I believe in the sanctity of the authentic. I believe that a glimpse of authenticity bridges the gap that separates me from the distant, from the abstract, and makes it real to me.
I’ve been a music snob since junior high, but I didn’t discover the appeal of vinyl records until well into my college years. Like any random overcast day in downtown Seattle, that day, I wandered into the stacks of a used music store in the Market. The air was rife with the smell of dusty album jackets; stern warnings to ask for help with the higher ones glaring down at me. As I stood there, something kind of broke in me, and I was struck with the realization that those rows and columns of vinyl, which I’d barely even seen before, were dying. And in that moment, the reality of the music became apparent to me. It was like Paul on the road to Damascus. You know, something like scales fell from my eyes.
See, that music actually existed, once. That brief space of time in New York, 1959, when Miles, and Coltrane, and Bill Evans, and Cannonball, all met and collaborated on one of the most cherished jazz albums of all time—it actually existed, just once. It wasn’t haphazardly sampled into the ether, but painstakingly recorded, by a person, onto a record. That record wasn’t thoughtlessly ripped and burned by some indifferent kid in his parents’ home office. It was reproduced, thousands of times, and any one of those reproductions could have been sitting there, in that shop that day, dying the same slow death that every other analog signal suffers from.
I did my part. I walked out with a vinyl copy of Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book,” not sparing it by any means with my magnanimous four-dollar purchase, but by cultivating a silent recognition of the very real moment in which it was created.
This revelation produced in me a fervent desire only for the real deal, and it makes sense to me. You don’t want clam chowder in Tucson any more than you want to sample Vermont’s finest Mexican cuisine. You going to Hawaii? Dude, bring me back some lava. Spain? I want to see some doubloons! And there’d better not be any chocolate in them! Too much of my life has already been occupied by rubber snakes and fake swords. There are enough gift-shop trinkets and postcards in this world to give me a vague sense of anything. When I’m old, I don’t want to reflect on loose reminders and superficial impressions of what this life was like. So, when we can, while we can, let’s defer to the genuine article. That way, when I get to heaven, I’ll feel much more comfortable just sending you a t-shirt.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.