I’ve spent the past week obsessing over two things in equal parts: Eric Church’s “Record Year” single, and Eric Spitznagel’s Old Records Never Die book.
That those two were released at roughly the same time cannot be a coincidence. It just can’t. (Especially when you consider that Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, the man who wrote Spitznagel’s foreword, is mentioned in the title track of Church’s Mr. Misunderstood as “one bad mother.”)
Church’s new song is all about drowning his troubles with his record collection by his side. And Spitznagel’s new book is all about his troubles to just get his original record collection back by his side.
Not just copies of the records he grew up with, but the actual ones. He got the idea when he was interviewing neo-soul drummer Questlove for MTV, and he told Spitznagel that he had more than 70,000 records in his vinyl library. And that he’d never consider selling even one.
That was not the case for Spitznagel. In 1987, the pop-culture journalist had about 2,000 records. But over time, to pay bills, come up with beer money and make room in his small apartments, he sold most of them.
Like Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album with his girlfriend’s phone number on the front, the KISS Alive II with his brother’s “HANDS OFF!!!” warning on the cover, the K-Tel Night Flight package — the one with the missing inner white sleeve — that he’d bought at a Meijer in 1982 and then found in his neighbor’s mom’s basement.
This book is about Spitznagel’s hysterical journey to get most of those records back and then the weird party he has with his old neighbors and his brother when he does.
I’ve never been that much of a vinyl snob. I just went with whatever the latest format was. Whether that meant middle-school mix tapes made by recording songs off the radio onto a cassette recorder (I apologize if that was some early form of illegally downloading music), to the MP3 songs I listen to now.
But I did have a small stack of records and have some very tangible memories to go along with most of them.
1. The very first album I ever owned was Loggins & Messina’s Sittin’ In. It was in the early ’70s, and I won’t tell you how old I was, but I will say that it was under the Christmas tree next to the Barbie Dream House I’d asked for. I played the album more than I ever played with the Dream House.
2. In 1978, my brother bought Styx’ The Grand Illusion and used it to de-seed his pot for years to come. Whenever he wasn’t home, my friends and I would play it to see if we felt a little bit stoned.
3. I was too nervous to buy the Rod Stewart album Blondes Have More Fun when it came out in the late ’70s, because my mom said the cover was too sexy, so I rode my bike to the Harmony House in my hometown and waited until I saw someone I knew (a friend’s cool big sister) and asked her to buy it for me. For years, I hid it under my mattress like a dirty magazine and only played it when no one was home.
4. There’s a picture of James Taylor inside his Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album from 1971. His hair is long, his moustache is trimmed, his eyes are brooding, and his chambray shirt is faded. It is such an iconic image of him, mostly to my family. Because when my sister drew that picture for a high school class, it won her an art contest and a college scholarship. Years later, it wound up in my house, and with her blessing, I bestowed that picture to Garth Brooks, who I knew was a fan of Taylor’s at least as long as I was.
5. My love affair with Pink Floyd had nothing to do with the music. But their The Dark Side of the Moon album — a gift from my cousin, as I recall — was just what I needed as I reached my peak tanning years. Because when I covered up the lyrics and the heartbeat reading across the gatefold with aluminum foil, this album became the perfect reflector to harness the power of the sun and give me basal cell carcinoma scares for the rest of my life. Thanks, Pink Floyd.
6. The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow album that my teenage daughter found when we were in Nashville in 2012 did two pivotal things at a time when I didn’t even know records had made a comeback: 1.) It Helped her write a college application essay about how she thought life should be lived like vinyl, full of scratches and skips and imperfections. And 2.) It made me look cool to my kids for even knowing that a place like Grimey’s record store even existed.