Warning geezer comment alert...
It may be difficult for kids these days to imagine it, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past that you couldn't find and listen to the most obscure music at the touch of a few buttons, anytime, anywhere. There weren't any computerized recommendations agents that could suggest 25 other bands or albums that you might like based on what you just heard and thumbs-up'ed.
While it certainly made it much more difficult for the intrepid young would-be punk music explorer foraging in the heart of suburbia, there was a certain amount of satisfaction, excitement and exclusivity from making new discoveries into ever edgier sounds. For me, the degree of difficulty was cranked up a few extra notches on account of living in a household in which rock-n-roll was pretty much forbidden. That's right, kind of like Dirty Dancing without the dancing part.
My family in fact had the requisite massive monolithic family stereo and console with shelving for records, a record-player, AM/FM tuner, and built-in speakers on the bottom, but that was dedicated to an eclectic mix of classical, international (think Bagpipes of the Black Watch and the Singing Nun rather than BGK and Upright Citizens, folks), singers like Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, ... you get the picture. Of course only my pops had the necessary certifications and skill-set to operate this big-ass stereo system so it remained off-limits during my formative pre-high-school years that could have been spent getting deep into the music of Foghat and Steely Dan. Oh the shame of my misspent early youth.
sony walkman's changed my life
This is not an exaggeration when I say it - Sony Walkman's changed everyone's lives back then. Music became portable and just as significantly, became more of a solo experience. Suddenly I could buy one of these without my parent's consent or knowledge (natch), keep it fairly easily hidden, keep the tapes fairly easily hidden, and use it to listen covertly anywhere and everywhere. It was like a whole new world opened up to me.
Friends would make mix tapes or record entire albums on tape and pass them around and I was getting introduced to new and old music that was all new to me. I started to like the weirder sounding stuff over time - there was a certain element of buzz around sounds that were a little less accepted and approachable, you know wild stuff like B-52s, Talking Heads, Adam and the Ants, and so on and so forth. Bands that inspired me to take the the long trek to Commander Salamander's in Georgetown and seek out buttons bearing their names, buttons that would get pinned on my warthog polos with care.
In these pre-Google, pre-BandCamp, pre-all-things-internet times, it wasn't easy to make the quantum leap to full-on punk-dom from these gateway slightly-weirder-than-average bands. There were hints that a whole nother level of wild music existed, references to bands named the Sex Pistols and X and Fear in the Rolling Stone or similar rag. Even some of the bands I was listening to seemed to have a prior history in this underground world, bands like The Clash, The Ramones, Billy Idol (!) might be linked to this underground world I knew nothing about.
This other world piqued my interest and that of some of my friends. We variously started discovering the music behind some of these names. My buddy Aaron got turned onto the Dead Kennedy's at some point through his connections on the Debate Team (trust me on this one, the debate team at my HS threw down - those cats were not only the sharpest folks I ever met but also the wildest).
For my own part, I was making a mental list of those intriguing names I'd run across here and there in my nearly daily pilgrimages to local Record & Tape shops like Penguin Feathers (peace sign to the middle-aged dude who worked the Penguin Feathers in Annandale and played The The on a daily basis), Waxie Maxies, Olsson's in Gtown. I found DOA's War on 45, Black Flag's The First 4 Years, Never Mind the Bollocks, Flipper, The Cramps, X. Some of it I loved (DOA, Sex Pistols), some I have to admit I hated (Flipper), some I didn't know what to make of, probably was too soon (X, The Cramps, Black Flag).
And we all seemed to discover and love The Clash at the same time - not just the Should I Stay or Should I Go version of The Clash that we'd initially heard and liked and slam-danced to at the high-school dances - but the early Clash of the eponymous first record.
I should mention this was around the Spring of 1984. I was starting to really dig this world the more I learned about it and the more of the music I heard. Movies like Repo Man and Suburbia and their soundtracks begat newer names for me to checkout. Same with some of the less obscure compilations like Let the Eat Jellybeans and the Punk and Disorderly volumes.
in with vinyl
3+ decades of TLC for my record collection and counting ...
3+ decades of TLC for my record collection and counting ...
Right about that time it started to dawn on me that I wasn't going to get much further in my efforts to make a deeper entry into the punk rock if I kept looking for tapes only. The more established bands on the bigger labels (shout out to SST) were releasing on tapes as well as vinyl and of course you had the ROIR (as in "roar" yo) catalog distributed on tape. Everything else seemed to be much more readily available on vinyl.
This realization presented quite the dilemma for me. On the one hand tapes were convenient and easy to cache in hiding spots and I could listen to them all the time any time with little fear of getting caught. On the other, it seemed like I had pretty much exhausted the inventory of punk rock tapes I could get my hands on.
So I did what any self-respecting burgeoning suburban punk kid would do. I started buying records. Before I really knew what the hell I was going to do with them, despite the drawbacks that should have been patently obvious.
Like for starters - how and when was I ever going to listen to the fine punk rock burned into the grooves of the vinyl I bought? There weren't any miniature record players you could keep under your sweatshirt and play all day long.
My first strategy was to fire up the big-ass family stereo whenever I had a chance and listen that way. The kinks in that approach became apparent pretty quickly. My family was fairly large, there were 4 of us kids, with only one car and a stay-at-home mom. My mom and pops never left for long trips or even weekend trips, and ergo I was left with the odd hour here or there where they'd be out running errands.
So I dealt with delayed gratification whenever I brought home a new record. I'd spend a lot of time inspecting the front and back art, the insert if there was one, my imagination running wild with what the music would sound like.
And I had to be opportunistic and quick with mine when a window opened up for me to play a record. I had to make an instant decision which record to play. I could waste no time removing the record from the sleeve and firing up the player on the big-ass family stereo. I had to play it loud enough because you know, punk rock needs to be played loud, but not so loud that I couldn't hear my parents returning home. Here I was trying to catch words or shout along and generally smash my head on the punk rock, while keeping an eye on the front window and an ear peeled for approaching cars. I had about one minute from the time I could see or hear the big-ass single family vehicle pulling into the carport to the time I stopped the record player, hurriedly extricate the record from the turntable, and whisk it away to my room upstairs where I may or may not have always put it back in it's sleeve.
It would make for high-quality entertainment to travel back in time with nanny-cam in hand and watch this pathetic ritual carried out over and over again. There were times when no sooner had I put on the record, then the car returned because someone forgot something. I started to put my records over top of the records already on the turntable to expedite the process of getting everything back to the way it was. But I sometimes got sloppy and left records on the player anyways. I had the jumpiness and heightened senses of a jackrabbit experiencing music this way. In retrospect, it may have added to the edge of listening to this music, may have given a larger sense of contraband and rebellion. But mainly I'm guessing it looked pretty silly.
I ran into another challenge with records that I should have anticipated. You see, I didn't have access to the family car and didn't have a driver's license besides, which left most of my transportation to and from record stores by bike. Punk rock, to be sure, but made for a tricky return trip home conveying a handful of records. The hard edges would inevitably rip through the paper bags that I was clenching against the handlebars. I tried riding one-handed with the records pressed against my chest since they didn't fit very well under my shirt. Go figure so many records started out with scuffed and bent covers and a little warping even before the first listen.
I'm trying to recall the first records I bought, I'm pretty sure it was TSOL Abolish Govt 12" EP and DOA Bloodied But Unbowed ...in some order. A friend of mine borrowed those records to make a tape for themselves and they obligingly made a dup for me (quid pro quo) and suddenly I had found the solution for dealing with my growing record collection: lend them to friends who would make two copies, one for them and one for me. The turnaround on getting a tape made could take a little while, and in the meantime my friends would cruelly rave about how great this or that one was while I impatiently waited to hear it for myself.
Nonetheless, this system allowed me to safely listen to the music I was getting and it also made it a bit easier to keep my records out of harm's way. As a result, I was becoming rather nonchalant with my storage of the records that weren't on loan, keeping them in a crate in my closet with nothing more than a blanket over them. I hadn't thought through the repercussions of discovery, the offensive band names (e.g. Circle Jerks), song titles (e.g. Fuck You) and cover photos (e.g. GBH Leather, Bristles, Studs, Acne - tsk, tsk, that one)
Of course my mom found them in my closet, notwithstanding the super discreet hiding job. After first disavowing the records were mine, I then summarily distributed my records across a number of friends' houses (oh the irony). Many of them weren't really that fond of the music and were taking a risk for me, because let's be real, a lot of parents back then weren't going to tolerate that in their houses.
Not content to merely stand pat with my current stockpile of records, I continued to accumulate new titles and divvy them up. I even began ordering by mail to procure harder to find small-batch releases and international punk records, and very soon LPs and EPs from all over the world were getting shipped to my various friends homes. Big ups to my friends back in the day, they put up with a lot of shit for me.
Long story short, the origins of my record collection can be traced back to these humble beginnings. One crate became three crates. It got so I couldn't remember where I was stashing my various records. Records were evicted and re-located; wedged into high school lockers; stuffed under a pile of blankets and coats in my closet. They got warped, scratched, and lost. Consequently, while I have some records that some in-the-know punk RCs (Record Collectors) may drool over, the condition of many of them is questionable at best.
And you know what, that's what I love about records. They can stand the test of time, the abuses of teenage spirit - and they still sound great on my stereo today. They're big and tangible, you hold them in your hands to pull the vinyl out, and a million memories and stories come dancing out as you look over the imperfections of the cover, sleeve, insets, and wax. I love that imperfection, just as I love the imperfection when you put the needle on the records - and yes, some of them turn like one of those amusement parks rides that twist and shimmy as they zip around - the cracks and pops and hiss, the jar of the first sounds coming through the speakers and the warmth of everything after that.
As a true punk purist snob of the highest order, I try to limit my punk rock listening to only vinyl. The age of digital music and Spotify makes it tempting to instantly crank up a punk rock classic wherever, but channeling my inner Luddite, I refuse to give in to the lure of these conveniences. Punk rock sounds best when it's this beautiful aural assault launched from a turntable in my basement stereo - I believe I'll try to stick with that sonic recipe if you'll allow me the indulgence.