Friday, September 24, 2021

Raised on Radio.

This past Saturday afternoon was spent, like so many others before it, in one of my very favorite places on earth: an old record shop. I left the car and walked down one of the most idyllic streets on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in what has been dubbed “The Coolest Small Town in America” thanks to a national contest a few summers ago. There was an excitement bordering on anxiety running through my veins. I couldn’t quite reach the front door fast enough, yet once I was three steps from the shop, I instinctively slowed down because I didn’t want to seem too anxious. I opened the door, stepped inside, and immediately calmed down. I could smell musty old vinyl records and incense burning and hear the old floorboards shifting beneath my feet. It could have been a hot summer day in 2017, or one back in 1987. Time was irrelevant because either way, I was home. 

When I was a little girl way back in 1970-something, I would spend plenty of time hanging out with my dad while my mom worked nights. He worked for an up-and-coming rock radio station, and so much of my time with him revolved around his musical career. We would visit his friends while they were on air. We sat on the floor and opened big boxes of brand-new albums by artists like Aerosmith and listened to them on the spot. Then there was the early evening trip to a newsstand every Friday to grab one of the few copies of Billboard Magazine that they would get in each week.  

Saturday afternoons were spent in a record store—at first, the little hole-in-the-wall variety where everyone knew everyone else, and then eventually in a bigger chain. The smaller shops were always the best, and before I could even read, I was flipping through albums and analyzing cover art. Dad would be talking music with his buddies, and I would be running stuff by Blue Oyster Cult over to him because I loved the colors and visuals on their latest ventures. These trips went on for years until I was way too old and far too cool to be caught dead in public with a parent.  

Then I went to the record store by myself to buy a mixture of hairband and freestyle dance music on cassette. Everything from Whitesnake to Exposé was bumping through my Walkman, and I never left the house without some sort of music on me. MTV’s Nina Blackwood was my favorite VJ, because not only did she get to meet all the artists that she played, but she also seemed more than capable of holding her own in what was already an obviously male-driven industry. 

Any way I looked at it, music was my happy place, my escape, and my salvation all wrapped into one four-minute-and-thirty-second song after another. Music was my normal, and for years, it never really occurred to me that it was actually a gift and a language that not everyone else spoke. 

Standing in front of tables full of vinyl on this sweltering Saturday afternoon, I’m at peace. The kind that my dad must have felt all those years ago. The kind that you can’t talk yourself into; it’s either gut level there, or it’s not. As I pour over bin after bin, all my real-life problems seem to know better than to cut in. I’m left present in the moment and somehow connected to all the positive things that come from melodies, harmonies, and deep lyrics. Things like hope, faith, connection, joy, and a reminder to my dark little heart that there is still an enormous amount of good in this world.  

My dad taught me how to dig for album gold, and how to find comfort in something that is always, without fail, there for each one of us. That need to belong and fit in somewhere—it’s always in the music. Most importantly, he showed me the natural connections that form while looking for that elusive record. The reality is that anyone hanging over a bin of vinyl for more than five minutes will intuitively understand how at least part of my brain works, without us ever having a conversation. So why not have that conversation? Music solidifies things before people even exchange first names. 

I know that vinyl has become the “cool” thing again, and I love the fact that my teenagers are spinning records even more than they’re using streaming services. I just hope that once the trend cools off, and Urban Outfitters stops pushing the same record player in twenty-five colors, the love of vinyl continues with a bunch of beautiful young faces to nurture it. 

As a parent, you instinctively understand that it’s your job to provide for and teach your kids the things that they need to be decent and successful adults. As an older parent who has settled into life, I understand now more than ever that the biggest gifts I have to give generally don’t include a monetary price tag. When I watch my kids flip through albums now, I wonder if years from now, they’ll really “get it.” Have I unknowingly led them towards a lifetime of emotional understanding, just as my father did for me? He always seemed to think that no matter what your heart needs, you’ll find it in the music and I tend to agree. No matter what your heart needs, it’s in the music so you might as well dig in. 


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