Southern Tier Comedy Shop
For the record, vinyl takes me back to my youth
By Jim Pfiffer
Illustration by Filomena Jack
Vinyl records are making a comeback and I’m diggin’ it, man.
About 17 million vinyl records are sold in the U.S. annually, generating some $470,00 in retail sales. Record sales have nearly doubled over the last two years, reports the New York Times.
Records were an important part of my youth. We boomers didn’t have smartphones, digital downloads, Pandora, Apple Tunes or karaoke; and Alexa was a pretty girl in eighth grade, at Parley Coburn Junior High in Elmira, that I had a crush on. But she correctly pegged me as an immature wise-ass jerk.
That didn’t stop me from getting down and funky with heavy tunes blasted from black plastic discs belting out the blues at 33- and 45-rpms. Music was as important to me as food, air, and skipping classes. Records and record players followed us around from parties and dances to hangouts and home visits from my probation officers.
Our record collections reflected our taste in music and our level of hipness. If you listened to the likes of the Beatles, Zeppelin, Creedence and Hendrix you were a real gas. But if you got down with the Kingston Trio, Neil Sedaka, Broadway show tunes or the Partridge Family, you were a jive turkey.
One of the worst songs of my day, was “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. If you liked that tune you sat at the nerd table in the lunchroom.
The song was about a guy named, “Billy,” (big surprise) who was going off to war and his girlfriend didn’t want him to get shot because she wanted to marry him (as if going to war isn’t bad enough). The lyrics:
“Billy, don't be a hero, don't be a fool with your life.
Billy, don't be a hero, come back and make me your wife.
And as he started to go she said, Billy, keep your head low.
Billy, don't be a hero, come back to me.”
Billy ends up volunteering for a dangerous mission and gets killed, probably because he didn’t want to hear the damn song again.
Illustration by Filomena Jack
I grew up with music. Mom had a Zenith wooden console combo-record-player-AM/FM radio as big as a Buick station wagon. She played records while cooking or doing housework, which was 24/7 cuz she had eight kids and one of them was so much trouble he could have been a poster child for birth control. Mom didn’t listen to the hippest hits, so I had to listen to Harry Belafonte, Doris Day, New Christie Minstrels and Paul and Mary and Mary.
That changed in the sixth grade when I got my first portable hi-fi, AKA “high fidelity” (I still don’t know what that means, but we were often in a high-fidelity state of mind while spinnin’ platters). It was an RCA Victor portable record player, with speakers built into a flip-top box the size of a small suitcase.
I joined the Columbia Record Club and got eight free records of my choice and a Polaroid Swinger Camera. Those free discs played everything from Bob Dylan and The Monkeys to The Young Rascals and Little Stevie Wonder. The Polaroid camera played me right into the principal’s office due to an in-school photographic incident that is best left off the record.
I would come home from school, stack those records on the pencil-size turntable spindle, swing the c-shaped support arm into place, crank up the Vs, hit the play button and rock out while rocking in a big black Boston rocking chair a foot in front of the record player. I would rock n roll until dinner, restacking and replaying tunes while dreaming of becoming a drummer in a rock ’n’ roll band.
I didn’t own a lot of records, because they cost money, and I had only enough allowance to buy more important things like Mad magazines and fireworks. Many of my friends had record collections in the hundreds, with LP albums lined up in neat rows inside plastic milk carton crates or on shelves. When I wanted a record, I borrowed them from friends and forgot to return them.
Records are fragile and easily scratched or damaged. I didn’t have the patience to carefully handle the discs as needed, so most of them were damaged. A small scratch or scuff could make a record unplayable. I played my scratched records by taping a stack of pennies on the stylus to force the needle deep into the grooves to keep it from skipping over the damaged areas. That didn’t always work because most of my records were more than scratched, they were crisscrossed with cracks, crevices, abysses and beer bottle bottom rings when they were used as coasters at parties. Rock on man, rock on.
Today, technology is rapidly changing how we listen to music. I love the blues and I listen to it on my smartphone with ear pods, truck radio and Alexa (I no longer have a crush on her). I even have a pair of Bose sunglasses with speakers built into the frame, so I not only listen to my favorite blues artists but also look like one.
I predict that within a few years, we will have microscopic stereo systems implanted behind our ears. To listen to our favorite song, we’ll simply have to think of it.
I fear that my failing memory will only be able to recall one song.
“Billy Don’t Be a Hero.”
Bummer, man, bummer.
To contact and learn more about Filomena Jack and to see her artwork go to www.FilomenaJackStudio.com.