LLOYD GRAY: The old is now the new

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

I knew something was up a few years ago when my daughter started decorating her room with my old Beatles and Bob Dylan album covers.
She liked their music, as did our other two kids, and they had no problem admitting that they thought it superior to the popular music of their day. Their parents’ music, for heaven’s sake.
But what was most intriguing to me was her use of the album covers, a bit faded after several decades, as objets d’art. She had grown up on CDs with their pesky plastic cases and miniature graphics, followed by music from the digital mist, completely devoid of tangibility.
Those album covers were bold statements by comparison, an aesthetic feast, a hold-in-your-hands-and-ponder-it experience. Their tangible nature spoke to her in ways the medium in which she actually listened to music didn’t.
I’ve thought of that attraction recently in reading articles in various places – from the Daily Journal to that other Journal, the one on Wall Street – which proclaim the rebirth of vinyl among the young. Those old albums you and I have stashed away, or maybe that you got rid of years ago, are now hot items for a certain segment of young hipsters.
They like the sound, believing it to be richer and more mellow than CDs or digital music. But they say part of the draw is handling and enjoying the tactile object, the big, black, shiny disc as well as the album cover. The very limitation of vinyl – it has to be played on a stationary turntable, not heard anywhere at anytime – automatically makes it a more intentional experience, and they like that.
We had our transistor radios and those short-lived eight-track tapes for mobile music, but mostly we listened to “the stereo,” and it required a certain commitment of time, space and even attention that listening to music as most people do today doesn’t.
So now we have new stores opening up that sell vinyl only and album sales are soaring. Not that iTunes is threatened, but what was old has become new again, breathing life back into an icon that had been cast into the cultural wastebin.
It’s counter-cultural, in a sense. A recent front-page article in USA Today suggested that as more of our lives become digitized, the space around us – devoid of tangible music collections or books – will change. Where people have long expressed their identity in tangible objects in the home, that identity in the future will be expressed in social media and the wider digital world where such objects are non-existent.
Maybe for many, but for some – of whatever age – there will be the need for that tactile experience, whether it’s turning the pages of a book or having around them, in the spaces where they live and work, the tangible reminders of the things they enjoy and that mean something to them.
Call it nostalgia, if you like. But the aesthetic sense is powerful, and tangible objects are at the heart of the aesthetic experience – even, it seems, for a small but growing cohort of the digital generation.
Lloyd Gray is excecutive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.