WRITTEN BY KEN KOLASINSKI
No death is easy to handle. There’s the sense of devastation, the swirl of emotions, and dealing with the realization of permanent loss.
Over the weekend we suffered a slow, painful death here that was as hard to experience as it was to listen to.
It started, ironically enough, with the New York Dolls “Too Much, Too Soon.” For those of you with a real, hardcore knowledge of the musical scorecard, you know that the album is virtually impossible to find on CD. I’ve had a vinyl copy for what feels like ages and can still remember when I bought it and the raised eyebrow reaction the cover photo got from the cashier at the Woolco in Souderton.
About halfway through “Who Are the Mystery Girls?” something terrible started to happen. Even Liam, lost in his Lego world looked up and then over at me with a quizzical look on his face.
You see, something was terribly wrong. David Johansen’s voice was slowing and lowering, Johnny Thunders was playing with less vivacity.
Oh no, it couldn’t be happening now.
After what had to be more than 25 years of loyal service, my turntable was in the early stages of its death throes.
I rushed to be by its side. I gently lifted the tone arm back into position, turned it off and on like I was trying to restart its heart and tried again. Johansen sang an octave lower and even slower.
Like a surgeon in the “ER” I called for Liam to get my scalpel… er … screwdriver. He scrambled for the tool box as I flicked on lights for what was sure to be high risk, high tension exploratory surgery.
Still, I was hopeful for a positive outcome. I though back to my senior year in high school when I had miraculously brought back my first turntable from the stereo graveyard with an emergency surgery. That one simply needed a belt reattached. This promised to be more challenging.
With Liam’s help, I delicately removed the underside of the turntable with growing tension in the air. Even a curious Liam seemed to sense now was not the time to fire a series of questions at his Dad. I quietly detailed the different things we were looking at.
Nothing immediately leapt out at me. There was no flashing light that said “fix me.” I started to sweat.
Liam asked if I could fix it. I didn’t have an answer.
My mind traveled back to 1985 and the last time I’d successfully performed this challenging operation. I went for the only thing I could think of, the tiny motorized box that contained the belt drive, essentially opening up the heart of my turntable.
I hope for the obvious, that the belt had slipped out of alignment. Please, in the name of Nipper — that dog seated next to an old gramophone in the “His Master’s Voice” painting — let it be that.
Alas, it wasn’t.
Liam could tell things were not going well. He asked if it was broken for good. I couldn’t respond.
We put everything back in place and hoped for a miracle from the stereo gods. A rush of images came back into my mind, the way I’d always gently place the turntable in the front seat of my car for every move to another place, the countless albums that would someday become classic that made their listening debut on that turntable.
I reconnected all the plugs and wires and tried a final time. Sort of like HAL toward the end of his life in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Johansen’s voice was now a painful slow garbled tone.
I told Liam to pull the plug.
I shouldn’t be sad. That turntable lasted far, far longer than it should have, it’s life extended by the rise of CDs and iPods. Still, I couldn’t help thinking it was the proverbial end of an era.
What next, though?
In 2015 a turntable is more of a novelty. Is it really worth replacing something like that? It’s rare that I’d listen to music at home and opt for the vinyl version of an album over the CD. It’s just too convenient and my computer’s iTunes has entire catalogs of favorite bands. The days of sitting around a stereo carefully extracting LPs from their sleeves and gently placing them on a turntable is, at times, quaint at best.
If I’m honest with myself and the departed memory of my turntable, the last time it got serious use was to transfer a bunch of out-of-print vinyl albums to — dare I say it — a digital format.
I think my occasional use of my record player in the past five years was purely to show Liam something that was once a vital part of my world. I showed him how you had to flip an album to get to the second half, how a 45 rpm contained just one song and what was the importance of the “A” and “B” side. I know deep down, I did that far more for me than him.
I decided not to throw it away just yet, the space it would leave behind wouldn’t look right, something would be missing to my eyes. For now I’ll deal with the fact that for the foreseeable future, something’s missing for my ears.
Ken Kolasinski’s On Another Note column appears regularly in Ticket.