Remembering when vinyl was king in my world, too
PRIME January 2013
By Debbie Gardner
My visit at Platterpus Records in Easthampton for this month's feature story stirred some vintage vinyl memories of my own.
It got me thinking about the first vinyl record I ever bought with my own money.
It was a 45 by the The Mamas & the Papas, purchased, I believe, in the music department of Bradlees discount department store.
I don't remember what two cuts were on that record – back then you got an "A" song on the front of the 45 and a "B" song on the back – but in an age before music downloads and sharing programs, owning your own copy of that hot new song you just heard on your favorite AM radio station was a big deal.
I was 13, and that 45 was my first foray into the teen year "identity" search.
Admittedly, I wasn't a huge vinylcollector in my youth, though I did come to my marriage with a well-worn handful of 45s and albums.
My husband John, on the other hand, is a former drummer and a huge music fan. He brought a pretty impressive collection of well-played and sometimes scratched rock n' roll albums – along with a really good turntable – to our first apartment.
That now antique turntable – along with those albums by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Blue Cheer, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake and Palmer and other bands I never listened to and never heard of until we got married – now occupy a coveted corner of our living room.
My son Evan used to like to look at the pictures on the album covers of dad's "big CDs," as he called the vinyl albums, when he was a toddler, and even listened to a few with John when he was in elementary school (though today, like most teenagers, he doesn't think much of the music from his parent's youth).
But our 30-something nephew, Michael, a guitarist who flirted with his own band for a few years, is still willing to listen to those old albums with my husband – though most times after a couple of tracks the two have drifted over to my laptop to try and find old performance footage of the band in question – usually on YouTube.
When I mentioned at Thanksgiving dinner that I was going to be interviewing the owner of a vintage record store for PRIME, both were interested in what the story might uncover.
My husband wondered aloud if owner Dave Witthams ever accepted albums on trade. He, I discovered, was hoping to locate a particular Jethro Tull album that had disappeared sometime during his youth, and was willing to part with several other Tull albums to acquire it.
Witthaus and I didn't get to discussing the fine details of such a search when I interviewed him, but I did learn that my husband's quest to find a long-lost album was not that unfamiliar to him.
It's part of that small, core group of customers who frequent Platterpus.
My nephew – who grew up with CDs – was actually surprised to learn that there were still "record" stores like Platterpus in the Valley. His reaction was to say "That's cool."
I guess he'd fall into that "rediscovering vinyl" category Witthaus said has been driving a resurgence of this out-of-date music form.
As for me, I just thought the place itself was cool – from the albums to the jewelry to the front window bedecked with a lava lamp, posters and array of painted CDs, which were hanging from the ceiling.
Witthaus told me the CDs were started out as ornaments that he and his son painted for their Christmas tree one year, but when the paint took on a Salvadore Dali effect on the slick CD surfaces, he decided they were way too cool to just hang up once a year.
During the interview we talked about his store's lack of hand-made jewelry – and how hard it was to get someone to make the kinds of necklaces and macrame bracelets we both remembered from our youth.
But most of all, I was impressed by the fact that Witthaus had found a way to "reinvent" his business back to the job he'd always loved – the guy who ran a record store. A real record store, not a place like FYE that sells CDs, movies, electronics accessories, magazines, life-size movie poster cutouts and anything else to stay in business.
After getting out of the music business when he closed his Hampshire Mall store, he's now doing what he truly loves as an encore career.
We should all be so lucky.