak Jr. Six-20 Series II camera, made between 1937 and 1940. I literally spent my last $15, a week before payday, to buy it. I was living in a small town in Appalachia at the time, where antique stores full of awesome things were every few miles and probably owned by the same person.
Even though I know few people share my penchant for weird old crap, I love giving carefully picked antiques as gifts. So for Christmas, an old friend became the third person I’ve ever given a vintage camera to as a gift. When my then budding and now professional photographer roommate declared me the “coolest girl in the world” I knew I’d nailed it.
Three people, and I had yet to buy one for myself. But that changed the day I ran to the bus stop as my bus pulled away and I just decided to walk the two miles to work instead, passing my favorite little antique store. I decided to duck in quickly. And there it was just waiting to be bought.
A few days ago, I bought two rolls of film for the camera, and though I have no earthly idea how to use it, I’m taking it to Europe with me as part of a little experiment in time travel. How do I decide what to document if I can only photograph 16 things on two rolls of film?
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