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Where Music Gets Physical: A Boston Memoir

As much as music listeners dig cloud-based music and having their MP3s and channels follow them wherever they go, there's still a desire for the physical, the ownable, the "real." CDs don't fit that mold anymore, as the digital files on them exist in far better form in far more accessible places.

Cassettes? They weren't a great format then and have sentimental value only to hip-hop heads and inner high schoolers who miss the mixed tape -- and maybe their Fine Young Cannibals cassingle.

Vinyl, however, makes the argument for music as a religious artifact -- an idol worthy of worshipping, rather than a ubiquitous score for life's most mundane tasks. Putting music everywhere makes it permanent Muzak and makes quality an unnecessary luxury. While there's little questioning the power of modern pop or the evolution that gave us Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, the technologically produced perfect pitch that makes the voice on Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" sound much like that on Perry's "Part Of Me" seem interchangeable. Basically why spend a $18 on an LP that makes all the tech fun sound fuzzy when a 99-cent download gives you the digital format where it's most comfortable and the cloud-based freedom that their all-access sound is clamoring for.


Headphones and vinyl, each in their own way, put music back on the pedestal. By investing hundreds of dollars into headphones, you're making both a fashion statement and a statement about your priorities. You're saying that you care about the sounds that David Guetta and Skrillex are creating and that you value Jay-Z and Kanye's rhymes as more than just background noise. Maybe Rihanna does sound like a robot, but you want to hear the production that made that robot sound so sweet and the beats that keep her voice imbedded in your brain.

With vinyl, it's artists themselves that get the place on the pedestal. Buying records, like creating a library of books, isn't just about entertainment or passing time. It's about amassing knowledge and culture and putting them on display. Much as a bibliophile might reserve prime shelf space for classics or Pulitzer and Nobel winners, a record buyer reserves vinyl purchases for works of artistic, esoteric or sentimental value. Why does every reissued copy of John Coltrane's "Blue Train" come with a digital copy of every song on that album? Because it's recognized that while listeners really like the portable version of those songs, they love the rich tones of Coltrane's sax as it was originally laid down. Why do vinyl copies of Adele's album come with the same perk? Because it's accepted you bought the vinyl version as an actual record of a great vocalist's achievement rather than something to throw on during your commute.


Your smartphone and music apps are all filled with music you enjoy, but your vinyl collection is filled with the music you cherish and the albums you hold most dear. That could be an original version of the Rolling Stones' Some Girls or a childhood copy of Christmas In The Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album. It's the stuff you want to stick around long after your least-favorite online channels are deleted and your iTunes and Amazon impulse downloads are purged.

That's where the record store comes in handy, and that's where Newbury Comics and the other Boston record stores that contributed so heavily to my music education still thrive. Those shops, In Your Ear near Boston University, Nuggets in Kenmore Square, Cheapo Records in Central Square . . . they mattered little when Boston was on lockdown and its residents were waiting for the nightmare to end. But now that it has, and everybody can begin looking for a small, tangible piece of normal, they're not bad places to start.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.



>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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