I have a special vinyl storage box in my record collection, unlike my other albums, it is not alphabetized, or put in a genre order. I keep these albums together because of what they represent. I call this "My Uncles Music Box".
I often think about the powerful connection between music and memory and just how profound it can be. I recently watched a documentary of a man who was playing music to people suffering from Alzheimer Disease in an attempt to reconnected them with their memories, and thereby, reconnecting them with themselves. The man in question would bring an Ipod to the care centers where these people lived and he would ask family members which genres or specific songs their suffering loved ones used to listen to. The results were amazing and very emotional. Patients who could barely remember their own names were suddenly alive again. Whole, in the rush of memories and feelings they could relive through the experience of listening to a familiar song. Some recalled, in vivid detail the people they knew, the places they frequented, and all because of this catalyst called music. I am not a scientist and I do not know the long term effects of this type of therapy, but even if these patients regained a sense of self for a few moments it seems a worthwhile endeavor. And, it is further proof of the importance of music throughout the fabric of the human experience.
Onto the box...
I come from a close knit Italian family; Aunts, uncles, cousins, 2nd cousins, were all prevalent in my life and remain a bond that I hold dear to this day. We would all gather frequently throughout the year for holidays, birthdays, weddings, and any other reason to get together and share a meal. All of my relatives are special to me for various reasons, but it is my uncle Perry, who I will focus on for this article.
My Uncle Perry has always been a man of few words, and I love him dearly. I always thought he carried an air of "coolness" ; in his clothes, his demeanor, and especially his taste in records. I looked up to him and I loved him very much. On visits to his house I would flip through his collection of vinyl and marvel at its glory. It was both familiar and strange, but always compelling. I was aware and unaware of the many records he had in equal measure. He had Tom Petty, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, George Benson, Van Halen, The Commodores, Genesis, Styx, Hall and Oats and on and on.
Throughout all the years, I never forgot about my Uncles records. In a way they represented as much about my childhood as they did his adulthood. Such is the generational power of music and memory. I remembered most of what was in his collection and even vowed that I would find every album I could and put it in my collection one day. However, last year while visiting New York, I was given one of the greatest gifts I could ever hope for. My Uncle gave me his entire record collection. It seemed as though a long thread that had weaved through most of my life was finally tied off. I felt I had fulfilled a strange destiny, as if I was always supposed to be the custodian of these albums and then I thought about why. Why was is so important? Why did these pieces of polyvinyl mean so much to me. And how was I going to carry all those glorious albums back to Amsterdam?
Well, to answer the last question first. I hand carried about 30 albums on the plane home and I shipped about 75 records back. Those suckers are really heavy. I borrowed a faux red alligator skin doctor type bag from my mother for the plane. Embarrassing? Yes. But I got those records back safely.
I couldn't wait to throw on those magical albums. I believe I was knee deep in a listening session. Sometimes I go in directionless. I pull out some random records and ride the wave. I was hopping from Hard Promises to Abacab to Chicago to Blondie and then onto Donny Hathaway when I answered the first two questions and it is similar to the reactions the Alzheimer patients had.
The albums and songs are all connected back to the idea of a vivid past. My vivid past, where sometimes you need a catalyst to pry open a bit more detail. I was filled with memories. Filled with childhood longing, playing, loving, family, sorrow, etc. Those records offered an auditory, visual, and emotional connection more than any photograph ever has. I threw on Van Halen, "1984", and not only was I loving the songs for the songs but, I was back in middle school playing football during lunch time recess. A chain of forgotten memories began to build into so much more than I ever could have imagined. And through the past, I felt a renewed appreciation for the present. I was happy I loved music to the extent I do.
But, what is more meaningful to me is the suggestion that these records also represented a time in my uncles life. He purchased them when they came out, so we're talking the 70's and 80's. He was younger then than I am now. A young man raising a family, going to night school, and living his life. I feel as though I can gleam into his past.to get a sense of his life, his experience. The man loved Tom Petty. He loved George Benson too. He loved the Cars. Its fascinating to me to imagine him buying and then playing these albums and it all goes back to the nature of vinyl records. He wasn't walking around, scrolling through a play list. You had to get up and put them on your turntable. You had to flip them over. You had to keep them clean. You had to maintain your cartridge. Its not a medium for the easily distracted or lazy. He put them on and listened to them. Perhaps alone. Or maybe with his friends, or a loved one, just as I do.
These albums are a snapshot of his experience, and he entrusted them to me. They are a time capsule of the era they were released in, a reflection of my own history and culture and a document of my uncle. A perfect, living, breathing snapshot. So, yes. I am the custodian of these artifacts and I will cherish them forever. I hope one day to give my daughters my record collection, and I hope they discover a little piece of me and themselves whenever they throw on an album.
*As a side note- The records had not been played in nearly 25 years and yet they were all remarkably well kept. Extra kudos to my uncle.
**Double side note- I was once asked, "Why are your boxes better than any other vinyl storage I can buy?" Aside from the fact that I believe our record storage boxes are the most beautiful, I like to think my passion for music and my preferred medium, vinyl, goes into every product we sell. I know it may sound crazy, but I actually feel this way.