The four building blocks of the universe are fire, water, gravel and vinyl. - Dave Barry
Lured by my curiosity, I stepped into my first record shop, Dimensions Music, on August 11th, and a smell hit me – a combination of musty odors and dust that relayed to me this place has not been disturbed in a very long time. I found this shop sealed in a perfect time capsule on the corner of West Lexington Street and Park Avenue, shielded away in a bubble of anachronism from the streets of Baltimore that have withered away into phosphorescent landing strips for crime and destitution.
The shop wasn’t dirty, but obviously ancient. A finger through any surface of the shop would amount to a lonely pile of debris. The objects for sale were records, large discs coated with polyvinyl chloride and precisely etched with the vibrations of music such that when a needle moves along the spiral grooves, it echoes the music back perfectly. These records were stored in crates neatly arranged in a government warehouse-esque operation, all lost in transcription as the only way to rummage these records was to manually pull one out. Muddled in an ocean of grey-white labeling, I decide to pull a record out of one of the crates, unbeknownst that it was an impressive-looking cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s album, “I Am.” The record’s dust jacket lived up to its name as when brushed, dust particles scattered in the air in a colloidal suspension, revealing the full hand-drawn artwork on the album cover.
To no surprise to even the microscopic dust mites that might have found cozy living spaces in the shop, the record itself was also dusty; however, one quick wipe gleamed two iridescent conic sections at an angle of 30° that shined bright red, green blue, and white on opposite sides of the record. Against the light of an old incandescent light bulb, as I moved the record in a gentle lemniscate rotation, these bright conic sections moved with my hands around the record, revealing the full, intricate grooves of the laser etching. $15. That is how much the cashier departed with my money, as I picked up 3 Earth, Wind and Fire Albums, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and Chuck Mangione’s “Feel So Good.”
My experience seeing, holding, and smelling a record taught me that vinyl is a medium that strongly appeals to the senses. The holographic sheen of the record and the beautiful 12” by 12” artwork of the album covers, the weight of the record and the texture of the fine grooves when you run your fingers across it, the crisp smell of must when you open the dust jacket – all of these senses, sight, touch, and smell, become naturally associated with the music you hear and refines the way you listen to music. As I played some Earth, Wind, & Fire on my Magnavox Turntable, I felt a stronger connection to the music after bonding with the album in my odyssey of finding it, admiring the artwork, rigorously checking for scratches, and feeling the grooves. I didn’t even mind the crackling too much on the turntable, as I felt it added more texture to the music. Vinyl is a hobby I’m slowly getting into, but it’s something I hope to grow and grow with as I journey to experience more records.